Columbia Leads the Way
Into the 20th Century
The CBS Era Begins
Enter Epic Records
The Next Generation
Sony and the Modern Age
Early Years Columbia and Epic trace their beginnings to the late
1880s, to the Columbia Graphophone Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut,
and the experiments of scientist Charles Sumner Tainter and his
engineer colleague Chichester A. Bell, a cousin of Alexander Graham
was granted Tainter and Chichester Bell on May 4, 1886, specifically
for a disc, but the two chose a cylinder for their work. In place
of the tin-foil that Thomas Alva Edison had used in the development
of his tinfoil phonograph a decade earlier, they substituted cardboard
coated with wax, on which a recording stylus traced sound patterns
according to vibrations caused by impulses of sound projected on
it. By 1889, their new machine, the Graphophone, was ready for its
first major exhibition in Washington, DC.
Leads the Way
purchase of controlling interests for both Edison's and Tainter
and Bell's patents led to the founding of the North American Phonograph
Company, whose primary purpose was to manufacture office dictating
machines. Rights were leased regionally to subsidiaries across the
country, each operating under a different name. One of these was
the Columbia Phonograph Company, in the Baltimore/Washington market.
When the subsidiaries began expanding into entertainment media,
Columbia led the way, achieving particular success by recording
military marches (by John Phillip Sousa), popular songs, instrumental
solos, speeches, novelties, and the like.
1891, Columbia was the first company to offer a catalog's-worth
of its phonographs and cylinders. By 1895, Columbia was manufacturing
hundreds of cylinders daily, and by the end of the century it had
a catalog of more than 5,000 recordings. But by 1901, Emile Berliner's
Gram-O-Phone, which used flat discs with a lateral-cut track, had
established itself as the superior (and more durable) playback medium.
same year, Columbia offered its first discs, 7-inchers for 50 cents,
and 10-inchers for $1.00. One 1901 best-seller was a rush cover
version of President McKinley's last public speech at the opening
of the Buffalo Exposition on September 6th, the day an assassin's
bullet felled him.
the 20th Century
of both a technical and musical nature became Columbia trademarks
down the years. In the spring of 1903, the company began recording
stars of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. 1904 brought the first
discs to play at 78 rpm, and the pioneering double-sided records
whose inner core of rice paper and mica compound was surrounded
by a durable layer of shellac. Guglielmo Marconi was hired to produce
the indestructible Velvet Tone record, which he delivered to Columbia
in 1907 (anticipating the Silent Surface records of the 1920s by
more than a decade).
Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band" sparked the ragtime dance craze
of 1911; in 1912, cylinder production ceased at Columbia, which
became known as the Columbia Graphophone Company a year later. In
1916, the company initiated in America the practice of recording
symphony orchestras, notably the Chicago and New York orchestras.
1917 brought the Original Dixieland Jass Band from New Orleans to
Columbia Studios in New York for the recording of "Darktown Strutters
Ball." By 1919, Americans were buying more than 25 million 78 rpm
records every year, and the industry reported annual sales of $150
million.In 1926, Columbia took over OKeh (the Otto Heinemann Phonograph
Corporation), which had been issuing laterally-cut records since
1920, and whose catalog included Mamie Smith, Clarence Williams,
King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Lonnie Johnson, Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie
Trumbauer, Eddie Lang, and Bennie Moten.
CBS Era Begins
1934, Columbia and OKeh were bought by ARC-BRC (American Record
Company-Brunswick Record Company). In 1938, ARC-BRC was purchased
by William Paley's Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).
was the same year that legendary producer John Hammond presented
the first of two annual "Spirituals To Swing" concerts at Carnegie
Hall. Through the work of Hammond and George Avakian, Columbia began
to sign the top jazz acts of the era, Count Basie, Duke Ellington,
Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Harry James, and Billie Holiday among
them. The Columbia Recording Corporation's roster grew to include
Fred Astaire, Harry James, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Budapest
String Quartet and more.
later, in 1948, Columbia introduced the 33 1/3 rpm LP (or long-playing
record), which revolutionized the industry and soon became the accepted
standard for sound reproduction. By 1955, 78 rpm disc production
launched a new label in 1953, Epic Records, whose bright-yellow
and black "Radial Sound" logo became a familiar trademark on its
early slate of jazz and classical releases. The latter included
such notables as the Berlin Philharmonic, the Juilliard String Quartet,
Antal Dorati conducting the Hague Philharmonic, and George Szell
conducting the Cleveland Philharmonic.
less than ten years, Epic would earn its first gold records and
develop into a formidable hit-making force in Rock, Pop, R&B, and
Country music through the music of Bobby Vinton, the Dave Clark
Five, Sly and the Family Stone, and Donovan. The label continued
to prosper in the '70s with the Hollies, Edgar Winter, Charlie Rich,
George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Minnie Riperton, Labelle, Jeff Beck,
Ted Nugent, Boston, Dan Fogelberg, REO Speedwagon, Meatloaf, and
the Jacksons paving the way for Epic's multiplatinum '80s and '90s
decades of the 1960s and '70s witnessed exponential growth for CBS
Records. The company began its own direct mail order club, Columbia
House Company, today a joint venture with Time-Warner Inc. and the
largest direct marketer of pre-recorded music and videos in the
1968, CBS formed a joint venture with Sony Corporation -- CBS/Sony
-- for the purpose of marketing CBS product alongside domestic Japanese
product in Japan, Macao and Hong Kong. By 1978, worldwide sales
for CBS Records had reached $1.2 billion, the first American record
company to cross the billion-dollar threshold.
its legacy of technological innovation, CBS helped introduce Sony's
Compact Disc in 1982, which eventually superseded the 33 1/3 rpm
LP. Simultaneously, CBS Records established music video as a new
and vital form of promotion for its artists and releases.
and the Modern Age
January, 1988, Sony Corporation acquired CBS Records Group, known
today as Sony Music Entertainment Inc. CBS/Sony is today known as
Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc.
January, 1994, in acknowledgment of its worldwide growth and success,
Sony Music Entertainment reorganized into four label groups: Epic
Records Group, Columbia Records Group, Relativity Entertainment
Group, and Sony Classical.