Sunday, June 25, 2017

Hit Parade: Inspired by the Musical Archives of the San Francisco Public Library

Public Knowledge is an ongoing project of the The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  It is an effort to bring art to the community and the community to art and to the museum.  Public Knowledge involves collaborations with scholars, artists and community members.  The current project is a collaboration with the San Francisco Public Library called Hit Parade.

This is our second time working with the Museum of Modern Art. During the summer of 2014 we hosted the Chimerenga Library in collaboration with them and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

The current project includes many components, including public rehearsals and performances - Mission Branch on July 11, 2017, Bayview / Linda Brooks Burton Library on July 12 and Western Additional Branch on July 13.  These same branches had "storytelling" sessions where members of the community spoke of the musical memories.

Another aspect of the project has been researching the library's archival resources for histories and sheet music.  They have created a lively blog that presents some of the treasures they have unearthed from the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection and the Art, Music and Recreation Center of the Library.

Keep returning to visit the Hit Parade blog to see what else the researchers turn up!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Black Cedar Trio returns

The Art, Music and Recreation Center is pleased to again present the Black Cedar Trio on Sunday, June 18, 2017 at 3:00 PM in the Koret Auditorium.

Black Cedar is the winner of a 2014 Musical Grant from San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music and an affiliate ensemble with San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music.  It is the only ensemble entirely devoted to creating, discovering, and re-imagining chamber music for guitar, cello, and wood flute or alto flute. With this unique mix of sonorities, Black Cedar brings to life Renaissance lute songs and dances, Baroque trio sonatas, Classical and Romantic-era salon pieces, Appalachian folk music, and modern works from living composers.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television

Gale Research is familiar today as a database provider, but originally they were a publisher of many series of reference works.  In the past these sources were indispensable to librarians and researchers, but over the past few decades much of the information they held has become available online.  Over the intervening years, Gale Research mined many of their print reference books to create very useful and in-depth databases.

One of Gale's reliable research tools was the reference set Contemporary Theatre, Film & Television.  Subtitled "A biographical guide featuring performers, directors, writers, producers, designers, managers, choreographers, technicians, composers, executives, dancers, and critics in the United States, Canada and the world," the first volume of this set was published in 1984.  The print edition of the series ended with the 123rd volume in 2013.

This entire reference set is available as a component of Gale's Biography in Context database.  This database covers many resources, including magazine and newspaper articles, so that the information from Contemporary Theatre, Film & Television can easily lost inside within the search results.  When looking up an individual in this database, you can find the information from this reference set beneath the "Biographies" tab.

This reference set grew out of earlier reference resources, Who's Who In The Theatre and Who Was Who in the Theatre.  The former also included biographies and credits for the London and New York stage.  The text of some of its volumes are also included in the Biography in Context database.

Contemporary Theatre, Film & Television presents much of its information like a resume - film, television and stage credits, awards, guest appearances, etc... Online resources like the Internet Movie Database and Wikipedia can provide much of this same information.  But the listings on these websites can be limited or too sprawling to be easily scanned.  The reference database also includes contact information and a bibliography.  The information cannot be as up-to-date as internet sources, but it is clearly and accurately presented.

While our reflexes often suggest that we should go to search engines to find information about every personality that we are searching for, the Library's subscription databases are very solid resources that should not be overlooked.  The vast Biography in Context database can also bring a wide range of additional information to our attention.

Biography In Context [database]

Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television (Gale Research Co., 1984-2013).

Who's Who in the Theatre (Pitman; Gale Research, 1912-1981).

Who Was Who in the Theatre, 1912-1976: A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Directors, Playwrights, and Producers of the English-Speaking Theatre / compiled from Who's Who in the Theatre, volumes 1-15 (1912-1972) (Gale Research Co., 1978).

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Vintage Talking Books

Cover art from The Black Cat, read by Arthur Luce Klein

Today we are very familiar with audio eBooks - digital sound files of literary works that can either be streamed or downloaded.  Until recently spoken work compact discs were another popular form of talking book.  And, of course, audio cassettes were the format that was responsible for making the talking book such a popular medium.

These three formats all had the virtue of being portable -- they could be listened to through a car stereo, walkman or mp3 player.  The very first books on tape (audio cassette format) were introduced in 1969 and could have up to an hour of continuous recitation on a side.  Spoken books on compact disc began to appear during the 1990s and could contain up to 74 minutes per side (and had a higher audio quality).  Streaming audio appeared not long afterward and could present a continuous narration of any duration.

