Recording Pioneers- Part 6

Frederick William Gaisberg 1873 – 1951

“Fred was clearly one of those Children with a natural talent for the keyboard, and his mother made the most of this opportunity from the moment she began to teach him when he was four.”

-Extract from ‘A Voice in Time’ – Jerrold Northrop Moore

 Name:               Frederick William Gaisberg

Born:              1 January 1873

Resident:        Born in Washington DC, immigrated to the United Kingdom as a young man of only 25 in 1898

Occupation:   Sound Recording Engineer, A&R Supreme

Loves:             Travelling, musicians, engineering

Fred Gaisberg

© Courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

Fred Gaisberg’s love affair with music began at the early age of just four.  From the age of eight until his voice broke Fred was a chorister at St John’s Episcopal Church, here he met and studied under one of Washington’s most celebrated artists of the time – the young master of the United States Marine Band, John Philip Sousa.

“I attended rehearsals in his then modest home in the Navy Yard in South Washington. He (Sousa) patted me on the head and made quite a pet of me… I was one of those music-mad youngsters who hovered by his podium and never missed a concert.”

-Fred Gaisberg recalling his childhood

Although he was an excellent singer, the piano remained his first love and after securing a scholarship to study piano he gained a reputation for his excellent playing and accompanying and was soon playing for charitable organisations and amateur organisation throughout the city. In 1889 in search of some more pocket money, the sixteen year old Gaisberg came across an advert for the Columbia Phonograph Company.  They were looking for someone to play the piano loudly and clearly enough for its sounds to be captured by the apparatus as the accompaniment for a musician to record.

One of the first musicians selected to record with Gaisberg was John York Atlee, a Whistler. Together they would churn out in three’s countless records of performances of ‘Whistling Coon’, ‘Mocking Bird’, and the ‘Laughing Song’.  These recordings were made on small hollow cylinders of wax, where a needle moved gradually in a lateral way etching the grooves that represented the sound waves into the wax.

Fred Gaisberg secured his first job working at the Columbia Phonograph Company. He spent the next few years working for various people within the growing phonograph industry, including Thomas Edison.

In 1894 he met Emile Berliner and his career took on a new direction. His fascination with Berliner’s novel recording process was the start of his career change from an accompanying pianist to a recording sound engineer. Very soon after meeting and working under Berliner, Gaisberg was sent to London to record music for the European market, working with Trevor Lloyd Williams and William Barry Owen.

Once he reached London he was introduced to another sound engineer – Sinkler Derby and together they continued to travel all over the world recording local music for the ever expanding Gramophone Company. His travels are well documented in “The Fred Gaisberg Diaries” which have been made available by Hugo Strötbaum.  Fred Gaisberg was without a doubt one of the single biggest contributors to the success of the Gramophone Company.  More details on exactly what he got up to can be found in our Gaisberg Travels blog series.

Fred Gaisberg and Sinkler Derby

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