The Peerless Quartet
The Peerless Quartet is said to be the most commercially successful vocal group of the acoustic recording era.
Personnel changed frequently. The Quartet is an off shoot of the Columbia Male Quartet. In 1904 it consisted of tenors Henry Burr and Albert Campbell, baritone Steve Porter, and bass Tom Daniels. In 1906 Frank C. Stanley replaced Daniels and assumed lead singing and managing responsibilities.
The “Peerless Quartet” name appeared in 1906-1907. The group was called the Columbia Quartet on Columbia records for many years after other companies adopted the Peerless name.
Arthur Collins filled Porter’s slot in 1909. When Stanley died in 1910, John Meyer became the bass and Burr sang the lead. Frank Croxton joined the group when Collins left in 1918.
In 1925 Burr changed to personnel to include himself, Carl Mathieu, Stanley Baughman and James Stanley. The Quartet disbanded in 1928.
Biographical sources: “The Encyclopedia of Acoustic Era Recording Artists,” by Tim Gracyk, “Billy Murray, The Phonograph Industry’s First Great Recording Artist,” by Hoffmann, Carty, & Riggs.
Henry Burr was the pseudonym of Harry McClaskey, a world famous pop singer and recording artist of the 1902-1929 period. Credited with making over 5000 phonograph recordings for almost every record company and performing in many concerts throughout North America, this Canadian-American remains one of the most famous, and yet, one of the most forgotten recording artists of all time. Most information about Burr has come from a series of article written by Jim Walsh and the New York Times obituary.
Born in Saint Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada, Harry’s family moved to Saint John, New Brunswick, where Harry began his singing career as a boy tenor performing in local churches, and exhibitions. In 1901 he ventured into New York City, and found work as a church soloist. He also met Miss Kate Stella Burr, an organist and a vocal teacher, whose name he borrowed. By the fall of 1902 he became one of the recording artists for Columbia Graphophone, Edison Records, and later Victor Records. In 1905 he had a hit song with In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree. He was accepted into the Columbia Quartet which later became the Peerless Quartet. He became its manager in 1912. For the next 10-15 years, the Quartet and its later offshoot, the Sterling Trio, became one of the most popular recording groups in America, recording hundreds of 78’s of popular songs. Some estimates of the number of records made by Burr and his ensembles (Peerless Quartet and Sterling Trio) reach over 10,000.
Between 1916 and 1928, in addition to recording, Burr managed and toured the US and Canada with the Peerless Quartet, Billy Murray, and three other Victor Artists. The group was called the Eight Famous (Popular) Victor Artists and were a great success wherever they appeared.
The onset of radio, moving pictures, and jazz, outdated the sentimental style of music that Burr was familiar with and he disbanded the Quartet in October of 1928. After making several solo recordings on smaller labels, freelancing, and working for a short while at CBS, in 1934, Burr became a popular regular performer on Chicago’s WLS radio programs. He died of complication associated with throat cancer and heart failure at the age of 59. Burr lies buried in an unmarked grave in an upstate New York cemetery in Kenisco.
In his early years, Burr often returned to give concerts in New Brunswick, Canada, where even today, he is still remembered and appreciated.
Henry Burr Research Project
Started in 1984 this labor of love, is an ongoing effort to document as much as possible about Burr’s life and his recordings.
Two paperbacks, The Life and Times of Henry Burr, and the Preliminary Henry Burr Discography are currently being compiled. The publication date has been delayed several times as additional information trickles in, but 2003 should be it. Each book contains over 350 pages, tens of rare photographs, and is a result of much research through various archives, libraries, microfilms, personal interviews, record collections. The Life, reconstructs Burr’s early life and career in New Brunswick and New York, follows him through his recording period, tours with the Eight Victor Artists, and his final work at WLS. The Discography will contain a detailed discography of over 4000 records issued with Burr, Peerless Quartet, and the Sterling Trio on over 100 labels.
The Project welcomes any information on Burr or the recordings. We are always looking for lost relatives of Harry McClaskey (Henry Burr), or relatives of any of the artists that Harry recorded with, such as Albert Campbell, Monroe Silver, Frank Banta, Sammy Hermany, and anyone who may still be alive from the WLS National Barn Dance radio broadcasts, where Burr performed from 1935 to 1941. Also of great interest are titles, matrix numbers and issue numbers of records other than Victor and Columbia.
When Henry Burr died in Chicago, his wife Cecilia McClaskey was the only remaining relatives. Cecilia died in 1954 with no siblings left behind. There, the trail seemed to end, or so it seems.
If you may have any clues, please do send us mail to email@example.com. You will be put on the list for the bio/disco and will be notified when it becomes available.