There is a pre-history to this consumer-friendly, portable form of enjoying talking books.  The earliest talking books were manufactured on vinyl records that played at the slower speed of 16 2/3 rotations per minute.  For a period of time, many record players had settings for 16 2/3 rpm, 33 1/3 rpm (the long playing record), 45 rpm (the single) and 78 rpm (the much earlier shellac record).

The rule of thumb with audio recording is faster speeds mean better sound.  This slower speed worked because the spoken word does not need to have the same rich audio spectrum as music.  A 12 inch disc played at 16 2/3 rpm could have an hour of music per side, whereas a 33 rpm record could own contain a half hour.  The Library of Congress began issuing records at the speed in 1962 to serve the blind community and later even issued recordings the slower 8 1/3 rpm speed.

A blurb on the back of The Pit And The Pendulum (1972)

We do not have any of these slower recordings in our collection, but we do have sizeable collection of 12 inch vinyl spoken word records played at 33 1/3.  These include plays, poetry, legends, speeches and stories.

You can browse our holdings of literature on vinyl by searching for the call number LIT PD (Literature Phonodisc).

Because of their relative brevity, the stories of Edgar Allan Poe could provide a fulfilling vintage audio book experience.  Below is a listing of Poe stories on vinyl in our collection.

The Black Cat; read by Arthur Luce Klein (Spoken Arts, s.d.).

A Descent Into The Maelström; read by Paul Hecht (Spoken Arts, s.d.).

The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar; read by Arthur Luce Klein (Spoken Arts, s.d.).

The Murders In The Rue Morgue; read by Arthur Luce Klein (Spoken Arts, 1970?).

The Pit And The Pendulum; read by Edward Blake (Listening Library, 1972).

The Pit And The Pendulum; read by Alexander Scourby (Spoken Arts, 1962).

The Purloined Letter; read by Arthur Luce Klein (Spoken Arts, s.d.).


Dicecco, Mike, "A History of 16-RPM Records, Part Two: Audio Books,"  Antique Phonograph News
Canadian Antique Phonograph Society
(May-June 2010).

Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound, Frank Hoffmann, editor (Routledge, 2005).

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Jazz Standards: A Guide To The Repertoire

As one comes to know and appreciate jazz, it becomes apparent that jazz musicians create their own compositions, avail themselves of other jazz compositions, or utilize familiar songs that have become known as "standards."  Standards are often songs from the Broadway stage, but can be any popular tune from the recorded era.  The standard provides a form (verse, chorus, sometimes bridge), a chord progression and a melody that is played at the beginning and end.

With his guide, The Jazz Standards, Ted Gioia provides a great service to anyone interested in exploring jazz by discussing more than 200 of the best known melodies employed in the jazz repertoire.  His entries first give some background on a melody's pre-jazz origins.  He also shares his personal response to each standard often highlighting some of his favorite renditions.  The end of each entry includes a short discography of his preferred recordings.

Despite disliking the melody and chord changes of "All The Things You Are" by Jerome Kern, the author claims it as a favorite standard of his.  He appreciates it for its "exciting set of possibilities as a springboard for jazz improvisation."  The song first appeared in the 1939 musical flop Very Warm For May , but it soon grabbed the attention of jazz musicians.  By the end of the year Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra introduced it and took it to the top of the charts.  The author spoke to saxophonist Bud Shank near the end of his 60 year career "who never felt he had exhausted the possibilities of this specific song."

Writing about "I'm In The Mood For Love," by the standard-making songwriting team of Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Field, Gioia noted that it had the misfortune to be prominently sung by the character of Alfalfa in a Little Rascals short. However, that was already a year after the song had been introduced by Frances Langford in the film Every Night At 8, released in August 5, 1935. The review in Variety magazine noted that "she reprises 'I'm in the Mood for Love' several times" but predicted other songs from the movie would get more attention from the jazz orchestras.  Variety was proven wrong when Louis Armstrong powered it to number 3 on the charts a few months later, assuring its status as a standard.

While he sort of disparages one of my favorites, Vincent Youmans' and Irving Ceasar's "Tea For Two, ("the melody is monotonous and akin to a second-rate nursery song"), Gioia illuminates the song nonetheless.  He repeats the apocryphal tale about how Harry Frazee, the backer of the song's show No, No Nanette, sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees to finance his show.  I enjoyed reading about Dmitri Shostakovich's scoring of the song for orchestra (see volume 10 of the composer's collection works - Sobranie sochineniĭ v soroka dvukh tomakh).  Gioia is at is best when he tells of how New York's finest jazz pianists seemed to try one-up each other with more brilliant renditions of this tune.

