BILLY MURRAY (1877-1954) was one of the most popular singers in the U.S. in the early decades of the 20th century. He received star billing on vaudeville and is best known for his prolific work in the recording studio for almost every record label of the era.
He was probably the best selling recording artist through 1925. He had a strong tenor voice with excellent enunciation and a more conversational delivery than bel canto singers of the era. On comic songs he often deliberately sang flat, which he felt helped the comic effect.
Murray was a huge baseball fan and played with the New York Highlanders (later Yankees) in exhibition games. He was known to call in sick to recording sessions to go to the ballpark.
Murray's popularity faded with the rise of the electric microphone in the mid 1920s. His "hammering" style (essentially yelling the song into the recording horn) did not work in the electronic era, and it took him time to learn to soften his voice.
While he continued to work, his singing style was considered "dated" and less in demand. In the late 1920s and early 1930s he did voices for animated cartoons, especially "follow the bouncing ball" types which incorporated songs from his salad days.
Murray made his last recordings in 1943 and retired to Freeport, Long Island, New York in 1944. He died in nearby Jones Beach.
EDISON CYLINDERS: From the first recordings made on tinfoil in 1877 to the last produced on celluloid in 1929, cylinders spanned a half-century of technological development in sound recording.
As documents of American cultural history and musical style, cylinders serve as audible witness to the sounds and songs through which typical audiences first encountered the recorded human voice.
And for those living at the turn of the 20th century, the most likely source of recorded sound on cylinders would have been Thomas Alva Edison's crowning achievement, the phonograph. Edison wasn't the only one in the sound recording business in the first decades of the 20th century; several companies with a great number of recording artists, in addition to the purveyors of the burgeoning disc format, all competed in the nascent musical marketplace.
The first cylinders could hold only 2 minutes of music and a few are heard here, but Edison soon came out with models that could hold 3-1/2 minutes (by putting more grooves per inch of cylinder) and later longer cylinders that could play 4 to 5 minutes of music (called "concert" cylinders - for classical music).
All music pre-1920 was almost certainly without any electric amplification - the music being recorded had to be sung or played directly into the horn of the recorder.
More than any other figure of his time, Edison and the phonograph became synonymous with the cylinder medium. In fact, Edison's company clung to the cylinder format (as it was his "invention") perhaps too long after the more manageable "disc" had come into play in the marketplace.