Sterling, Louis (1879-1958)

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mistake to grant a monopoly of their new process to one recording company, and the offer to the Victor Company was withdrawn.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.


15 thoughts on “Sterling, Louis (1879-1958)

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this article. Sir Louis Sterling was my great uncle. I have only heard family stories about him before this. This blog is really fascinating! Again, thank you!

    1. Denise, I know this is a long shot but David Sterling, brother of Louis Sterling was married to my great aunt Marie Sterling. Would you know, or would you have an ideas as to how I could find out the maiden name of my great aunt, Marie?

      1. Hi Ted, I don’t know the answer to your question but would think it’s not impossible to find out for someone who does ancestral research. My cousin Adele Schaverien has done most of the sleuthing for our family tree and it goes back quite far thanks to her work. Sadly for us all, our family members of the generation who knew Sir Louis (and maybe his brother) have all passed away. There are so many questions we never asked them…..

      2. Thank you Denise.
        The tree I am building on my mother’s side has grown to be quite extensive maternally.
        On my mother’s paternal side, which is the side I have the missing maiden name information on is “stuck” at present.
        You are quite right about finding a true “genealogist” to research the piece of information I am missing.
        Before doing that though I will continue to turn over rocks.
        It is quite amazing what diligence and persistence (and a little luck) will uncover.

        All the best,

    2. I have a zink lined trunk in my house as a coffee table and all over it it says sir Louis sterling 7 avenue road nw8, and I was just sitting here thinking I should do some research and can across this site thought it might be interesting to you

  2. Thank you for posting this. I am doing my family tree and discovered that Louis was the brother of David Sterling who married a great aunt.

  3. My grandfather Adolf H. A. Bakker was the sole agent for Columbia in the Netherlands from the early years of the 20th century. He traveled to London several times a year, accompanied by my mother. Cissy Sterling and my mother were fast friends. She gave my mother a black alligator purse which I own now. James van Allen Shields was also on the board of directors. He joined my grandparents on outings in Western Europe, took my aunt to Italy. I have her diary of one of those trips. Columbia presented my grandfather a magnificent Chinese incense burner with dragons and phoenix all in bronze, also a lovely French wall clock and a sterling silver fruit basket. I was living in Paris when I saw a notice of Sir Louis’ death. Columbia presented a record at the time of my grandparents’ 25th wedding anniversary with their wedding picture in the center this would have been in 1923. An other record was made especially for my grandfather which featured fragments from the best recordings interspersed by greetings from members of the board of directors in London.. When I first arrived in the US as an eighteen year old he picked me up and took me to his and his wife’s home in Connecticut. I thought all of this might be interesting to you.
    Sincerely, Marijke Kyler Schutte

  4. Denise and Ted, Is it possible we are related? I have a 1949 holiday card from Sir Louis and Lady Cissy, and a photo of them with the Queen Mum, which belonged to my grandparents from NYC, Dr. Ira I. Kaplan and Ella Rubin Kaplan who visited them in London and called them cousins. We never thought to find out if in fact they were related or how. My grandfather was also born on Lower East Side and knew Sir Louis from youth when they were involved with a Jewish group of young boys and settlement houses (I would have to research to recall the name). Denise, you and I are undoubtedly the same age, my sister who survived her connection to SDS, is a bit younger. I am occasionally in Los Angeles area Would be interested in your family names, and Adele’s to see if there is a connection. would also prefer to communicate in less public fashion.
    Joanne Brecher Kay

    1. Hi Joanne,
      Thank you for reaching out. We are related to Auntie Cissy so our families would be connected by marriage if you’re related to Uncle Louis. My mother, Golda Kaufman (nee Stevens) adored them both. Please email me at and we’ll continue our conversation.
      All the best,

  5. My family was also related to sir Louis…..he was my mothers uncle, therefore my great uncle. We were originally from New York City….we check articles online and did some ancestry research as well…..louis’ brother Oscar was my mothers father…my grandfather.

  6. Was the name always Sterling? What was Cissy’s family name and where was she born? I imagine at some point it had been different. thanks

  7. I was married to Paula Sterling Surrey who was the great niece and named for Sir Luis Sterling. Sadly Paula died while married to me for almost 35 years in 2015.

  8. Hi Joanne, Cissie (Sarah) Sterling was my great aunt. Family name was Stevens. My grandfather was her younger brother, David Stevens. I have more info and tales about Cissie and Sir Louis in the research my cousin Adele did over the years.
    CISSIE (SARAH) STEVENS, b. 1872, Spitalfields London; d. Abt. 1950, London.

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