Columbia Records

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Columbia Records
Parent company Sony Music Entertainment
Founded 1888 (until 1894 as a subsidiary of the North American Phonograph Company)
Distributing label Sony Music Entertainment
(in the US)
Columbia Label Group
(Outside the US)
Genre(s) Various
Country of origin United States
Location New York City, New York, United States
Official Website

Columbia Records is a premier recording label, under the ownership of Sony Music Entertainment, operating under the Columbia Music Group. It was founded in 1888, evolving from an earlier enterprise, the American Graphophone Companysuccessor to the Volta Graphophone Company.[1] Columbia is the oldest brand name in recorded sound,[2][3] being the first record company to produce recorded records as opposed to blank cylinders. Columbia Records went on to release records by an array of notable singers, instrumentalists, and bands. From 1961 to 1990, its recordings were released outside the U.S. and Canada on the CBS Records label (for Columbia Broadcasting System, its parent from 1938 to 1988) before adopting the Columbia name in most of the world.

It is one of Sony Music's three flagship record labels with the others being Epic Records and RCA Records.

Until 1989, Columbia Records had no connection to Columbia Pictures, which used various other names for record labels they owned, including Colpix, Colgems, Bell and later Arista; rather, it was connected to CBS, which stood for Columbia Broadcasting System, a broadcasting media company which purchased Columbia Records in the late 1930s, and which had been co-founded in 1927 by Columbia Records itself. Though Arista was sold to BMG, it would later become a sister label to Columbia Records through Sony Music; both are connected to Columbia Pictures through Sony Corporation of America, worldwide parent of both the music and motion picture arms of Sony.

As of 2012, Columbia Records has the highest label share in Adult Contemporary radio in the US, it was also ranked the number-one AC label that year.[4]



The Columbia Phonograph Company was founded by stenographer, lawyer and New Jersey native Edward Easton (1856-1915) and a group of investors. It derived its name from the District of Columbia, where it was headquartered. [5][6] At first it had a local monopoly on sales and service of Edison phonographs and phonograph cylinders in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Delaware. As was the custom of some of the regional phonograph companies, Columbia produced many commercial cylinder recordings of its own, and its catalogue of musical records in 1891 was 10 pages.

Columbia's ties to Edison and the North American Phonograph Company were severed in 1894 with the North American Phonograph Company's breakup. Thereafter it sold only records and phonographs of its own manufacture. In 1902, Columbia introduced the "XP" record, a molded brown wax record, to use up old stock. Columbia introduced "black wax" records in 1903, and, according to Tim Gracyk, continued to mold brown waxes until 1904; the highest number known to Gracyk is 32601, "Heinie", which is a duet by Arthur Collins and Byron G. Harlan. According to Gracyk, the molded brown waxes may have been sold to Sears for distribution (possibly under Sears' "Oxford" trademark for Columbia products).[7]

Columbia began selling disc records and phonographs in addition to the cylinder system in 1901, preceded only by their "Toy Graphophone" of 1899, which used small, vertically cut records. For a decade, Columbia competed with both the Edison Phonograph Company cylinders and the Victor Talking Machine Company disc records as one of the top three names in American recorded sound.

In order to add prestige to its early catalog of artists, Columbia contracted a number of New York Metropolitan Opera stars to make recordings (from 1903 onwards). These stars included Marcella Sembrich, Lillian Nordica, Antonio Scotti and Edouard de Reszke, but the technical standard of their recordings were not considered to be as high as the results achieved with classical singers during the preWorld War I period by Victor, Edison, England's His Master's Voice or Italy's Fonotipia Records. After an abortive attempt in 1904 to manufacture discs with the recording grooves stamped into both sides of each discnot just onein 1908 Columbia commenced successful mass production of what they called their "Double-Faced" discs, the 10-inch variety initially selling for 65 cents apiece. The firm also introduced the internal-horn "Grafonola" to compete with the extremely popular "Victrola" sold by the rival Victor Talking Machine Company.

During this era, Columbia used the famous "Magic Notes" logoa pair of sixteenth notes (semiquavers) in a circleboth in the United States and overseas (where this particular logo would never substantially change).

