Columbia Recording of American Patrol, Performed by the Brown Brothers, 1911

from the Bruce Vermazen Research Papers on Tom Brown

The Columbia Phonograph Company recorded and released the Brown Brothers’ performance of Frank W. Meacham’s 1885 march, American Patrol as a double-sided 10-inch 78-rpm disc in June 1911.  The B-side of this recording included the piece The Bull Frog and the Coon, performed that same month by the Brown Quintet. 

The Six Brown Brothers performing “American Patrol.” Recorded by Columbia Phonograph Company, 1911.

Several additional times Meacham’s march was recorded by the Browns for the United Talking Machine Company, Lakeside Record Company, and the U.S. Everlasting Recording Company between 1911 and 1912.  While the Six Spillers saxophone ensemble was an equally popular vaudeville act across the country, the Brown Brothers were able to capitalize on racial biases of the time, securing contracts with several recording companies during the teens and 1920s.  However, the Browns were not the first saxophonists to be recorded.

Edward A. Lefebre, considered at the time to be the greatest saxophonist, was the first recorded by the Edison Phonograph Company in 1889.  His music student, Bessie Mecklem (1876-1942), recorded twelve wax cylinders of accompanied solos with the Edison Phonograph Company beginning in 1892.  In 1894, she recorded her first solo performance and later made recordings with the Columbia Phonograph Company in 1896, 1901, and 1908.  

The Brown Brothers were the first saxophone quintet to make recordings as a saxophone ensemble.  The Columbia Phonograph Company contracted the Browns for a series of audio recordings starting in 1911.  They felt the Brown quintet could produce the full range of orchestral sounds that would be “one of the most delightful sources of musical entertainment” and serve as a “uniquely attractive novelty” for Columbia’s customers.  While the Brown Brothers’ public performances consisted predominantly of ragtime melodies, their Columbia recordings featured “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,” “Dixie,” and “Yankee Doodle,” to help entice customers unfamiliar with the sounds of the saxophone at that time to consider purchasing one of their new saxophone recordings.