In a Discussion posted a few years ago, it was apparent very little was known about Cullen and Collins. After some investigation, here is their story. The banjo partnership is described, and other aspects of their lives as well.

Cullen and Collins

Early Recording Artists and

Premier Banjoists of Washington, D.C.

William G. Collins

 

                William Granville Collins was born in the District of Columbia, June, 1860 (1910 census ) or 1861 (headstone). His grandfather, uncles and his father James V. were bricklayers. His father was reputedly superintendant of bricklayers during construction of the State War and Navy building on Executive Avenue (now known as the Eisenhower Executive Office Building). In 1872 the family suffered a devastating loss when William's three younger brothers , age 9, 7 and 5, all died of scarlet fever within a 48 hour period.

 

In 1880, William was living with his parents and working as a printer, likely placed in that line of work with the assistance of his uncle William R. who had abandoned bricklaying decades earlier in favour of clerical work and by 1875 was city editor on the Evening Star newspaper. Just how and when William's interest in the banjo developed is not known, but in D.C. there was ample opportunity for a young man's exposure to banjo playing from touring professionals and local amateurs. A sampling of acts with banjo at D.C. theatres in the latter 1870's included Wm. A. Huntley, J.R. Buckley, Bryant's Minstrels, Charles E. Dobson, Ella Chapman, Katie Putnam, Sallie Adams and local favorite James Cline. Accomplished amateurs were featured at social gatherings. Banjo instruction was advertised in the newspaper by Billy Dunawin, "Professional and Champion Banjoist".

 

In April 1881 the Evening Star reported on a group of young men providing an evening's entertainment at the government hospital for the insane. The patients "were about as orderly as a fashionable city audience, . . . Mr. W.G. Collins with his banjo gave some songs and imitations, bringing down the house, and he was called out a half a dozen times."

 

A year later, April 1882, the Evening Star published a lengthy interview with young Professor W.G. Collins, described as an instructor and apt performer on the banjo. The professor touched on the banjo's origins, instrument quality, popular makers, technique, proper instruction and named several prominent young D.C. ladies that had become capable players. The article was clearly intended to promote the banjo, Collins' teaching credentials and to attract clientele.

 

Collins accepted an invitation in July 1882, and departed Washington to take charge of a large class of banjo students in St Paul, MN. The pupils were sons and daughters of well-to-do people in town. In late September, he was summoned to Pullman, Illinois , where his father had fallen from a building he was supervising and was badly injured. Over the next two weeks, James V. steadily improved, then took a turn for the worse and died. W.G. accompanied his mother and several young siblings, born since the family's loss in 1872, to Washington for the funeral and burial. W.G. remained in Washington and returned to his job as printer. In 1883 he started to advertise in the newspaper, sometimes as "the only recognized banjo instructor in the city" or "the leading instructor". He offered evening and weekend lessons for the next fifteen years. Collins became a member of the Columbia Typographical Union 101. He married Britannia Rollins of Loudon County, VA, in September, 1885. They had three children.

 

Washington was known at that time for having many capable musicians that played at a high level, but only in private for friends and family. It is not so surprising then, that no record has been found of Collins' performing publicly again, until teaming with Cullen in the mid-nineties.

 

 Joseph Cullen About 1908

Joseph P. Cullen

Joseph Patrick Cullen was born in Kentucky, May, 1868 the first child of James Cullen, born in Ireland, 1831, and his bride Mary, also an Irish immigrant. James had emigrated in 1850 and by 1860 was working in Louisville as a painter. At the outbreak of the Civil War he enlisted, serving on the Union side, (Company A, 5th Regiment, Ky. Infantry), with beginning rank Sergeant and ending rank Captain.

 

By 1870, the family was in Murfreesboro, TN, where James worked as a carriage painter. Joseph's sister Katie was born here. By 1875, when his brother Livingston J. was born, the family had moved to Arkansas. Sister Margaret C. was also born here in 1877. In 1880, it appears young Joseph was back in Murfreesboro for a time, living with his uncle D.H. Cullen, a farmer, his aunt Martha and their four young children.