Columbia stopped recording and manufacturing wax cylinder records in 1908, after arranging to issue celluloid cylinder records made by the Indestructible Record Company of Albany, New York, as "Columbia Indestructible Records". In July 1912, Columbia decided to concentrate exclusively on disc records and stopped manufacturing cylinder phonographs although they continued selling Indestructible's cylinders under the Columbia name for a year or two more. Columbia was split into two companies, one to make records and one to make players. Columbia Phonograph was moved to Connecticut, and Ed Easton went with it. Eventually it was renamed the Dictaphone Corporation.[5]

In late 1923, Columbia went into receivership. The company was bought by their English subsidiary, the Columbia Graphophone Company in 1925 and the label, record numbering system, and recording process changed. (The "New Process" [still acoustic] was used on budget labels until 1930). See more at American Columbia single record cataloging systems. On February 25, 1925, Columbia began recording with the new electric recording process licensed from Western Electric. The new "Viva-tonal" records set a benchmark in tone and clarity unequaled on commercial discs during the "78-rpm" era. The first electrical recordings were made by Art Gillham, the popular "Whispering Pianist". In a secret agreement with Victor, neither company made the new recording technology public knowledge for some months, in order not to hurt sales of their existing acoustically recorded catalog while a new electrically recorded catalog was being compiled.

In 1926, Columbia acquired Okeh Records and its growing stable of jazz and blues artists, including Louis Armstrong and Clarence Williams. (Columbia had already built an impressive catalog of blues and jazz artists, including Bessie Smith in their highly successful 14000-D Race series). Columbia also had a very successful 'Hillbilly' series (15000-D). In 1928, Paul Whiteman, the nation's most popular orchestra leader, left Victor to record for Columbia. That same year, Columbia executive Frank Buckley Walker pioneered some of the first country music or "hillbilly" genre recordings with the Johnson City sessions in Tennessee, including artists such as Clarence Horton Greene and the legendary fiddler and entertainer, "Fiddlin'" Charlie Bowman. He followed that with a return to Tennessee the next year, as well as recording sessions in other cities of the South. Nineteen twenty-nine saw industry legend Ben Selvin signing on as house bandleader and A. & R. director. Other favorites in the Viva-tonal era included Ruth Etting, Paul Whiteman, Fletcher Henderson, Ipana Troubadours (a Sam Lanin group), Ben Selvin, and Ted Lewis. Columbia kept using acoustic recording for "budget label" pop product well into 1929 on the labels Harmony, Velvet Tone (both general purpose labels) and Diva (sold exclusively at W.T. Grant stores). 1929 was the year that Columbia's older rival and former affiliate Edison Records folded, leaving Columbia as the oldest surviving record label.

Columbia ownership separation

In 1931, the British Columbia Graphophone Company (itself originally a subsidiary of American Columbia Records, then to become independent, actually went on to purchase its former parent, American Columbia, in late 1929) merged with the Gramophone Company to form Electric & Musical Industries Ltd. (EMI). EMI was forced to sell its American Columbia operations (because of anti-trust concerns) to the Grigsby-Grunow Company, makers of the Majestic Radio. But Majestic soon fell on hard times. An abortive attempt in 1932 (around the same time that Victor was experimenting with their 33 "program transcriptions") was the "Longer Playing Record", a finer-grooved 10" 78 with 4:30 to 5:00 playing time per side. Columbia issued about 8 of these (in the 18000-D series), as well as a short-lived series of double-grooved "Longer Playing Record"s on its Harmony, Clarion and Velvet Tone labels. All of these experiments (and indeed the Harmony, Velvet Tone and Clarion labels) were discontinued by mid-1932.

A longer-lived marketing ploy was the Columbia "Royal Blue Record," a brilliant blue laminated product with matching label. Royal Blue issues, made from late 1932 through 1935, are particularly popular with collectors for their rarity and musical interest. The C.P. MacGregor Company, an independent recording studio in Oakland, California, did Columbia's pressings for sale west of the Rockies and continued using the Royal Blue material for these until about mid-1936. It was also used for their own radio-only music library.

