A Tribute to Dan W. Quinn (1859? - 7 November 1938)
by Tim Gracyk
Recording pioneer Dan W. Quinn was born in
Francisco, perhaps in 1859 since Jim
Walsh reports in the December
1961 issue of Hobbies that Quinn was 79 years old when he died.
Posing with other Edison artists of 1900, Quinn
appears to be around 40 years old in a photograph
that is reprinted in the January 1971 issue of
Hobbies. He was occasionally identified as a
baritone but most often as a tenor.
Quinn was a boy soprano in an Episcopal choir and
was evidently a vaudeville performer when he was a
young man. His photograph is on the cover of sheet
music of the 1890s.
He recounted how he began recording in a letter sent
to Walsh, who quotes it at length in "Reminiscences
of Dan W. Quinn," published in the July 1934 issue
of Music Lovers' Guide: "In January 1892, I was
engaged to entertain a political club in Hoboken.
One of the features was a man who gave a
phonograph exhibition and invited everyone to make
a voice test...The phonograph was a great novelty at
the time, and these records created a lot of
amusement, though most of them were terrible. I
was loath to make an attempt, but they all begged
me, and finally I did. I was lucky enough to have a
voice and style of singing that were just 'made' for
recording...I don't know what it was about my voice
that made it 'go,' as I always sang quietly. There
must have been some latent penetrating power.
Anyway, the operator urged me to go to one of the
laboratories and make a real test. In a short time I
went to the New York Company, located at 257 Fifth
Avenue. Richard Townley Haines was the manager
and he was so much taken by my singing that I did a
lot of work for him. I'll never forget one of the first
records I made. It was "Down Went McGinty'...In a
little while I began to hear of other phonograph
companies, so I graduated to the New Jersey
[Phonograph] Company at Newark....I was new, and
my fund of material interested them greatly."
Quinn explained why he was among the most
successful recording artists of the 1890s: "It was
while working for Vic Emerson [a Columbia
executive in the 1890s] that I began to work like a
good fellow and went after all the latest songs. I
learned everything, whether it naturally suited my
style or not. The good singers--I mean fellows like
John W. Myers and George Gaskins
[sic]--were slow getting up their stuff, and I, being a sight reader, just
couldn't keep from learning every new number. I
sang the hits of 'The Geisha,' 'San Toy,' 'The
Runaway Girl,' and every other Broadway success
then in vogue. I was the first to make records of
'Sweet Rosie O'Grady,' 'The Sidewalks of New York,'
'Daisy Bell,' 'Little Annie Rooney,' 'The Bowery' and
'The Cat Came Back'....But I didn't stick altogether
to comic, sentimental and topical numbers. Mr.
Emerson and Mr. Tewksbury, his assistant, wouldn't
allow anybody else to sing the Moody and Sankey
hymns, such as 'I Need Thee Every Hour' and
'Throw Out the Life Line'....It took me back to my
boyhood days when I was a boy soprano in an
Quinn recorded regularly from 1892 to 1905. He
made recordings for the Phonograph Record and
Supply Company ("Laboratory, 97, 99 & 101 Reade
Street, New York"), which included in its
supplementary list dated August 1896 these titles
sung by Quinn concerning that year's presidential
race between William McKinley and William J.
Bryan: "A Presidential Boom (Negro)" (380), "The
Campaign Cry of Freedom" (381), "McKinley Is Our
Man" (383), and "We Want You, McKinley" (384).
Columbia's November 1896 catalog, which lists over
60 Quinn titles, states, "Mr. Quinn's reputation as a
vocalist is so well established that the mere
announcement of his name is a guarantee of the
He was one of Berliner's most important artists,
recording nearly a hundred titles. The only singer to
cover more titles for the disc company was tenor
George J. Gaskin. Perhaps the earliest Quinn discs to
be issued were "Girl Wanted" (935), recorded on
November 3, 1895, and "Henrietta, Have Your Met
Her?" (151), also recorded in November 1895.
An April 1899 catalog issued by the National Gram-
o-phone Company, maker of Berliner discs,
identifies Quinn as "The King of Comic Singers."
Berliners made by Quinn featuring show tunes
include a "popular Hebrew dialect song" (as the
National Gram-o-phone catalog characterizes it)
titled "Ikey Eisenstein," from the show An American
Beauty (1737--it was also recorded as Edison 1039)
and, from the show Hurly Burly, "Little Old New
York Is Good Enough For Me" (030), recorded on
April 4, 1899.
In contrast to singers who recorded standards, Quinn
as a Berliner artist covered new songs, nearly all of
them quickly forgotten, few being recorded by other
artists. They include "Down in Poverty Row"
(Berliner 161), "I've Been Hoodoed" (198), "The
Irish Cake Walk" (1822), and "Then Pour Us A
Drink Bartender" (1600), recorded on November 11,
1896. Songs recorded by Quinn that were genuine
hits of the day, as evident by the variety of singers
who recorded them, include "The Belle of Avenoo
[sic] A" (184) and Dresser's "Just Tell Them That
You Saw Me" (189). Quinn confirms in his letter to
Walsh that he recorded mostly topical numbers
though he wished to sing more hymns: "I made my
living in the frivolous field, but my heart was in the
He estimated cutting some 2,500 titles during his
more than 20 years of recording experience. He
listed for Walsh some companies that issued his
records: "During my active days I recorded for
practically all American companies: Edison, Victor,
Columbia, United States, New Jersey, Chicago,
Ohio, Boston, Gramophone, Gennett, Leeds-Catlin,
and a number of others."
