Columbia Records

Columbia Records is the oldest surviving brand name in recorded sound, dating back to 1888, and was the first record company to produce pre-recorded records as opposed to blank cylinders. Today it is a premier subsidiary label of Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Inc. They currently have approximately 155 artists signed onto their label.


Brief History:

Columbia was originally the local company distributing and selling Edison phonographs and phonograph cylinders in Washington, DC, Maryland and Delaware, and derives its name from the District of Columbia, which was its headquarters. As was the custom of some of the regional phonograph companies, Columbia produced many commercial cylinder recordings of its own, and its catalogue of musical records in 1891 was 10 pages long. Columbia severed its ties to Edison and the North American Phonograph Company in 1893, and thereafter sold only records and phonographs of its own manufacture.

Columbia began selling disc records and phonographs in addition to the cylinder system in 1901. For a decade, Columbia competed with both the Edison Phonograph Company cylinders and the Victor Talking Machine Company disc records as one of the top three names in recorded sound. In 1908 Columbia introduced mass production of "Double Sided" disc records, with recordings stamped into both sides of the disc.

In mid-1912, Columbia decided to concentrate exclusively on disc records and stopped recording new cylinder records and manufacturing cylinder phonographs although they continued pressing and selling cylinder records from their back catalogue for a year or two more.

On February 25, 1925, Columbia began recording with the new electric recording process licensed from Western Electric. The new "Viva-tonal" records set a benchmark in tone and clarity unequalled during the 78 era. The first electrical recordings were made by Art Gillham, the popular "Whispering Pianist." In a secret agreement with Victor, both companies did not make the new recording technology public knowledge for some months, in order not to hurt sales of their existing acoustically recorded catalogue while a new electrically recorded catalogue was being built.

In 1926, Columbia acquired Okeh Records and its growing stable of jazz and blues artists including Louis Armstrong. In 1928, Paul Whiteman, the nation's most popular orchestra leader, left Victor to record for Columbia. That same year, Columbia executive Frank Buckley Walker pioneered some of the first country music or "hillbilly" genre recordings in Johnson City, Tennessee including artists such as Clarence Green and the legendary fiddler and entertainer, Charlie Bowman. 1929 saw industry legend Ben Selvin signing on as house bandleader and A. & R. director. Other favorites in the Viva-tonal era included Ruth Etting, Fletcher Henderson and Ted Lewis. Columbia kept using acoustic recording for "budget label" pop product well into 1929 on the Harmony and Velvet Tone labels.

In 1951, Columbia USA severed its decades-long distribution arrangement with EMI and signed a distribution deal with Philips Records to market Columbia recordings outside North America. EMI continued to distribute Okeh and later Epic label recordings for several years into the 1960s.

Columbia became the most successful non-rock record company in the 1950s when they hired impresario Mitch Miller away from the Mercury label (Columbia was very disinterested in the teenage rock market until the early 1960's). Miller quickly signed on Mercury's biggest artist at the time, Frankie Laine, and discovered several of the decade's biggest recording stars including Tony Bennett, Jimmy Boyd, Guy Mitchell, Johnnie Ray, The Four Lads, Rosemary Clooney, Ray Conniff and Johnny Mathis. In 1953, CBS formed Columbia's sister label Epic Records. In 1954, Columbia ended its distribution arrangement with Sparton Records and formed Columbia Records of Canada.

In 1961, CBS ended its arrangement with Philips Records and formed its own international organization, CBS Records, which released Columbia recordings outside the USA and Canada on the CBS label. When Epic's distribution deal with EMI expired, CBS Records distributed Epic recordings on the Epic label outside North America as well. Epic distributed Ode Records between 1967-1969 and between 1976-1979

In the early 1960s CBS began expanding its music division into overseas territories. In 1961 CBS took over the Australian Record Company (ARC), one of the leading Australian independent recording and distribution companies of the day. ARC continued trading under that name until the late 1970s when it formally changed its business name to CBS Australia.

In 1962, Columbia joined in the then red hot folk music genre by releasing debut albums by the New Christy Minstrels and, more significantly, Bob Dylan.

In 1988, the CBS Records Group, including the Columbia Records unit, was acquired by Sony, who re-christened the parent division Sony Music Entertainment in 1991. As Sony only had a temporary license on the CBS Records name, it then acquired the rights to the Columbia trademarks outside the U.S., Canada and Japan (Columbia Graphophone) from EMI, which generally had not been used by them since the early 1970s. CBS Masterworks Records was renamed Sony Classical Records. In December 2006, CBS Corporation revived the CBS Records name for a new minor label closely linked with its television properties.


External Links:

For the full history of Columbia Records, see Wikipedia.

Columbia Records' Official Website

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