With the Great Depression's tightened economic stranglehold on the country, in a day when the phonograph itself had become a passé luxury, nothing slowed Columbia's decline. It was still producing some of the most remarkable records of the day, especially on sessions produced by John Hammond and financed by EMI for overseas release. Grigsby-Grunow went under in 1934 and was forced to sell Columbia for a mere $70,000 to the American Record Corporation (ARC).[9] This combine already included Brunswick as its premium label so Columbia was relegated to slower sellers such as the Hawaiian music of Andy Iona, the Irving Mills stable of artists and songs and the still unknown Benny Goodman. By late 1936, pop releases were discontinued, leaving the label essentially defunct.

In 1935, Herbert M. Greenspon, an 18-year-old shipping clerk, led a committee to organize the first trade union shop at the main manufacturing factory in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Elected as president of the Congress of Industrial Unions (CIO) local, Greenspon negotiated the first contract between factory workers and Columbia management. In a career with Columbia that lasted 30 years, Greenspon retired after achieving the position of executive vice president of the company. The former Columbia Records factory in Bridgeport (which closed in 1964)[10] has been converted into an apartment building called Columbia Towers.[11]

As southern gospel developed, Columbia had astutely sought to record the artists associated with that aspiring genre; for example, Columbia was the only company to record Charles Davis Tillman. Most fortuitously for Columbia in its Depression Era financial woes, in 1936 the company entered into an exclusive recording contract with the Chuck Wagon Gang, a symbiotic relationship which continued into the 1970s. A signature group of southern gospel, the Chuck Wagon Gang became Columbia's bestsellers with at least 37 million records,[12] many of them through the aegis of the Mull Singing Convention of the Air sponsored on radio (and later television) by southern gospel broadcaster J. Bazzel Mull (1914-2006).

CBS takes over 1938-1947

In 1938 ARC, including the Columbia label in the USA, was bought by William S. Paley of the Columbia Broadcasting System for US$750,000.[13] (Columbia Records had originally co-founded CBS in 1927 along with New York talent agent Arthur Judson, but soon cashed out of the partnership leaving only the name; Paley acquired the fledgling radio network in 1928.) CBS revived the Columbia label in place of Brunswick and the Okeh label in place of Vocalion. CBS renamed the company Columbia Recording Corporation[14] and retained control of all of ARC's past masters, but in a complicated move, the pre-1931 Brunswick and Vocalion masters, as well as trademarks of Brunswick and Vocalion, reverted to Warner Brothers (who had leased their whole recording operation to ARC in early 1932) and Warners sold the lot to Decca Records in 1941.[15]

The Columbia trademark from this point until the late 1950s was two overlapping circles with the Magic Notes in the left circle and a CBS microphone in the right circle. The Royal Blue labels now disappeared in favor of a deep red, which caused RCA Victor to claim infringement on its Red Seal trademark (RCA lost the case). The blue Columbia label was kept for its classical music Columbia Masterworks Records line until it was later changed to a green label before switching to a gray label in the late 1950s, and then to the bronze that is familiar to owners of its classical and Broadway albums. Columbia Phonograph Company of Canada did not survive the Great Depression, so CBS made a distribution deal with Sparton Records in 1939 to release Columbia records in Canada under the Columbia name.

During the 1940s Columbia had a contract with Frank Sinatra. Sinatra helped boost Columbia in revenue. Sinatra recorded over 200 songs with Columbia which include his most popular songs from his early years. Other popular artists on Columbia were Benny Goodman (signed from RCA Victor), Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford (both signed from Decca), Eddy Duchin, Ray Noble (both moved to Columbia from Brunswick), Kate Smith, Mildred Bailey, Will Bradley, etc.

