Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Len Spencer..1867-1914 One of the greatest recording artists in history.. His life and death dealt with recorded sound.

Leonard Garfield Spencer Feb 12,1867- Dec 15, 1914..

Len Spencer as he was known was the son of the inventor of the Spencer method of writing. He grew up in Washington DC. That area in the 1880's into the early 1890's was the center of recording activities. In this small area of Washington DC was the Bell and Tainter Graphophone Company, the Berliner Gramophone Company, and the Columbia Phonograph Company.

Spencer and soon later his brother Harry would become major players in the phonograph industry. Len Spencer made several thousand recordings in his career that spanned over 20 years.  He was on every label on disc recording and every cylinder record company as well. So in short he recorded for everyone! If anyone is familiar with the famous Edison advertising cylinder (I am the Edison phonograph), it was recorded by Spencer.  If anyone watches the History Channel and listens to William McKinley speak, it isn't McKinley, it is Len Spencer. If you find early recordings of Jekyll and Hyde it is Len Spencer. In any batch of early recordings you will always find Len Spencer. He truly was everywhere.

 A Zonophone label from 1907 containing the voices of Spencer and recording partner Ada Jones.

A 1902 recording of Spencer on the newly formed Victor Talking Machine Company.

A Columbia recording of Spencer and Jones again in 1906.

Spencer made recordings with everyone and was on many group recordings such as Minstrel recordings for Victor, Columbia, Zonophone, Edison, American Record Company, Leeds, and others...

In his later years he opened a music business and theatrical agency. Here he hired George Washington Johnson to be the doorman. It was at this agency that he dropped dead at his desk on December 15, 1914. His funeral was held at Campbell's Funeral home where many other great performers funerals would be held. What was most unique about his funeral was this...

He was the speaker!

He had recorded pieces earlier to used in the case of his death. So he read the 23rd psalm at his funeral and also recited the Lord's Prayer.   After this show and after all was done his widow and children went with the body to a crematorium and after that the ashes were brought to the family plot in Washington DC.

So ended the career of a remarkable recording artist..who entertained while alive and dead. To this very day Len Spencer is still heard often. After 99 years it is a rewarding fact to any recording artist to be remembered.  I can say most truthfully that I will never hear most of Len Spencer's output, cause it just is so much. Few recorded as well, often, with more dialects, and was as well respected by many in his field than Len Spencer.