 

By 1883, James Cullen and family had moved to Washington, DC. This is around the time that W.G. Collins began advertising in the newspaper as a prominent teacher of banjo. It is quite possible that Joseph, eight years his junior, became Collins` student. Joseph's father, who was by this time over fifty, capitalized on his service record and found work as a messenger for the War Department. To help out financially, Joseph's mother took in boarders at their place on F Street. By 1890, the Cullens had moved to three adjacent, rented row houses on 6th Street to accommodate themselves, the six of their eight children who were still at home, and about 25 tenant roomers.

 

Joseph’s schooling ended at grade eight, but he must have been a good student with a head for figures. In 1887 and 1889 he was one of the scholars at St Domenic’s Sunday School to receive a premium for being perfect in lessons, attendance and conduct throughout the year. In October of 1887 he began a six month probationary term at the Treasury Department. At the term’s end in late April 1888, young “Joseph P. Cullen of Arkansas” received an absolute appointment to a $1,000 annual salary and clerical position in the Office of the Auditor for the Post Office. This was a solid placement for a young man, offering a white collar job, stable income and prospect of advancement. The Treasury Department building is prestigiously located directly across the street from the White House.

 

Meanwhile, young Cullen’s playing had advanced. He began performing as an amateur at social events and was considered to be among the best banjoists in the D.C. area. He was cited in the Washington Evening Star, February 6, 1891, where his name led the list of instrumentalists at an entertainment and reception for the new officers at Lincoln Post Hall. Later that year, he was one of the entertainers at a Columbia Athletic Club (C.A.C.) “smoker” for the local wheelmen, providing banjo solos.

 

He continued performing as a soloist at various social gatherings for the next couple of years, while retaining his full-time government job. He married in 1894 and with spouse Dorothy remained for a time at the same address as his parents on 6th St.

 

At the C.A.C. smoker in February 1894, Cullen performed as part of a new musical group, The Alpine Trio. His fellow musicians were instrumentalist M.W. Hale and piano accompanist C. E. McEnaney, whom Cullen had encountered as a performer at previous engagements. There is record of one other Alpine Trio performance in April. In the following months, Cullen played a few engagements as a solo performer. He would soon return to ensemble performance with an equally proficient partner.

 

Cullen and Collins

Joe Cullen (left) and W.G. Collins (right)

The musical team of Cullen and Collins, Washington's top banjoists, made its first appearance in November, 1894 at another C.A.C. smoker. The Evening Star gave high praise :

At a December meeting and lecture of the Men’s Society of the Church of the Covenant, Cullen and Collins provided praiseworthy musical entertainment. This time the Evening Star wrote :

In the early months of 1895, Cullen and Collins entertained as volunteers at social occasions including a Charity Concert at Metzert Hall, St John`s College Annual Alumni Association Banquet, (Cullen was an alumnus), and a benefit for The Tuxedo Club at the Academy of Music. These venues broadened their exposure and built reputation. As the Evening Star wrote in March of that year :

Through the rest of the year, the duo continued playing benefits, C.A.C. smokers and other social events, likely gratis or for modest fee. Cullen began offering banjo lessons in the fall and volunteered as a member on the entertainment committee for the C.A.C. By November the Evening Star was reporting :

The classical repertoire was important to Cullen and Collins. In December, 1895, with the assistance of a Mrs. Ambrose, they brought leading classical banjoist A.A. Farland to Washington for a recital. The venue was small, with seating for 100.

Ad for Farland Concert

C &C`s home addresses were two of the ticket sales outlets.

Ironically, around the same time, they were making their first recordings of popular music. Near Christmas 1895 the Columbia Musical Parlours on Pennsylvania Ave. announced "The California Dance" as rendered by Cullen and Collins was available for listening. Their recording of "Darkies' Jubilee" was released in early March, 1896 and "The Brownies' Dance" followed a few months after. Altogether, they recorded about a dozen titles for Columbia.