In 1947, CBS founded its Mexican record company, Discos Columbia de Mexico.[10] 1947 also saw the first classical LP Nathan Milstein's recording of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Columbia's 33 rpm format quickly spelled the death of the classical 78 rpm record and gave Columbia a commanding lead over RCA Red Seal.[16][17]

The LP record 1948-1959

Columbia's president Edward Wallerstein, instrumental in steering Paley to the ARC purchase, at this time set his talents to the goal (as he saw it) of hearing an entire movement of a symphony on one side of an album. Ward Botsford writing for the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Issue of High Fidelity Magazine relates, "He was no inventorhe was simply a man who seized an idea whose time was ripe and begged, ordered, and cajoled a thousand men into bringing into being the now accepted medium of the record business." Despite Wallerstein's stormy tenure, in 1948 Columbia introduced the Long Playing "microgroove" LP record format (sometimes written "Lp" in early advertisements), which rotated at 33 revolutions per minute, to be the standard for the gramophone record for half a century. CBS research director Dr. Peter Goldmark played a managerial role in the collaborative effort, but Wallerstein credits engineer William Savory with the technical prowess that brought the long-playing disc to the public. By the early 1940s, Columbia had been experimenting with higher fidelity recordings, as well as longer masters, which paved the way for the successful release of the LPs in 1948. One such record that helped set a new standard for music listeners was the 10" LP reissue of The Voice of Frank Sinatra, originally released on March 4, 1946 as an album of four 78 rpm records, which was the first pop album issued in the new LP format. Sinatra was arguably Columbia's hottest commodity and his artistic vision combined with the direction Columbia were taking the medium of music, both popular and classic, were well suited. The Voice of Frank Sinatra was also considered to be the first genuine concept album. Since the term "LP" has come to refer to the 12 inch 33 1/3 rpm vinyl disk, the first LP is the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor played by Nathan Milstein with Bruno Walter conducting the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of New York, Columbia ML 4001, found in the Columbia Record Catalog for 1949, published in July 1948. The other "LP's" listed in the catalog were in the 10 inch format starting with ML 2001 for the light classics, CL 6001 for popular songs and JL 8001 for children's records.[18]

Columbia's LPs were particularly well-suited to classical music's longer pieces, so some of the early albums featured such artists as Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The success of these recordings eventually persuaded Capitol Records to begin releasing LPs in 1949. RCA Victor began releasing LPs in 1950, quickly followed by other major American labels. (Decca Records in the U.K. was the first to release LPs in Europe, beginning in 1949.)

An "original cast recording" of Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific with Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin was recorded in 1949. Both conventional metal masters and tape were used in the sessions in New York City. For some reason, the taped version was not used until Sony released it as part of a set of CDs devoted to Columbia's Broadway albums.[19] Over the years, Columbia joined Decca and RCA Victor in specializing in albums devoted to Broadway musicals with members of the original casts. In the 1950s, Columbia also began releasing LPs drawn from the soundtracks of popular films.

The 1950s

In 1951, Columbia USA began issuing records in the 45 rpm format RCA had introduced two years earlier.[20] Also in 1951, Ted Wallerstein retired as Columbia Records chairman;[21] also, Columbia USA severed its decades-long distribution arrangement with EMI and signed a distribution deal with Philips Records to market Columbia recordings outside North America.[22] EMI continued to distribute Okeh and later Epic label recordings until 1968. EMI also continued to distribute Columbia recordings in Australia and New Zealand. American Columbia was not happy with EMI's reluctance to introduce long playing records.[23]

Columbia became the most successful non-rock record company in the 1950s when they lured impresario Mitch Miller away from the Mercury label (Columbia remained largely uninterested in the teenage rock market until the early 1960s, despite a handful of crossover hits). Miller quickly signed on Mercury's biggest artist at the time, Frankie Laine, and discovered several of the decade's biggest recording stars including Tony Bennett, Jimmy Boyd, Guy Mitchell, Johnnie Ray, The Four Lads, Rosemary Clooney, Ray Conniff and Johnny Mathis. He also oversaw many of the early singles of the label's top female recording star of the decade, Doris Day. In 1953, Columbia formed a new subsidiary label Epic Records.[24] 1954 saw Columbia end its distribution arrangement with Sparton Records and form Columbia Records of Canada.[25] Despite favoring a country music genre, Columbia bid $15,000 for Elvis Presley's contract from Sun Records in 1955.[26] Miller made no secret of the fact that he was not a fan of rock music and was saved from having to deal with it when Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, turned down their offer (Presley ended up signing with Columbia's now-sister label RCA Victor).[26] However, Columbia did sign two Sun artists in 1958: Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins.[26]