He even remembered recording hundreds of titles
during a two-week period in September 1894 for the
Columbia and New England cylinder companies in
Washington, DC, and Boston, respectively. He
recalled making Berliner tests while in Washington--
the company was, like Columbia, on Pennsylvania
Avenue--though it appears nothing was issued. He
traveled to these cities by train and recorded as many
titles as his voice would allow in the short time he
Columbia moved its headquarters to New York City
in 1897. An 1899 cylinder catalog duplicates an
agreement dated May 1, 1898, establishing that
Quinn, along with more than a dozen others, was
exclusive to Columbia. The arrangement lasted a
year. His last session for Berliner, before his
exclusive contract with Columbia began, was on
March 31, 1898. He next recorded for Berliner on
April 4, 1899.
Quinn usually worked as a solo artist. Exceptions
include minstrel records and these two duets with
Helen Trix recorded for Victor on October 17, 1906:
Petersí "Is Marriage A Failure?" (4914), from The
Mayor of Tokyo, and Bratton's nonsense song "Fol-
De-Iddley-Ido" (4959), from The Pearl and the
He was among the few artists who recorded for
Eldridge R. Johnson's talking machine and disc
company when it was briefly known as the
Consolidated Talking Machine Company (it was
later the Victor Talking Machine Company).
Numbers cut on June 29, 1900, for the new company
include "Strike Up The Band" (seven-inch A-9) and
the Edgar Smith and John Stromberg song "King
Gilhooley" (A-10). Also from this period is "The
Mick Who Threw The Brick" (seven-inch A-17).
The issued take on Johnson's rare Improved Gram-o-
phone label, Quinn's third take, was recorded on
October 29, 1900. He was prolific during Victor's
ten-inch Monarch period, making many discs in the
3000 series, which is pre-matrix.
A comic number from Victor's Grand Prize era is the
1905 "Football" (4603), one of the earliest songs
about the sport (George Graham recorded "A Foot
Ball Game" for Berliner as early as 1897 but this is a
During most of his recording career, Quinn was a
free-lance artist, singing for practically all American
companies. He made a few records in 1906 and then
retired for a time (Gaskin likewise stopped recording
around 1905,returning a decade later). This hiatus
began just before the advent of double-faced discs.
He continued to perform in vaudeville and operated
a theatrical booking agency almost to the day
of his death. In "Reminiscences of Dan W. Quinn," Walsh
gives the address as 312 West 20th Street, New York
City. Quinn was obviously semi-retired by the 1930s
and had his booking office in his home.
Though nearly 60, he attempted in 1915 a recording
comeback, beginning with a Columbia session on
September 23, 1915. Columbia issued three discs
with Quinn on one side, a different artist on the
other: "Beatrice Fairfax, Tell Me What To Do"
(A1847), "Hello! Boys, I'm Back Again" (A1868)--
the title of this comic song by Mahoney and Von
Tilzer was appropriate for a comeback attempt--and,
in June 1916, "I Can Dance With Everybody But My
Wife" (A2004). In April 1916 Victor issued "Hello!
Boys, I'm Back Again" backed by "At the Fountain
of Youth" on 17935, which remained available until
1919. He had cut the latter song for Columbia on
November 23, 1915, but it went unissued.
He then cut a handful of titles for small companies,
including Gennett and Paramount. Operaphone
1937, featuring Quinn singing "Here Comes The
Groom," was issued in May 1917. Seven-inch
Majestic 134 features "If I Knock the 'L' Out Of
Kelly" backed by "Pat Malone Forget That He Was
Dead." "If I Knock the 'L' Out Of Kelly" backed by
"Some Little Bug Is Going To Find You" was
issued as seven-inch Emerson 764 in September
1916. The Bert Grant composition "If I Knock the
'L' Out Of Kelly" appears yet again on Operaphone
1087, backed by Quinn singing Jentes' "At the
Fountain of Youth." Perhaps the last Quinn title to
be issued was the Golden-Burt song "Life Is A
Merry Go Round," released as hill-and-dale
Paramount 2053 on May 20, 1918. It is backed by
Byron G. Harlan singing Norton's "Round Her
Neck She Wears A Yellow Ribbon."
In the July 1934 issue of Music Loversí Guide,
Walsh quotes these words of former Columbia
executive Frank Dorian regarding Quinn: "It's good
to know that he's comfortably well off. He and
Billy Murray are outstanding among the limited
number of old-time recording artists who have
taken care of their money and become men of
prominence and influence in their communities."
Quinn himself wrote to Walsh that he and his wife
celebrated their fiftieth anniversary on May 5,
1933. They had five children, the youngest of
whom, Frank Banta Quinn, was named after the
singer's accompanist on Edison cylinders (Frank P.
Banta died in 1904). The singer died of intestinal
cancer in his home at 312 West 20th Street, New