American Recording Pioneers

The Arthur Fields Melody Records
and Song Shop

By Allan Sutton

Related Articles: Arthur Fields at Play (The Bain News Service Photographs)
Fields & Hall and the Creation of the "Hillbilly" Stereotype
Arthur Fields Blue Amberol Cylinderography


Arthur Fields (right) shops for cigars, from the
October 1919 Victor monthly supplement.
(Courtesy of Anna-Maria Manuel)

From time to time, studio recording stars attempted to capitalize on their success by launching their own record businesses, usually with dire results. Estella Mann, Steve Porter, and other turn-of-the century studio artists launched their own cylinder-record companies, to no avail. Henry Burr and Fred Van Eps lost substantial sums on their Par-O-Ket disc venture in 1917. And in 1923, Arthur Fields, apparently failing to heed history, launched his own label in conjunction with his new music shop.

Fields, in partnership with one Louis A. Duhan, opened the Arthur Fields Song Shop on January 2, 1923, in the Hotel Theresa building at 125th Street and Seventh Avenue, New York. 1 Duhan held a twenty-year lease on the hotel property, which he signed in November 1919. 2 Several months later, the shop was moved to 2094 Seventh Avenue, with Duhan still as partner.

The Arthur Fields Song Shop carried a variety of musical merchandise, including instruments and sheet music (supplied by the Plaza Music Company), and several lines of records. Its top-of-the-line label was Vocalion, but the shop also carried its own store-brand label, the Arthur Fields Melody Record.

In fact, Fields had little to do with the production of his own label, which was contracted to the Fletcher Record Company. John Fletcher had already experienced a colorful— if generally disastrous — career in the record business, beginning with his ownership of the failed Operaphone Company, continuing with his involvement in the ill-fated Olympic Disc Record Corporation (the dissolution of whose parent company ended in a stock-fraud investigation), and culminating in his egregious mishandling of Harry Pace’s Black Swan operation. By 1923 he was back in business for himself, operating as the Fletcher Record Company and reviving his defunct Olympic label. But like its predecessor, the new Olympic soon found itself in financial difficulties, which Fletcher attempted to ease by licensing his material to outside vendors like Fields.
   

Arthur Fields Melody Record #1419 proves that not all Melody Record issues were by Fields,
nor was the material recorded for Fields' exclusive use. This issue was derived from
Olympic #1419, and the same master also appeared on Puritan 11203.
(Author's collection)
  

Quite a bit of misinformation concerning the Arthur Fields Melody Record has circulated over the years. Brian Rust, in his highly problematic American Record Label Book, stated that only one issue (1516) was ever produced. Other sources have stated that only material by Fields was issued, or that the material was recorded for Fields’ exclusive use. None of these assertions is correct.

To date, five Arthur Fields Melody Record releases have been confirmed, and a single-sided issue has been reported by a source that is not completely reliable, and thus is awaiting confirmation. Fields was not featured exclusively on his label. Three dance band releases were made, all under pseudonyms. Fields’ catalog numbers and couplings were identical to those of the Olympic issues from which they were derived.

The Arthur Fields Song Shop and its store label failed to thrive. On August 1, 1923, as the first step in filing for bankruptcy, Fields and Duhan made an assignment to Jesse S. Libien, who was charged with liquidating the company’s assets for the benefit of Fields’ and Duhan’s creditors. 3 Duhan exited the business at that point, leaving Fields to file for bankruptcy on his own.

On August 21, 1923, Arthur Fields filed for bankruptcy, claiming unknown assets. His principal creditors were Bernard Meyer (a New York real-estate agent), the Aeolian Company (makers of Vocalion records), and the Plaza Music Company (distributors of Banner records and a large line of musical merchandise). The Fletcher Record Company was not listed as a creditor. It was about to become John Fletcher's fourth (but not last) business casualty, filing for bankruptcy in December 1923. Fields’ Song Shop liabilities amounted to $14,973, quite a substantial sum for the day. 4

The bankruptcy seems to have taken a toll on Fields’ personal finances. He returned to vaudeville, singing with the Avon Comedy Four for several months, 5 then turned his attention to full-time studio freelancing, primarily for the cheaper record labels. As his popularity continued to wane in the later 1920s, Fields joined band leader Fred Hall as a vocalist and developed a pseudo-country novely act that is examined in detail in Recording the 'Twenties," available from Mainspring Press.


References

1 “Arthur Fields Song Shop Opened.” Talking Machine World (1/15/1923), p. 45.

2 “Recorded Leases.” New York Times (11/30/1919), p. S6. Duhan signed a twenty-year lease, and declared bankruptcy at the end of its term in 1939.

3 “Bankruptcy Proceedings.” New York Times (8/2/1923), p. 25.

4 “Bankruptcy Proceedings.” New York Times (8/22/1923), p. 24.

5 See, for example, the Hippodrome’s New York Times ad for March 9, 1924 (p. X4).


Document History:
Initial posting 4/18/2001,as a "Label of the Month" feature under title, "Arthur Fields Melody Record (1923)." Revised postings on 4/11/2007 and 9/01/2009.



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