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  HISTORY
 

Early Years
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

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 Bell.

A patent 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.

Columbia Leads the Way

The 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.

By 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.

That 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.

Into the 20th Century

Developments 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).

Irving 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.

The CBS Era Begins

In 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).

This 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.

A decade 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 had ceased.

Enter Epic Records

CBS 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.

In 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 successes.

The Next Generation

The 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 world.

In 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.

Continuing 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.

Sony and the Modern Age

In 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.

In 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.

 

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