August 31, 2013
Sometimes in the early days of recording, companies would temporarily change the names of certain bands on their releases, possibly unbeknownst to the performers themselves. Often it was to appeal to a different cultural market, and this happened in particular with Eastern European instrumental tunes, as with an instrumental there was obviously no language issue to prevent cross-marketing. For example, I’ve seen Slovakian bands renamed as Lithuanian bands, and their instrumentals re-pressed in a company’s Lithuanian series. Many tunes that were ostensibly Polish and issued in a company’s Polish catalog, were re-pressed in a Ukrainian series and added to the Ukrainian roster – and vice versa. And the same with “Russian” discs, “Lemko” instrumentals – the list goes on. It was kind of a mess, when you look at the data, and it happened frequently. Luckily, discographers such as Richard Spottswood spent years figuring these details out, looking at ledgers, cross-checking information, and thus solving a lot of mysteries.
Here’s a terrific polka by a Lithuanian band of actual anthracite coal miners, from central-eastern Pennsylvania, specifically Mahanoy City. The Mahanoy City Lithuanian Miner’s Band began recording in 1928 for Victor, and their last sessions appear to have been around March of 1933 for Columbia, when this disc, one of their last, was recorded in New York. The musicians on this particular track (I hear two violins, brass, bass, clarinet, and trumpet, at least) are not all known, but we do have some names from this session: Frank Yotko (usually credited as the leader of the band), Adomas Šaukevičius, J. Zack, and A. Shuck (possibly the same as Šaukevičius). According to the liner notes from Spottswood’s out-of-print New World LP Old Country Music in a New Land: Folk Music of Immigrants of Europe and the Near East, the Manahoy band were crucial participants in worker’s rights at the time, as they would let miners know when a strike was declared by traveling from one mine entrance to another, and playing in front of them.
Interesting, then, that this record was not issued as being by the Manahoy band, and instead issued as the Shenandoah Lithuanian Miner’s Band. This was not a cross-cultural marketing technique. The town of Shenandoah and Manahoy City are only about 2 miles away from each other, and both were mining towns with significant populations of Lithuanian immigrants. The Manahoy band had records issued as the “Lietuvių Tautiškas Orkestra,” the “Polish Novelty Orchestra,” the “Russian Novelty Orchestra,” and they even issued a disc titled “Shenandorio Polka.” One wonders why the small geographic change. Perhaps because the towns are so close to one another (Shenandoah is in fact technically part of West Manahoy Township) it was understood by locals to be the same band!
For more traditional and often rural Eastern European music made in the 20s-30s in the US by immigrants, check the Resources page under Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
Issue Number: 16280-F
Matrix Number: w113675
I think unaccompanied choirs are often ignored in non-classical 78rpm record collecting – they lack solo instrumental virtuosity, they tend not to be “raw,” and instead appear to be, at least on the surface, overly influenced by religion and/or western harmonic concepts. Even the choir records I have from Africa are probably less desirable, simply because they display the formality of a choir. Perhaps they are avoided for the same reason one might avoid records of British folk songs sung by a Folk Song Society.
While all these reasons are valid and make me ruminate far more intensely than I should, I actually enjoy a lot of choir music. It’s still folk music, and I just can’t seem to get rid of it, as I find unaccompanied folk singing to be sort of a wonderful act. Recently, a friend graciously gave me a stack of early Lithuanian records. I ended up discarding nearly all of the 30 or so records – except for the folk song choirs! Which were all recorded poorly on Columbia Records in the 19-teens. Totally unsaleable records! He must have pegged me as an easy mark.
I think of Ian Nagoski’s choice of including a recording of a Handel piece on piano smashed between 78s from Vietnam and Greece on his Black Mirror CD. Such seemingly radical sequencing suits me just fine – I believe there should be more of it, but maybe that’s the academic anti-academic taking hold. However, interconnectivity exists wherever you seek to find it. And maybe you’ll find something, as I did, in this Lithuanian Folk Song, recorded acoustically (and distantly) by Columbia in New York City ca. 1917, and performed by Brooklyn’s own Įdainavo Karalienes Aniolu Parapijos Choras. I had some difficulty translating the title, but I believe it’s something to the effect of “Dogs Barking on the Farm.”
And if you enjoyed my December post on son huasteco music, Chimatli has a wonderful, media-filled post on the music. Check it out here!
Issue Number: E3290
Matrix Number: 44619