Oregon professor finds rare music; revives The Revelers
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Craig Phillips can’t wait to revive The Revelers.
A vocal quartet — a bass, a baritone and two tenors — accompanied by a pianist, The Revelers had a harmonious sound known around the country in the 1930s thanks to the power of radio broadcasts. But, due to the lack of recording in their era, many of The Revelers’ hits have gone unheard for decades.
“I’m very happy to be hopefully playing a role in reestablishing a bit of their legacy,” said Phillips, a music professor at the University of Oregon.
Phillips, a bass singer, is organizing a Wednesday, July 11 performance at the National Opera Center in New York, which will be live streamed online. The song lineup includes once-lost tunes by The Revelers.
A fan of The Revelers, Phillips did some internet sleuthing in 2015 to find long lost scores for the group’s broadcast music in a Connecticut attic. He found a treasure trove of handwritten tunes, about 500 arrangements from the 1920s and ’30s.
“These are the scores that the guys used. These are the scores that they used when they were singing on the radio,” he said. ”... They are 100 percent unique, there are no copies of these scores anywhere.”
Musicians at the Shedd Institute for the Arts in Eugene have taken on similar music revival projects, said Jim Ralph, executive director at the Shedd. “What is particularly interesting about Craig’s project is that he’s working with some of the original manuscript arrangements, which provides exceptional insight into The Reveler’s creative processes.”
Into thin airwaves
The Revelers produced albums in the 1920s and became American popular music sensations. But record companies scaled back recording during The Great Depression in the 1930s. During this decade The Revelers often performed only on the radio.
Phillips’ discovery represents the lost artifacts of what The Revelers put out over the airwaves way back when, and what for nearly a century went unheard. The collection includes arrangements by pianist Frank Black, who also became music director for NBC and who created music with the likes of George Gershwin. No, he’s not Frank Black (aka Charles Thompson), former Eugene resident and Pixies front man.
For vintage pop music buffs like Phillips, The Revelers and the original Frank Black were big names. But, due to their lost hits, the group’s name is unfamiliar for many people. The Revelers expanded the musical bounds of an all-male quartet from barbershop to jazzy dance songs. They introduced many listeners to songs from the Great American Songbook, such as “Blue Moon,” I Got Rhythm” and “Singin’ in the Rain.”
“It’s hard to believe how this era (less than 100 years ago) has faded from our collective memory,” Phillips wrote in an email. “It was a wildly creative time in our history and a huge ‘flowering’ in terms of American popular culture! It’s not an exaggeration to say that The Revelers ... were pioneers of broadcast entertainment.”
Music in the attic
So how was the treasure trove of The Revelers arrangements found?
“It’s quite a story,” he said.
Phillips mainly makes music with another quartet called New York Polyphony, which sings music from the 1600s and has earned two Grammy nominations over the past decade. His manager asked him to look into American music and while he didn’t find songs that fit the group, he found himself hooked on digging through America’s musical past.
Music can mark technological innovations, Phillips said, and the advent of the microphone in the early 1920s brought in the Jazz Age.
“The Revelers were a result of that change,” he said. “They were a group that was singing under a different name. They were singing as The Shannon Four and they were doing kind of old timey, old fashion music.”
Their record label made the switch to electric and a new sound for the group came with the new name of The Revelers.
“I just fell in love with sound,” he said. “It was so charming and such personality and it suddenly became American.”
Phillips kept digging, wanting to find if anyone ever published The Revelers songs.
What he learned about their history: The group had disbanded in 1940, but then one of the original members, Wilfred Glenn, brought back the name and the music in the late 1940s and toured until 1955. Enter a man named Tom Edwards who purchased The Revelers name and all of the arrangements from Glenn. This rendition of the group performed into the 1970s.
But that’s where the music stopped. Phillips couldn’t figure out what had happened to The Revelers arrangement.
Then Phillips was looking at a blog about the original Frank Black in 2015 and in the comments saw mention of a man whose father had been in a singing group —the version of The Revelers led by Edwards — and he had inherited an old crate of sheet music.
Through some Internet detective work, Phillips contacted the owner of the “mother lode” of lost The Revelers arrangements.
“Two days later I was in a rental car driving from North Carolina to Connecticut, where these scores had been languishing in his attic,” he said.
For 70 years the paper had been lugged around the country, from person to person. He says its amazing they survived.
“They weren’t, in the state I found them, performable,” he said, “because they were fragmented and there were road mapping problems and the wrong pieces were with the wrong scores. So that’s what I’ve done for the past almost three years is restitch, reconstruct these arrangements and convert them into a modern performance score so they can be performed again.”
The Revelers discovery has Phillips wondering what other musical treasures might be hidden away in attics around America.
“There is stuff still out there and I am hopeful that I can continue to track things down,” Phillips said.
Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com