Academic journal article ARSC Journal

The Mighty Monarch of the Air: A Short History of the Short Life of Majestic Records

Academic journal article ARSC Journal

The Mighty Monarch of the Air: A Short History of the Short Life of Majestic Records

Article excerpt

Majestic Records was a post-war Indie and a fully owned subsidiary of the Majestic Radio & Television Corporation. While the corporate parent existed on the books from 1936 to c. 1961, as a commercial 78-rpm record label, the Majestic brand only lasted from 1945 to 1948, with a final, stray series appearing in 1949, possibly lasting into 1950.

Pre-History

Majestic Radio & Television was incorporated in Delaware in 1936. The company purchased the "Majestic" brand name and adapted the descending eagle logo from the Grigsby-Grunow Radio Corporation, who had used it to emblazon some now prized "Art Deco" radio sets in the early 1930s. (1) Chicago-based Grigsby-Grunow, established in 1921, was by 1928 one of the leading manufacturers of radio sets, but they went bankrupt in 1933. (2) By 1943, Majestic Radio & Television had likewise become insolvent, and it was bought by three executives who had defected from Zenith Radio & Television Corporation: Jud Sayer, Eugene A. "Gene" Tracey and L.W. Sturdevant. Majestic Radio & Television had decided to get into the record business as a way to support its radio-phonograph product lines, and apparently that was part of the plan well before the label made its bow; a May 1944 ad placed in Radio & Television Retailing states "What comes next at Majestic? Naturally some of it--much of it--can't be revealed now." (3) Presumably the record label was among those plans which Majestic felt it could not reveal at the time.

One detail relating to this story that only came to the author's attention just before publication is that there was a Majestic record label well before the familiar one made its bow in 1945. This was a product of Grigsby-Grunow and seems to have been a personal la bel along the lines of Gennett's Personal and Homer Rodeheaver's Special. These Majestics did not bear stock numbers, though some did use the slogan "The Mighty Monarch of the Air" in addition to another, "The World in your Home," encircling a globe design. (4) They were recorded and manufactured by Brunswick in Chicago between 1929 and 1931 and very few are known; mostly what remains of Grigsby-Grunow's Majestic label are empty matrix numbers in the Brunswick recording logs believed to have been used for them. Ross Laird notes that one known example includes two selections credited to WGN radio announcer Quin A. Ryan; "Kentucky Derby" and "The Dempsey-Tunney Fight," that Laird describes as "re-creations or dramatizations by an announcer of two sporting events which took place in 1927. They are not actual recordings of these events, although they seek to give that impression." (5) Laird goes on to specify that the Majestic pressing of these recordings appears to be a dub of earlier masters.

In 1939, artist and repertory manager Eli Oberstein had left RCA Victor, reportedly to avoid getting fired. He retaliated by beginning his own labels, in direct competition with RCA, at cut rate prices. During World War II, Oberstein's operation continued in direct opposition to the American Federation of Musicians' (AFM) ban on recording, which commenced in August 1942. Although his first venture, U.S. Record Corporation, was a failure, his second, Hit Records, did well and managed to survive the AFM ban. Oberstein may not have been looking for a buyer, but in early 1945 Majestic somehow convinced Oberstein to sell his entire operation to them, including pressing facilities in New York City (the former Transcriptions, Inc. and Classic Record Co.) and New Jersey (New Jersey Plastics, Inc. of Newark). (6) Oberstein, at first, was also named an officer within the new company.

Label Story

Former New York mayor Jimmy Walker was elected president of the Majestic record company on 13 February 1945, signifying the true starting point for the label. (7) Majestic was launched in March 1945 with the slogan "A Famous Name--Now on Records." The offices and main studios were located at 29 West 57th Street in New York City. …

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