Subject: Arthur Collins|
Date: 29 Jun 12 - 09:40 PM
Arthur Francis Collins was born in Philadelphia on February 7, 1864. The first of his parents' 10 children, the family moved to New Jersey but, after Arthur's vocal talents emerged, his parents sent him back to Philadelphia to take singing lessons. Collins eventually became an opera singer and then toured for a decade with Francis Wilson. By 1895, he married and retired from music to take up a more reputable occupation but he missed performing and joined up with the De Wolf Hopper Company.
By 1898, Collins was recording for the Edison Phonograph Company. Ragtime and cakewalk songs were popular and Collins sang many including a large number of coon songs. In fact, Collins established himself as the best-known coon-shouter in the business. By 1905, his recording of "The Preacher and the Bear" became a huge hit and eventually sold two million copies which made it, by far, the biggest seller of the ragtime era. His 1911 version of Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band" (done with Byron G. Harlan) was #1 for 10 weeks.
Although coon songs are seen today as embarrassingly racist and insensitive towards black people, they served to bring the talents of black writers and performers to the white public. Collins was the first white artist to routinely record songs written by black writers--from Ernest Hogan to W.C. Handy. Nine years after Collins's death, Jim Walsh wrote in the December issue of Hobbies magazine:
"There probably has never been a sweeter, more naturally musical baritone voice than his....Then, too, Arthur Collins managed invariably to get into the wax the impression of a warm, lovable personality. The unctuous sound of his chuckles in dialect work is
unfailingly charming. His negro [sic] heroes usually were in hard luck, but they bore up bravely and saw the funny side of their own misfortunes."
In 1917, Collins became the first artist to use some form of the word "jazz" in a song title when Victor released "That Funny Jas Band from Dixieland."
Collins also sang baritone in the Peerless Quartet from 1909 until 1918 and had a long-running and very successful collaboration with performer and songwriter Byron G. Harlan (who was also a member of the Peerless Quartet and who wrote the classic "Darktown Strutter's Ball") in which they performed as Collins & Harlan. Because both men were portly in physique, they often billed themselves as "the Half-Ton Duo" which demonstrates that both men were able to laugh at themselves as much as at anyone else.
On October 20, 1921, Collins was performing onstage for the Edison Company in which the audience was to guess whether he was really singing or whether they were hearing an Edison Diamond Disc machine. the stage went black and Collins turned to leave the the stage and fell through a trapdoor someone had left open and was seriously injured. The following year, though, he was well enough to record a number for the Gennett label and then resumed working with Byron Harlan for Edison but he developed heart ailments which were exacerbated by the effects of his fall in 1921 which he had never fully recoveredfrom and, by 1926, Collins retired from music permanently. He moved to Florida where he spent the next seven years until his death on August 3, 1933 at age 69.
Collins was a very prolific artist who recorded over 300 sides in a career that spanned the quarter of a century prior to the advent of electrical recording.