 

Some clarification is needed regarding the Evening Star's claim in 1895, quoted above, that C&C were "now becoming professionals". While they had grown as performers, had made commercial recordings and played as well as if professionals, C&C chose not to become full-time musicians working the theatre circuit. Their performance venues from 1896 through 1900 remained much as before, namely benefit concerts, church or social club events, plus the occasional society" festivale" or embassy reception. They retained their day jobs and continued taking selected evening and weekend engagements. In lieu of the travelling musician's life, in 1896 auditing clerk/banjoist Cullen and spouse Dorothy settled into their first home at 1451 S St. N.W. Print compositor/banjoist Collins continued to advertise as a banjo teacher, now grandly claiming "Advanced Players, Professionals

and Teachers Perfected".

In the fall of 1897, around the time C&C began recording discs for Berliner, piano accompanist Charles McEnaney was replaced by Fred Gaisberg. Young "Professor" Gaisberg (b. 1873) could play the piano in many styles and had already done so as house accompanist for the Columbia Phonograph Co. studios in Washington. He was for a time the house accompanist for Berliner and a fledgling recording engineer.

Fred Gaisberg

Over the next two years, C&C recorded about 30 titles for Berliner, all of them from their repertoire of popular music. Included were "Twin Star March", "Vega March" and "Zulu Jingles" composed by Cullen and "Get Together", composed by Collins. "The Scarlet Letter" is credited to Gaisberg. Sadly for modern day classic banjo enthusiasts, Berliner saw no upside to recording any of their classical arrangements.

 

An active 1898 was capped by their appearing on the bill of performers at a December concert by Valentine Abt, mandolin virtuoso, held at the Universalist Church. However, the duo were far less active in 1899 and 1900, with only a couple of appearances reported each year and none in 1901. Collins' newspaper ads for banjo instruction ceased toward the end of 1898. Joe Cullen began appearing in solo performance more often. In March, 1899, he travelled to New York and while there made several solo recordings for Berliner. The duo recorded their last numbers in Washington for Berliner in mid-October 1899. Boyd's Directory for D.C. lists no W.G. Collins in 1898 and for several years thereafter. For reasons unknown, Collins apparently left his job on the Evening Star's composing force and departed Washington, bringing its premier banjo duo to an end.

 

Epilogue

 

In 1897, while still living and working in Washington, W.G. Collins and family had taken a cottage for the summer in Vienna, Va. about 15 miles west of the city. He departed D.C. around 1899. By 1900 he was living in Vienna, Va. with his family. At age 39, Collins was working as a day laborer. The same year, his wife was elected vice templar of the District Lodge of Good Templars, located in nearby Falls Church, Va.

 

By 1908, W.G. Collins and family had returned to Washington. He found work as a proof-reader. By 1910 and for several years after, he was an Attorney at Law and real estate lawyer, living in Washington. By 1920, he, his wife and mother-in-law were living in Cambridge, Mass. W.G. was employed as superintendent of an apartment house. He died in Cambridge, Mass. Nov. 2, 1929 and was buried at Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, three days later.

After 1900, Joseph Cullen continued to appear as a highly appreciated banjo soloist at benefits, church and club banquets, concerts and entertainments, until at least 1907. He joined a number of the clubs and associations at which he performed, and gradually became more active in club administrations, serving first on entertainment committees, later as Treasurer and then Deputy Grand Knight of the local Knights of Columbus and as Grand Commander of the Order of Alhambra.

 

In 1907, "Joseph P. Cullen of Arkansas" was still employed in the Office of the Auditor for the Post Office Department and received a pay raise of $200, bringing him to $1,800 per annum. Around the same time, he was also Secretary of the Mercantile Saving Fund Society. By 1912 he had left government service to become Secretary and Treasurer of the Provident Security Company, apparently a savings and loan business. By about 1920 and until at least 1940, he was proprietor of Cullen Service (Inc.), a collection agency, with office located across the road from the Treasury Department building, where he had worked in his youth. Whether he played banjo for his own enjoyment in later years is not known. Joseph Cullen died at his home, January 8, 1946. He was buried in Mt Olivet Cemetery, Washington.