With 1954, Columbia USA decisively broke with its past when it introduced its new, modernist-style "Walking Eye" logo,[15] designed by Columbia's art director S. Neil Fujita. This logo actually depicts a stylus (the legs) on a record (the eye); however, the "eye" also subtly refers to CBS's main business in television, and that division's iconic Eye logo. Columbia continued to use the "notes and mike" logo on record labels and even used a promo label showing both logos until the "notes and mike" was phased out (along with the 78 in the US) in 1958. In Canada, Columbia 78s were pressed with the "Walking Eye" logo in 1958. The original Walking Eye was tall and solid; it was modified in 1960 to the familiar one still used today (pictured on this page), in spite the fact that the Walking Eye was not used during most of the 1990s.

Columbia changed distributors in Australia and New Zealand in 1956 when the Australian Record Company picked up distribution of U.S. Columbia product to replace the Capitol Records product which ARC lost when EMI bought Capitol. As EMI owned the Columbia trademark at that time, the U.S. Columbia material was issued in Australia and New Zealand on the CBS Coronet label.

In 1956, Columbia jazz producer George Avakian signed Miles Davis to the label. In 1958, Davis's sextet released Milestones, an influential alum which explored the techniques of modal jazz. In 1959, Davis's sextet released Kind of Blue, an album which has remained extremely popular and influential. In 2003, it appeared as number 12 in Rolling Stone's list of the "500 Greatest Albums Of All Time".[27]


Although Columbia began recording in stereo in 1956, stereo LPs did not begin to be manufactured until 1958. One of Columbia's first stereo releases was an abridged and re-structured performance of Handel's Messiah by the New York Philharmonic and the Westminster Choir conducted by Leonard Bernstein (recorded on December 31, 1956, on 1/2 inch tape, using an Ampex 300-3 machine). Bernstein combined the Nativity and Resurrection sections, and ended the performance with the death of Christ. As with RCA Victor, most of the early stereo recordings were of classical artists, including the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bruno Walter, Dmitri Mitropoulos, and Leonard Bernstein, and the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy, who also recorded an abridged Messiah for Columbia. Some sessions were made with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble drawn from leading New York musicians, which had first made recordings with Sir Thomas Beecham in 1949 in Columbia's famous New York City studios. George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra recorded mostly for Epic. When Epic dropped classical music, the roster and catalogue was moved to Columbia Masterworks Records.

The 1960s

See also CBS Records International

In 1961, CBS ended its arrangement with Philips Records and formed its own international organization, CBS Records, in 1962, which released Columbia recordings outside the USA and Canada on the CBS label (until 1964 marketed by Philips in Britain).[10] The recordings could not be released under the "Columbia Records" name because EMI operated a separate record label by that name outside North America. (This was the result of the legal maneuvers which had led to the creation of EMI in the early 1930s.)

Columbia's Mexican unit, Discos Columbia, was renamed Discos CBS.[10]

With the formation of CBS Records International, it started establishing its own distribution in the early 1960s beginning in Australia. In 1960 CBS took over its distributor in Australia and New Zealand, the Australian Record Company (founded in 1936) including Coronet Records, one of the leading Australian independent recording and distribution companies of the day. The CBS Coronet label was replaced by the CBS label with the 'walking eye' logo in 1963.[28] ARC continued trading under that name until the late 1970s when it formally changed its business name to CBS Australia.

In 1962, Columbia joined in the then red-hot folk music genre when they released the debut album of The New Christy Minstrels, and CBS producer John Hammond signed Bob Dylan and released his eponymous debut album.

In September 1964, CBS established its own British distribution by purchasing the independent Oriole label, pressing plant and recording studio (as well as its sold-only-in-Woolworth's Embassy cover version label).[29] The acquisition gave Columbia and its sister labels a British manufacturing arm, recording studio, and over time its own roster of British recording artists during the British Invasion such as Chad & Jeremy and The Tremeloes.

