Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Vincent Voice Library

In 1912, a 14-year old George Robert Vincent brought a wax cylinder recorder to the home of former President Theodore Roosevelt, in Oyster Bay N.Y. and convinced Roosevelt to speak into it. This cylinder was the first in the private collection of voice recordings by Mr. Vincent. The collection, thankfully is not all cylinders.  It's stored primarily on reels of magnetic tape.  It contains the voices of over 100,000 people. Some of them are less notable than President Roosevelt of course, but the overall quality of the library is astounding. Unsurprisingly G. Robert Vincent spent a little time in radio.

Vincent was born in 1900 in Boston, MA (thought some sourced say July 17, 1898.) As was almost inescapable in that era, he enlisted in World War I. he tried out for the British and was rejected. Then he tried the French military and became a dispatch courier in the French Army. When they found out he was 15 they shipped him home.  In 1918 he enlisted in the U.S. Army and went to officers school. He got his stripes at 17 years old. He eventually was stationed as an embassy Officer in Paris.

Some biographies state that he attended Yale, between WWI and WII, my understanding is that is a fish tale.  He did however work at Edison Laboratories. In 1939 he opened his own recording studio in New York, the National Vocarium (some sources say 1935).  regardless it's listed in the 1943 Broadcasting Yearbook on page 214. It was located at 610 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY.  They are listed as a source for transcription, production and scripts. the manager is listed as Robert Vincent of course.

In WWII in April 1942 the now Lieutenant Vincent was assigned to the brand new New York  radio section of the Army Special Services Division. He lobbied the pentagon for an active recording program. He eventually scored one million dollars of funding. He then brought in Steve Shoals from RCA Records to help run the project.  Unsurprisingly he hired V-Discs RCA Victor and Columbia Records to press the 12-inch vinylite V-discs.  By 1942, the AFRS was sending  transcription discs  to the troops from Vincent's pop recording sessions, from live concerts,  radio programs and more.

They sent popular music on unbreakable vinyl LPs to troops in the field. At the time the American Federation of Musicians, (AFM)  were on strike and the four major record companies could not record with union artists. Vincent  convinced the head of the AFM to allow union musicians to record sides for the military, with the caveat that these LPs not be sold stateside. the true beginning of the V-disc was in 1941. Captain Howard Bronson was assigned to the Army's Recreation and Welfare Section and began recording some very stiff marches and pressing discs of radio shows with the commercials edited out. Vincent took V-disc pop with  big stars and a big studio budget. He was awarded the Legion of Merit for his contribution to the morale of U.S. troops.

The V-Disc program ended in 1949 and to live up to their deal with the AFM, the original masters and stampers were destroyed. In some cases it is been recorded that the FBI and the Provost Marshal's Office confiscated and destroyed V-Discs that servicemen had tried to smuggle home.  One source claims that an employee at a Los Angeles record company even did some jail time for the illegal possession of over 2,500 V-Discs. More here.

In 1962 he donated more than 8,000 historic recordings to the Michigan State University, forming the basis of what would be the Voice Library. Upon his retirement in 1973, the collection had grown to 30,000 recordings, which was increased to more than 50,000 records for 2005, with the voices of thousands of U.S. national characters. He died in 1985 at the age of 88. More here.