 

Piano accompanist Fred Gaisberg was fascinated by recording technology and devoted his life to the industry. He left Berliner around 1898 to work in the UK, first for the Gramophone Company in London, later HMV and EMI. As one of the earliest classical music producers, he pioneered the recording of Europe's top classical performers, including the great operatic tenor, Caruso. For more on Gaisberg's many achievements go here :

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Gaisberg

http://www.diarci.com/2014/10/04/the-first-ar-man-fred-gaisberg/

Here are a few of Cullen & Collins Berliner recordings from the late 1890`s :

 

AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING by Cullen and Collins
DANCE OF THE BROWNIES by Cullen and Collins
SCARLET LETTER by Cullen and Collins
TWIN STAR MARCH by Cullen and Collins
ZULU JINGLES by Cullen and Collins

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Well done, Shawn!

Thank you so much for the great article, I really enjoyed it. I found it interesting that they played "Spanish Dance" (which I assume was probably either #1 or #2). Stewart published a solo arrangement and I have taken that a bit further and have worked up a version for full Banjo Orchestra (both #1 and #2).

Too bad they never recorded any of their classical offerings. The recording technology of the period was very limited for time/space...2min of music was about it for a standard Edison Cylinder of the period. There were some massive 'concert' cylinders but they are quite rare, no idea if any banjoists ever recorded on them.

Cylinder recordings were 1:1 (meaning there was no way to copy them for mass production) before about 1902. Moving to Berliner (who invented the disc record which could be stamped from a master) allowed mass-production...a smart move. Berliner's discs (and later, Victor) allowed for up to 4min of music.

Wow. "Zulu Jingles" must have created quite an impression. I bet they played that at the end of a show to ensure an encore.   In the book The Banjo On Record on the Cullen and Collins page (122), Berliner 498 is listed as "July Jingles" . On the record label of this record the Z of Zulu is written backwards and I suppose someone may have mistaken it for a J and the final u for a y. A bit farfetched but I can think of no other explanation other than absent-mindedness.

Of interest (?):  no one is yelling BANJO SOLO into the horn at the start of these recordings.

Hi Marc. Glad you enjoyed the article.

I'm not familiar with the Stewart score, but Brooks and Denton published their arrangement of Mozskowski's "Spanish Dance" in 1892. Ossman worked with B&D for about 18 months in the mid 1890's and would have absorbed their repertoire, so it is probably the same piece that he recorded  as "Spanish Dance" for Columbia around 1896 or 97, for Bettini in June, 1896, and for Berliner in March, 1900. A pdf of my C notation and digital playback of the B&D arrangement are below. Nice example of classical banjo.

Jodie, there are a number of typos in B.O.R. For example, Ossman's recording of "Del Oro" being listed as "Del Cro" comes to mind. Perhaps there is no voice introducing the piece because Berliner could imprint descriptive text onto the grooveless portion of the disc. By comparison, while Edison and Columbia cylinder tubes were labelled, the cylinders themselves weren't. Or maybe, Washington studios just did things with less hype than New York.

Attachments:

Thanks for sharing your research and these old recordings of good banjo playing.

"Delcro", an early prototype of velcro?  

Re NY vs Washington, I think  the Cullen and Collins Columbia cylinders  (C&C's c c-s !) were recorded in Washington but weren't the Berliner discs done in NYC?

I like the barking announcements at the start of old banjo records. I especially like it when the young Bailey children do their own announcing on home-made cylinders.



Shawn McSweeny said:

Hi Marc. Glad you enjoyed the article.

I'm not familiar with the Stewart score, but Brooks and Denton published their arrangement of Mozskowski's "Spanish Dance" in 1892. Ossman worked with B&D for about 18 months in the mid 1890's and would have absorbed their repertoire, so it is probably the same piece that he recorded  as "Spanish Dance" for Columbia around 1896 or 97, for Bettini in June, 1896, and for Berliner in March, 1900. A pdf of my C notation and digital playback of the B&D arrangement are below. Nice example of classical banjo.

Jodie, there are a number of typos in B.O.R. For example, Ossman's recording of "Del Oro" being listed as "Del Cro" comes to mind. Perhaps there is no voice introducing the piece because Berliner could imprint descriptive text onto the grooveless portion of the disc. By comparison, while Edison and Columbia cylinder tubes were labelled, the cylinders themselves weren't. Or maybe, Washington studios just did things with less hype than New York.

Thanks for sharing this fascinating insight into the lives and times of the famous but hitherto elusive Cullen and Collins. I think that I had only heard the 'Twin Star' march by this duo before so was pleased to hear the recordings which you have traced, can't wait to make a start on 'Zulu Jingles' when time allows. I was also interested to read about Fred Gaisburg who is more well known than C&C these days. 

