American Recording Pioneers
Arthur Fields Melody Records
By Allan Sutton
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.
Fields Melody Record #1419 proves that not all Melody Record issues were
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.
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).
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