Carl Fenton

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The name "Carl Fenton" is found on hundreds of jazz, dance, and even some swing records made in the period 1919-1937. But "Carl Fenton" was not a real person, nor even a pseudonym for a single person.…
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The name "Carl Fenton" is found on hundreds of jazz, dance, and even some swing records made in the period 1919-1937. But "Carl Fenton" was not a real person, nor even a pseudonym for a single person. It was a name to put on records.

When Gus Haenschen was engaged as the Popular Music Director for Brunswick Records in mid-1919, he decided that his given name was too Germanic sounding at a time when anti-German sentiment was running high in America. Haenschen decided on "Fenton" after the name of a little town in Missouri that was near his hometown of St. Louis; "Carl" was arrived at as a result of a poll of Brunswick's office employees. Gus Haenschen used the Carl Fenton name as billing on the enormous number of records he led for Brunswick as musical director up until he resigned from the company on July 1, 1927. These records were hugely popular, and as a result there was a public demand for personal appearances by the Carl Fenton Orchestra (incidentally, never billed as "Carl Fenton & his Orchestra," as there was no Carl Fenton). Haenschen was far too busy to fill this requirement, so violinist Ruby Greenberg stepped in to lead the band the public saw as the "Carl Fenton Orchestra." Even before Haenschen left Brunswick, the company had issued a Red Nichols record as being by "Carl Fenton."

After Haenschen and Brunswick went their separate ways, Ruby Greenberg bought the rights to use the "Carl Fenton" name and recorded extensively on Gennett under it from late 1927 through January 1930. In 1929, the Carl Fenton Orchestra pops up on the Brunswick once again for about 13 titles, and it is believed that Greenberg led these dates; also, a young Benny Goodman is known to have played on two of them ("What a Day!" and "Maybe- Who Knows?") Another name that Greenberg used sometimes in place of "Carl Fenton" is "the New Yorkers," and one of the last Edison dance records, credited to that name, is also likely the work of Greenberg. The Carl Fenton Orchestra breathed its last gasp in the jazz age with six titles made for the QRS label in Long Island City in early 1930.

Indeed, "Carl Fenton" seems to have enjoyed life after death; three sides recorded for the Master Records label on March 24, 1937 are credited to him. Ultimately issued on Variety, these are probably neither the work of Haenschen nor Greenberg, but may be Red Nichols, this time using the name as a gag.