Hi Jody : Indeed the Berliners were recorded in NYC. Speaking of the Bailey recordings, I enjoy hearing Joe Morley's voice as he announces his performances.

Hi Richard : Glad you found the C&C story to be a good read. To get you started on "Zulu", here's a tip  : the recording is pitched at or near Cm and Eb.  Most of the fill notes and triplet rolls are obscured by surface noise, so expect that you'll have to improvise.

Berliner's first record company was in NYC but failed before it could make any product. He moved to DC and in the mid 1890s started the "United States Gramaphone Company"...and started production in 1894. He opened offices in NYC as the "National Gramaphone Company" but there was no production there. His DC facilities burned down in '97 and were rebuilt. Because he was teaming with Eldridge Johnson for the drive mechanisms, that portion was made in Philly.

I have 17 Berliner discs, about half have titles hand scratched into the disc, including what I believe is the first recording of Sousa's "Stars and Strips Forever" dated November 1897...only 6 mo after Sousa premiered it in Philly.

BTW, the "Spanish Dances #1 and #2" published by Stewart were arranged by A.A. Farland.

The "Spanish Dance" by B&D is Moszkowski's "Spanish Dance #1".

Here's my arrangement, taken from a version for 4 hands piano, pub. 1883. I've arranged it for Banjeaurine, 1st Banjo, 2nd Banjo and Cello Banjo. Not quite complete...but a work in progress. I've got #2 going as well.

 

Attachments:

Thanks for clarifying Marc, and kudos for your arrangement. When ready, send Joel Hooks a pdf and let the ABF orchestra have a go with it.

I'm planning on being there!

I love the Spanish Dance No.1 and you've done a wonderful  banjo arrangement of it. I didn't realise that any banjo players of the past had played these pieces, the only one I have heard before is on the Van Eps record and that, I think, is SD No. 5 the Bolero which is also a good banjo tune.

Talking of your Berliner records, do you have Mays and Hunter playing the 'Stratton Medley'? This is probably the only recording of M&H doing their famoustheir 'making their banjos talk' routine and I would love to hear what it sounded like.

Trapdoor2 said:

Berliner's first record company was in NYC but failed before it could make any product. He moved to DC and in the mid 1890s started the "United States Gramaphone Company"...and started production in 1894. He opened offices in NYC as the "National Gramaphone Company" but there was no production there. His DC facilities burned down in '97 and were rebuilt. Because he was teaming with Eldridge Johnson for the drive mechanisms, that portion was made in Philly.

I have 17 Berliner discs, about half have titles hand scratched into the disc, including what I believe is the first recording of Sousa's "Stars and Strips Forever" dated November 1897...only 6 mo after Sousa premiered it in Philly.

BTW, the "Spanish Dances #1 and #2" published by Stewart were arranged by A.A. Farland.

The "Spanish Dance" by B&D is Moszkowski's "Spanish Dance #1".

Here's my arrangement, taken from a version for 4 hands piano, pub. 1883. I've arranged it for Banjeaurine, 1st Banjo, 2nd Banjo and Cello Banjo. Not quite complete...but a work in progress. I've got #2 going as well.

 

Thank you. I didn't know about #5 and Van Eps, so I'll have a look into it.

I have upwards of 100 Edison 2min cylinders, the 17 Berliners and scads of early 78s...only one banjo cylinder and that's the common Len Spencer/Van Eps "Hickory Bill". They were either unpopular in my area or played to death. Considering the dearth of banjo music in North Alabama, I'd go with "unpopular".

Richard William Ineson said:

I love the Spanish Dance No.1 and you've done a wonderful  banjo arrangement of it. I didn't realise that any banjo players of the past had played these pieces, the only one I have heard before is on the Van Eps record and that, I think, is SD No. 5 the Bolero which is also a good banjo tune.

Talking of your Berliner records, do you have Mays and Hunter playing the 'Stratton Medley'? This is probably the only recording of M&H doing their famoustheir 'making their banjos talk' routine and I would love to hear what it sounded like.

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