Mitch Miller left Columbia in 1965,[30] and the company dipped a tentative toe into the emerging rock culture field by signing Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Byrds.

Following the appointment of Clive Davis as president in 1967 the Columbia label became more of a rock music label, thanks mainly to Davis's fortuitous decision to attend the Monterey International Pop Festival, where he spotted and signed several leading acts including Janis Joplin. Joplin led the way for several generations of female rock and rollers. However, Columbia/CBS still had a hand in traditional pop and jazz and one of its key acquisitions during this period was Barbra Streisand. She released her first solo album on Columbia in 1963 and remains with the label to this day.

Perhaps the most commercially successful Columbia pop act of this period was Simon & Garfunkel. The group broke through in 1965 when CBS producer Tom Wilson added drums and bass to the duo's recording of "The Sound of Silence" without their knowledge or approval. The dramatic success of the song ushered in the folk-rock boom of the mid-Sixties. Simon and Garfunkel's final studio album, Bridge Over Troubled Water reached number one in the US album charts in January 1970 and became one of the most successful albums of all time.[31]

Over the course of the 1960s, Bob Dylan achieved a prominent position in Columbia. His early folk songs were recorded by many acts and became hits for Peter, Paul & Mary and The Turtles. Some of these cover versions became the foundation of the so-called folk rock genre. The Byrds achieved their pop breakthrough with a version of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man".

In 1965, Dylan's controversial decision to 'go electric' and work with rock musicians divided his audience but catapulted him to greater commercial success with his 1965 hit single "Like a Rolling Stone". Following his withdrawal from touring in 1966, Dylan recorded a large group of songs with his backing group The Band which reached other artists as 'demo recordings'. These resulted in hits by Manfred Mann ("The Mighty Quinn") and Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll & Trinity ("This Wheel's On Fire"). Dylan's late sixties albums John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline became cornerstone recordings of the emergent country rock genre and influenced The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers.

Miles Davis's late 1960s recordings, In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew, pioneered a new fusion of jazz and rock music.[32]

The 1970s

In September 1970, under the guidance of Clive Davis, Columbia Records entered the West Coast rock market with a vengeance, both opening a state-of-the art recording studio (CBS recording studio, 827 Folsom St, San Francisco, later the Automatt) and establishing an A&R head and office in San Francisco at Fisherman's Wharf, headed by ex Nils Lofgren and Roy Buchanan band mate, Monument records artist and producer George Daly. The recording studio operated under CBS until 1978.[33]

During the early 1970s, Columbia began recording in a four-channel process called quadraphonic, using the "SQ" standard which used an electronic encoding process that could be decoded by special amplifiers and then played through four speakers, with each speaker placed in the corner of a room. Remarkably, RCA countered with another quadraphonic process which required a special cartridge to play the "discrete" recordings for four-channel playback. Both Columbia and RCA's quadraphonic records could be played on conventional stereo equipment. Although the Columbia process required less equipment and was quite effective, many were confused by the competing systems and sales of both Columbia's matrix recordings and RCA's discrete recordings were disappointing. A few other companies also issued some matrix recordings for a few years. Quadraphonic recording was used by both classical artists, including Leonard Bernstein and Pierre Boulez, and popular artists such as Electric Light Orchestra, Billy Joel, Pink Floyd, Barbra Streisand, Carlos Santana, and Blue Öyster Cult. Columbia even released a soundtrack album of the movie version of Funny Girl in quadraphonic. Many of these recordings were later remastered and released in Dolby surround sound on CD.

In 1976, Columbia Records of Canada was renamed CBS Records Canada Ltd.[34] The Columbia label continued to be used by CBS Canada, but the CBS label was introduced for French-language recordings. On May 5, 1979, Columbia Masterworks began digital recording in a recording session of Stravinsky's Petrouchka by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta, in New York (using 3M's 32-channel multitrack digital recorder).

The 1980s and sale to Sony

The structure of US Columbia remained the same until 1980, when it spun off the classical/Broadway unit, Columbia Masterworks Records, into a separate imprint, CBS Masterworks Records (now Sony Classical).

