Thursday, May 29, 2014

The A&P Gypsies

Harry Horlick's salon orchestra "The A&P Gypsies" were sponsored by the A&P grocery chain. Harry had a very unfortunate surname but he didn't let it hold him back. But first a bit about another name: A&P. It's hard to think of a grocery store today having the mojo to sponsor radio programming but A&P began as The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company and with a name like that you knwo they thought highly of themselves and with good cause. 

A&P began in 1859 as a small chain of coffee and tea shops in new york. By the turn of the century they were the first national grocery chain in America with over 200 stores. It grew 8 fold over the next 15 years to 1,600 stores. By 1930 it was the world's largest retailer. It's decline began in the 1950s and over the next half century bankruptcies and buyouts left it what it is today.

But let's get back to Mr. Horlick. Harry was born in 1896 in Russia and was a prisoner of war in WWI. Family in the US helped him emigrate in the 1920s. And by 1923 his six-piece ensemble was playing on WEAF-AM in New York city. It was there he was seen by an "unnamed executive" from A&P. By March of 1924 they were apart of their sponsored broadcasts on Monday nights.

Today the word Gypsy is the next worst-thing to a racial slur. Ostensibly Harry had studied gypsy folk music while traveling with gypsy bands in Istanbul. it's hard to corroborate knowing he was imprisoned after 1914 and in the US by around 1921 at the age of 25. When that Turkish tour happened... I cannot say.

the A&P Gypsies performed together in 1923 through 1936 and subsequently cut a number of sides for Decca and Brunswick.
Horlick died in July of 1970.