September 8th, 2014
Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian.
Image of Edison Phonograph advertisement from Flickr photostream of Jalal gerald Aro, album titled “affiche”
The archives at the West Virginia and Regional History Center contain many historical items, including pieces of music and advertising. These two areas intertwine with a program for a musical evening with Miss Betsy Lane Shepherd, soprano, with music provided by Mr. Rudolph Polk, violinist. The program was for a recital held at the First Methodist Episcopal Church in Moundsville, West Virginia, Tuesday, November 6, 1917.
The program (see image below) lists a total of 15 classical and popular music pieces to be performed by Shepherd and Polk. Highlights among the titles are Schubert’s “Who is Sylvia,” performed by Shepherd, and Wagner’s “Prize Song, Die Meistersinger,” performed by Polk. Shepherd brought the program to a close with her rendition of two American classics sure to please her audience, “Home Sweet Home” and “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Image of music program from the WVRHC, A&M 3989.
Listed beneath each musical piece on the program is a notation reading “Miss Shepherd with the Edison Re-creation of her voice,” or “Mr. Polk with the Edison Re-creation of Violin Solos by Mr. Albert Spalding.” These notations are the key to the performance. According to a blog post by Randy Speck, of The Notorious Meddler blog, Betsy Lane Shepherd toured the country promoting the new Edison phonograph and cylinder recordings.
“Miss Shepherd, who is a famous concert soprano, stood beside the new Edison and started to sing, “In the gloaming, oh! My darling . . .” With a soft, rounded loveliness, the melody filled the auditorium.”
And then, what seemed to be a miracle occurred.
“Suddenly, Miss Shepherd’s lips went absolutely still. But, her lovely voice went smoothly on . . .” This moment marks the transition between concert performance and phonograph recordings. It was an earthshaking moment for the audience who found themselves listening to a recording for the first time.
Image of Miss Shepherd from the Notorious Meddler Blog
Betsy Lane Shepherd, joined on this occasion by Rudolph Polk, toured the United States and Canada promoting the new Edison Cylinder Phonograph. According to Speck’s blog post, Miss Shepherd’s extensive tour stopped in 185 towns and cities, and at each stop, audiences were stunned to hear the Edison cylinder continue the song long after she ceased to sing, perfectly capturing her voice.
Image of Mr. Polk from the Pomona College “Awards and Prizes” webpage
Rudolph Polk, American concert violinist, shared the bill with Shepherd at the Moundsville stop. When Polk ceased to play, the music continued with an Edison cylinder recording of Mr. Albert Spalding’s rendition of the same piece. Polk’s career was quite successful, moving from musician to musical director for Columbia Pictures and Enterprise Studios. Polk is still held in high esteem today as a noted violinist. Pomona College, located in Southern California, offers the Rudolph Polk Memorial Award to students in instrumental music on the basis of technical competence, musicianship, and general musical background.
Image of Mr. Koontz from the WVRHC.
The Edison – Shepherd – Polk musical program in Moundsville was sponsored by E.E. Koontz. Mr. Koontz sold the Edison Cylinder Phonograph at his store located at 224 Jefferson Avenue. On the back of the program Koontz “cordially invites” audience members to “hear other examples of this new Musical Art” from the “library of Re-creation” “at home” or in studio consultations to select their own musical listening program. Potential clients were encouraged to invite their friends.
According to a brief article in The Music Trade Review, March 8, 1919, Koontz’ Edison Cylinder Phonograph business grew so rapidly that he purchased a “brand-new automobile delivery van.” Made to order, the van was produced with advertising on both sides, including a picture of Edison. Sales increased so greatly that Koontz was able to relocate from his Jefferson Avenue shop into “one of the best stores in the city.”
Image of Edison Phonograph advertisement from the Library of Congress
Though things have changed considerably during the intervening 97 years, this program, available to researchers at the West Virginia and Regional History Center, remains an interesting window onto a new and revolutionary technology, a very successful early twentieth century marketing scheme, the popularity of musicians, and an enterprising merchant. Though most of us today do not have access to an Edison Cylinder Phonograph, we are fortunate that we can explore yesterday’s technology through the technology of today. Fourteen of Betsy Lane Shepherd’s Edison cylinder recordings are available for streaming at the Internet Archive web site. Luckily we, too, can hold one of her recital programs and listen to the magic of Betsy Lane Shepherd’s original recordings, just as her audiences did in 1917.
 The Edison Files: Betsy Lane Shepherd. (2012). Retrieved November 28, 2012 from the blog, The Notorious Meddler (A homegrown collection of short stories, songs, poems and more). http://randyspeck.blogspot.com/2012/07/the-edison-files-betsy-lane-shepherd.html Retrieved November 28, 2012.
 Rudolph Polk. (2012). Retrieved November 28, 2012 from Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolph_Polk.
 Image of Rudolph Polk and award information. Retrieved November 28, 2012 from the Pomona College website: http://www.pomona.edu/academics/departments/music/awards-prizes/index.aspx
 Image of E.E. Koontz from Photograph of E.E. Koontz from the WVRHC Legacy Postcard collection, number 043040.
The Library of Congress, (1999). Image of “The New Edison, Thomas Edison’s Final Achievement” promotional booklet. Retrieved November 28, 2012 from The Library of Congress, American Memory page, “Inventing Entertainment: the Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/edhtml/edcyldr.html
 Music Trade Review (1919). Retrieved August 25, 2014 from The International Arcade Museum, http://www.arcade-museum.com/
 Internet Archive. Betsy Lane Shepherd’s original Edison cylinder recordings: http://archive.org/details/BetsyLaneSheppard-01-10 Four more recordings can be heard here: http://archive.org/details/BetsyLaneSheppard-11-14 Retrieved November 28, 2012.