Originally published in Gramophone Magazine, July 1958
Few men have been as well loved as Louis Sterling and one may speculate whether any business man has ever been as much loved as that most remarkable little man who started his commercial life as a newspaper boy in New York City before he was out of his ‘teens.
When The Gramophone Magazine was started in April, 1923, Columbia shares had hardly more than a nominal value: under Louis Sterling’s management they became worth well over a hundred times as much as they were when he took the helm.
Round about 1923 the research work of the Western Electric Company of America solved the difficult problems of making the talking film and electrically recording the gramophone disc. Louis Sterling who by now was in England, had appointed an old associate of Edison to keep him in touch with developments in America. Frank Capps was then in charge of the Pathé recording plant in New York, and it was to this plant that the Western Electric people sent their experimental wax discs to be processed. Capps and Russell Hunting who was associated with him at the Pathé plant played over the sample pressings before despatching them to the Western Electric Company, and were staggered by what they realised at once would make acoustic recording a thing of the past.
Capps managed to send Louis Sterling some of these samples and was able to warn him at the same time that the Victor Company was negotiating with Western Electric for exclusive rights in the new process. Sterling cabled to Capps asking him to do all he could to hold up the negotiations and sailed for New York. Luck was with him. A contract granting exclusive rights in the new process to the Victor company had been drafted a month earlier, but owing to the illness of the Victor chairman that Contract had not been signed. Louis Sterling was able to convince the Western Electric Company that it would be a grave mistake to grant a monopoly of their new process to one recording company, and the offer to the Victor Company was withdrawn. Soon afterwards Victor and Columbia were both granted a licence to use electric recording. Old readers of THE GRAMOPHONE will recall the sensational effect upon the industry of that revolutionary process.
When Columbia,” His Master’s Voice” and Parlophone joined to form the present E.M.I. Group, Louis Sterling retired from active management and gave his financial genius to other undertakings, but he never lost his interest in the gramophone and for a long time we of THE GaMornoNE could always count upon his affectionate and helpful advice.
The Sterling house in St. John’s Wood, 7 Avenue Road, was a wonderful centre of kindly warmth and hospitality. The late Fred Gaisberg wrote in his valuable reminiscences: “After the recording we adjourned to the home of Sir Louis and Lady Sterling, whose Sunday suppers had become a regular feature of bohemian London. People like the Sterlings, who keep open house on Sundays, have helped to dispel that Sabbath gloom which, I have found, is the bugbear of Continental artists visiting England. At the Sterlings one always met agreeable colleagues in the theatrical, film, and musical worlds. On this occasion Schnabel and Kreisler were soon deeply engrossed in discussing the political situation in Germany and were joined by ex-Mayor jimmy Walker and Lauritz Melchior, greatly to the discomfort of a bridge party in the next room, which included Chaliapin and Gigli “.
Besides being a great collector of people Louis Sterling was a great collector of books and manuscripts, and that collection he presented to London University. I am proud to think that the manuscript of my second novel Carnival rests there.
Many people will sadly miss Louis Sterling and we who were privileged to enjoy his friendship know what his loss means to Lady Sterling who was the perfect expression of her husband’s generous heart.
I pray that the knowledge of how much that husband was loved by so many people of all kinds may comfort her a little. Ave aique vale, dear Louis.