Many of these songs are well established within the Great American Songbook making the contents of this book elide well with our Dorothy Starr Collection of sheet music. The cover illustrations above all come from the collection.  You will not find yourself always agreeing with Gioia's assessments, but he takes us on an entertaining and informative journey through this repertoire and will certainly entice you to listen to more jazz.

Art Tatum playing "Tea for two"

The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire by Ted Gioia (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories, 1890-1954: The History of American Popular Music: Compiled from America's popular music charts 1890-1954 (Record Research, 1986).

Sobranie sochineniĭ v soroka dvukh tomakh, volume 10, by D. Shostakovich (Muzyka, 1979-1987).

Variety Film Reviews, volume 5 (Garland Pub., 1983).

Sheet music:

"All The Things You Are," music by Jerome Kern (Chappell & Co. Inc., 1939).

"I'm In The Mood For Love," words and music by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields (Robbins Music Corporation, 1935).

"Tea For Two," music by Vincent Youmans (Harms Inc., 1924).

Blossom Dearie singing "Tea for two"

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Ballroom Dancing in the Art, Music and Recreation Center Newspaper Clipping Files

One of the tools of the old school reference librarian is the vertical file or newspaper clipping file.  Even as more information is available to be searched on the internet and through databases, the Art, Music and Recreation Center continues to maintain and add to our files.  In recent years we have been adding quite a bit less because we have stopped clipping articles from the San Francisco Chronicle (which has a strong online presence and a database that we subscribe to).  But we continue make an effort to locate material in neighborhood and weekly papers.

Browsing through these files is always a serendipitous experience.  You never know what you will find.  In this entry, we will present a small snapshot of the sort of articles one might find using the Ballroom Dancing file.

Ballroom dance is an activity that takes place away from the glare of the public  spotlight and involves amateurs and enthusiasts of all backgrounds.  Skimming through this folder of at least 100 clippings one can see ballroom dancing as a continuous current flowing through our city's cultural life.

"Allure of Swinging Attracts Fans of All Ages to Amura Ballroom Dance Studio" by Shiela Husting appeared in the Sunset Beacon in July 2007.  This article lists six dance studios in the Sunset District.  Unfortunately, the Amura Ballroom Dance Studio has since shut down, despite rave reviews online.

"Ballroom Dancing Remains on the Hill," by Christina Li appeared in The Potrero View of June 2008.  It discusses Cheryl Burke Dance taking over the space at 17th and DeHaro that was occupied for 17 years by the Metronome Ballroom.  Both of these studios represent the past of 1830 17th Street which is scheduled to be torn down so the Smuin Ballet can build a studio there.

"It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing!," by Karen Ahn appeared in San Francisco Downtown in July 1998.  This article discusses a swing dance revival at spaces like Bimbo's, Cafe du Nord and The Inferno Lounge.

"Tea Dancing" by Joan Hockaday appeared in the San Francisco Progress on December 2, 1979.  It describes a Friday night tea dancing event held at the Hyatt Regency at the Embarcadero.

"Strictly Ballroom, Dancing Classes for Kids," by Angela Neal Richardson appeared in the Nob Hill Gazette of October 1993.  This article discusses The Mid-Weeklies, a series of dance classes for 6th, 7th and 8th graders.  Dance is also taught to these children as a form of social etiquette.

"Strictly Ballroom... and Tango, Swing, Cha Cha..." by Kevin Davis appeared in The Guardsman, the student newspaper of the City College of San Francisco.  This article discusses the school's ballroom dance classes.  It includes this fascinating information: "The 2,200-strong dance community at City College is really a cult-like entity unto itself, extending out  to a wide, underground movement."

Our newspaper clipping files provide a small window into this "underground" world.  It shows that there is a devoted subculture of San Franciscans who sustain this art form.  The popularity of different dance forms may wax and wane, dance venues may come and go, but the continuous enthusiasm and activity of these dancers remains documented in our files.

We have collected information into files on all aspects of the visual and performing arts as well as sports and recreation.  We also have biographical files on visual and performing artists.  Here are links to the indexes of our vertical file collection.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Maurice J. Gunsky - a San Francisco music idol of the 1920s

Maurice Gunsky, from the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection

Maurice Gunsky was the number one vocal star in the early days of Bay Area radio broadcasting.  Yet the small modern remembrance that we have of him is as a butt of a Herb Caen joke.  Caen wrote in a 1979 column:
Maurice Gunsky, idol of thousands of women who had never laid eyes on him, made the mistake of emerging from the radio studio for a personal appearance in a Market St. Theater. The crowds were enormous -- but not for long. For Maurice Gunsky, of the romantic pipes, turned out to be rather short, dumpy and balding. His career went into fatal decline. 
(Caen repeated a similar story in 1988).

