Monday, June 12, 2006

A Christmas Sampler (Westminster Records)

Many years ago, I worked for the Musicland Group. Under this umbrella were music stores such as Musicland and Sam Goody. Media Play was a combo music/video/book store, and Suncoast Motion Picture Company, where I worked as a store manager, was videos, DVDs, and other movie related items.

One of the only perks as a store manager were the wonderful items the record and video companies used to distribute at annual meetings as their way of appreciation for all the work we did selling their product.

I picked up several Christmas samplers from various record companies (Rhino, Columbia, Capitol) during my time there and have sought out other promo compilations from other companies via eBay and other sources.

Samplers usually contain some of the finest material anywhere or contain repackaged drudge that you really could have done without. Whenever I see the word "Sampler" on anything, I'm very wary.

So when I saw this sampler album (one of two samplers) being offered by Ernie at his blog, I was thrown for a loop. I knew samplers existed back in the day, of course, but how many times have you seen one in this day and age? And I had never heard of Westminster Records... was it a fly by night outfit or an overlooked, forgotten label of the day?

Back in 1949, James Grayson was a New York City businessman and music lover who travelled to the Westminster Record shop, a well respected classical music shop owned by Mischa Naida. Along with music conductor Henry Swoboda, they were frustrated over the lack of quality classical records being put out by the Big Four record companies - Decca, RCA Victor, Columbia, and Capitol.

With plenty of money from Grayson, a place to sell and distribute albums thanks to Naida, and musical expert Swoboda selecting the music to release, they took the name off the window and created Westminster Records.

Their first release came in April 1950 and soon the label got a great reputation as a "major minor" label. Most of their early releases came from Switzerland and soon they were discovering new talents in classical music. Some of these early discoveries were Maurice Abravanel, Jan Peerce, a young pianist named Daniel Barenboim (who would lead major symphonies later in his career), and a younger opera singer named Beverly Sills whose first recording was on Westminster.

Early on, Westminster released two Christmas albums - "A Merry Wurlitzer Christmas" by Dick Leibert, the long time organ player at Radio City Music Hall and "Adventures In Carols" recorded by a young duo named Ferrante & Teicher.

I'm not sure when this sampler album (any guesses Ernie?) was released but it does have tracks from both the Leibert and Ferrante & Teicher albums. Other artist tracks include the Cathedral Bellringers, the Collegium Musicum, the Randolph Singers, the Brooklyn Museum Children's Choir ("Joy To Da Woild..."), and even Basil Rathbone reciting Isaiah 40: 1 - 5 from the album "The Christmas Story in Carols".

(Click on image to enlarge)

The Ferrante & Teicher album has been available at many places on the Internet. There are some long lost Christmas albums on the back of this sampler... I would love to find or hear some of them.

End of history lesson: Westminster Records could no longer compete with the likes of Elvis and Ricky by the early 1960s. ABC Records came to their rescue and bought them and Westminster continued on until 1965 when it took its baton and went home. ABC later became ABC/Dunhill Records, ABC/Dunhill was bought by MCA in 1979 , MCA and classical label Deutsche Grammophon were bought by Seagram's (yes, the liquor company) in 1998, Seagram's owned Universal Studios (founded by MCA), Seagram's merged MCA & DG into the new Universal Music Group. Everyone get that?

Earlier this year, Universal announced that nearly 10,000 albums from all of these back catalogs (including Westminster) would be re-released via digital downloading. Here's hoping they release a ton of good Christmas stuff as well...

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...



Ernie said...

No idea on the date of this compilation, Cap'n, but several of the records sampled there-upon might be showing up at Ernie (Not Bert) come the Yuletide. (I can see that Dick Leibert LP from where I sit!) Keep your fingers crossed...

Anonymous said...

I have the 2 Leibert LPS plus the Bellringers & Cathedral LPs, all in stereo [along with the non-Christmas "Leibert Takes Richmond] and have transfered all to CD. If interested, contact me at:

CaptainOT said...

Ernie - Fingers and toes crossed here!

Anon - Thanks for the offer but I have those albums as well!