Maurice Jacob Gunsky (who frequently went by Maurice J. Gunsky) was born August 10, 1888 in Petaluma, California to Joseph and Fannie Gunsky, immigrants from Russian Poland.  His father who worked as a tailor in San Francisco, Ukiah and Petaluma, died when Maurice was twelve.

The most detailed account of the singer's life appeared in the 1930 biographical encyclopedia California and Californians.  This resource explains that because of his parents' early deaths he had go to work to support his family. He became a printer's apprentice, then a pressman who was a member of the San Francisco Printing Pressman's Union No. 24 -- not seemingly a likely background for a successful singer and songwriter. This source further noted that he "has struggled to recognition and fame in the musical world under the spur of poverty and limited opportunities."

He was apparently a practicing Jew since his first notice in the Chronicle tells of his performance as a tenor at a performance for B'rith Abraham in San Francisco in 1909.  While Gunsky showed ability as a vocalist, he could not overcome stage fright, which kept him off the stage for many years.  He then tried his hand at songwriting, primarily as a lyricist.

One of his earliest appearances in print was with the 1914 song "My 'Kewpie' Doll" written in collaboration with San Francisco songwriter and theater impresario Nat Goldstein.  The lyrics are not outstanding ("I've got the cutest little pet that any one get, / And he's my fav-'rite chum, because he's never glum") but they did respond to the craze for these dolls in 1914.

Goldstein and Gunsky had a fruitful, twenty year collaboration writing more than twenty songs including "That Haunting Waltz" recorded by Joseph M. Knecht and Waldorf-Astoria Dance Orchestra (1921),  "Honolulu Blues" recorded by the Oriole Terrace Orchestra (1922), the New Orleans Black Birds (1928) and Red Nichols and the Five Pennies (1931).  "Alone in Lonesome Valley" was recorded as "Lonesome Valley" by Glen Rice and his Beverly Hill Billies. "Linger Longer" was recorded by the Graham Prince Palais D'Or Orchestra in 1932.

After a time it occurred to him that he could overcome his fear of performance for an audience by singing over the new medium of radio to promote his songs before the public.  Gunsky got his start in radio at the San Jose station KJBS in September 1925 and shortly afterward worked at KFRC.  KPO's new program director, pianist Jean Campbell Crowe, then hired Gunsky and by late November he was a regular singer with the station.

source: San Francisco Chronicle November 13, 1925

He made an immediate sensation - an article in Radio Digest reported that "his first appearance brought thousands of letters."  These were the earliest days of early broadcasting when the radio spectrum was still clear and programming was fairly scarce.  Newspaper notices as far afield as Billings, Montana and Albuquerque, New Mexico announced the times when Gunsky would be singing live on air. The Berkeley Daily Gazette reported in 1927 that "Each time Gunsky goes 'on the air' ... he receives requests for songs from Los Angeles to British Columbia, and since he first began singing they have run into the hundreds of thousands."  He signed on with the West Coast Theaters circuit and became their highest paid performer and biggest box office attraction.

Soon after becoming a radio idol, the Victor label brought him into the recording studio.  His first disc, "Lay My Head Beneath a Rose" backed with "Why Do I Always Remember?" was recorded in Oakland on May 1, 1926.  He later traveled to New York where he made more records and performed on air.  In 1928 he returned to the Bay Area with the San Francisco Chronicle proclaiming: "Since going East, KPO has been besieged with telephone calls and letters asking for Gunsky. His return home is an auspicious event in radio circles."  He returned to the east again to make some recordings for the Columbia label.  At the height of his popularity, Gunsky was earning 3,000 dollars a week.

from the Catalog of Victor Records 1930

from the Catalog of Victor Records [1938]

The Popular Jazz Archive provides a discography for Maurice Gunsky as a soloist with 30 sides recorded for Victor and 12 sides recorded for Columbia between 1925 and 1929.  The creator of that blog has digitized several of these songs and uploaded them to  Eighteen of his Victor sides were still listed in print in the 1930 Victor catalog. By 1938 only his debut recording "Lay My Head Beneath a Rose" backed with "Why Do I Always Remember" remained available.  This recording was simultaneously issued in Great Britain on the Zonophone label and had sold more 230,000 copies by 1932.

 "Lay My Head Beneath A Rose" as featured by Maurice Gunsky, K.P.O. artist
"Lay My Head Beneath a Rose" as featured by Maurice J. Gunsky, Victor Record and radio artist

He continued to have success as a radio singer through the early 1930s.  Even a news item in the Lubbock Morning Avalanche March 1, 1930 announced: "Maurice Gunsky, radio tenor, has returned to KPO after a tour of eastern stations" implying that he had appeared live on many stations.  During the 1930s, his singing was relayed to other stations like KNX in Los Angeles.  His programs were also transcribed to records.  He also became the musical director for MacGregor and Sollie, one of these transcription services.

Though his stardom waned through the 1930s he continued to sing.  Radio listings from 1931 show him performing Sunday mornings on KFRC.  In 1933 he had his own half-hour "Maurice Gunsky Review," broadcast locally on KYA, but transcribed and broadcast all over the country.  He also made a foray into songwriting for Hollywood.  Gunsky made a bit of a comeback on KSFO in 1938

It's not accurate to call Gunsky's music jazz.  It is a kind of slow, melancholy music with semi-classical overtones.  His recording career might have been shortened by the Great Depression that started with the Stock Market crash in October 1929.  It's also possible that his style of music was no longer as commercially viable as more rhythmic styles of music grew in popularity.

Although his star definitely waned by the 1940s, Maurice Gunsky had achieved a measure of fame throughout the English language world.  While he was rooted in San Francisco, his voice was broadcast all across the American West and his recordings were enjoyed through the United States and Great Britain.  He was a member of ASCAP and their registry of works continues to list 11 of his songs.  The ASCAP Biographical Dictionary supplies this brief biography - "Active in radio, WCoast, 25. Appeared in vaudeville, 26-29."

It's apparent that he had enough ability as singer and as a lyricist to allow him to live well and become well-known.  Given his late and inauspicious entry into the performing arts, his success is remarkable.  He arrived on the scene at the same time that a new medium was taking shape that had need of his talents. While Maurice J. Gunsky is all but forgotten, we still have a record of his work.

Maurice Gunsky's works in the San Francisco Public Library catalog.

Maurice Gunsky's works in the Dorothy Starr Collection catalog.


"At the Sound of the Chimes," San Francisco Examiner (October 31, 1936).

"B'rith Abraham Has a Reunion," San Francisco Chronicle (January 14, 1909), p. 12

Caen, Herb, "From Monday On," San Francisco Chronicle (March 26, 1979), 26.

Caen, Herb, "Out of My Mind," San Francisco Chronicle (December 4, 1988), Sunday Punch p. 1.

California and Californians, edited by Rockwell D. Hunt (The Lewis Publishing Company, 1930).

Catalog of Victor Records 1930 (Victor Talking Machine Division, Radio-Victor Corporation of America, 1930).

Catalog of Victor records (RCA Victor Division of RCA Manufacturing Co., 1938).

Daggett, John S., "Radio to Bring London Voices," Los Angeles Times (May 26, 1931), A17.

Falkenstein, G. & W. Madison, "Lay My Head Beneath a Rose" (Villa Moret Inc., 1926).

Flamm, Jerry, Good Life in Hard Times: San Francisco in the '20s & '30s (Chronicle Books, 1999).

"Goal of KPO is diversity," Radio Digest Illustrated, vol. 23, no. 5 (March 1929), 69.

Goldstein, Nat & M.J. Gunsky, "My 'Kewpie' doll" (Nat Goldstein Music Pub. Co., 1914).

Goldstein, Nat & Maurice J. Gunsky, "That haunting waltz" (Nat Goldstein Music Publishing Company, 1921).

"Gunsky Again on Monday" San Francisco Chronicle (February 19, 1928), 12.

"Gunsky to be Heard Again," Oakland Tribune (February 20, 1938), 4-B.

"Gunsky to Make Phonograph Records," Oakland Tribune (October 7, 1928), 2-B

"Gunsky to Perform at U.C. All Week," Berkeley Daily Gazette (August 30, 1927).

"Gunsky's Rise to Fame Like Fiction Tale," Berkeley Daily Gazette (September 6, 1927), 3.

"More Features on KPO List," San Francisco Chronicle November 13, 1925, p. 6.

"Maurice Gunsky Singing for Victrola Company," Ukiah Dispatch-Democrat (September 24, 1926), 8.

Nicolson, William J., "Victor In The West: The Oakland Pressing Plant," Tim's Phonographs and Old Records [online, n.d.]

"Pioneer Singer Passes," San Francisco Examiner (March 5, 1945).

"Programs of Stations Local Radio Fans Can Receive," Billings Gazette (November 29, 1925), 7.

"Radio Programs," Albuquerque Morning Journal (December 4, 1925), 4.

Schneider, John F., "History of KPO, San Francisco" Bay Area Radio Museum (1997).

Weeks, Anson & Maurice J. Gunsky, "Linger longer" (Villa Moret Inc., 1931).