In 1988, the CBS Records Group, including the Columbia Records unit, was acquired by Sony, which re-christened the parent division Sony Music Entertainment in 1991. As Sony only had a temporary license on the CBS Records name, it then acquired the rights to the Columbia trademarks (Columbia Graphophone) outside the U.S., Canada, Spain (trademark owned by BMG) and Japan (Nippon Columbia) from EMI, which generally had not been used by them since the early 1970s. The CBS Records label was officially renamed Columbia Records on January 1, 1991 worldwide except Spain (where Sony acquired the rights by 2004[35]) and Japan.[36] CBS Masterworks Records was renamed Sony Classical Records. In December 2006, CBS Corporation revived the CBS Records name for a new minor label closely linked with its television properties (coincidentally, the new CBS Records is currently distributed by another Sony Music division, RED Distribution).


Columbia Records remains a premier subsidiary label of Sony Music Entertainment. The label is headed by chairman Rob Stringer, along with executive vice president and general manager Joel Klaiman, who joined the label in December 2012.[37] In 2009, during the re-consolidation of Sony Music, Columbia was partnered with its Epic Records sister to form the Columbia/Epic Label Group[38][39] under which it operated as an imprint. In July 2011, as part of further corporate restructuring, Epic was split from the Columbia/Epic Group as Epic took in multiple artists from Jive Records.[40]

As of March 2013, Columbia Records is home to 90 artists.[41]

Logos and branding

The acquisition of rights to the Columbia trademarks from EMI (including the "Magic Notes" logo) presented Sony Music with a dilemma of which logo to use. For much of the 1990s, Columbia released their albums without a logo, just the "COLUMBIA" word mark in the Bodoni Classic Bold typeface.[42] Columbia experimented with bringing back the "notes and mike" logo but without the CBS mark on the microphone. That logo is currently used in the "Columbia Jazz" series of jazz releases and reissues.[43] A modified "Magic Notes" is found on the logo for Sony Classical. In mid to late of 1999, it was eventually decided that the "Walking Eye" (previously the CBS Records logo outside North America) would be Columbia's logo, with the retained Columbia word mark design, throughout the world except in Japan where Columbia Music Entertainment has the rights to the Columbia trademark to this day and continues to use the "Magic Notes" logo. In Japan, CBS/Sony Records was renamed Sony Records and continues to use the "Walking Eye" logo.

List of Columbia Records artists

Main article: List of Columbia Records artists

As of October 2012, there are currently 85 recording artists signed to Columbia Records,[44] making it the largest of the three flagship labels owned by Sony Music (followed by RCA Records with 77 artists and Epic Records with 43 artists).


  • Kemosabe Records

Affiliated labels

American Recording Company (ARC)

In February 1979 Maurice White, founding member of the R&B group Earth, Wind and Fire, re-launched the American Recording Company (ARC). In addition to White's Earth, Wind and Fire, the Columbia Records-distributed label artist roster included successful R&B and pop singer Deniece Williams, jazz-fusion group Weather Report, and R&B trio the Emotions. The label's final release was in 1982.

Columbia Label Group (UK)

In January 2006, Sony BMG UK split its front-line operations into two separate labels. RCA Label Group, mainly dealing with Pop and R&B and Columbia Label Group, mainly dealing with Rock, Dance and Alternative music. Mike Smith is the Managing Director of Columbia Label Group, Ian Dutt is Marketing Director and Alison Donald is Director of A&R.

Aware Records

In 1997, Columbia made an affiliation with unsigned artist promotion label Aware Records to distribute Aware's artists' music. Through this venture, Columbia has had success finding highly successful artists. In 2002, Columbia and Aware accepted the option to continue this relationship.

Columbia Nashville

In 2007, Columbia formed Columbia Nashville and is part of Sony Music Nashville. This gave Columbia Nashville complete autonomy and managerial separation from Columbia in New York City. Columbia had given its country music department semi-autonomy for many years and through the 1950s, had a 20000 series catalog for country music singles while the rest of Columbia's output of singles had a 30000 then 40000 series catalog number.

Recording studios

In 1913, Columbia moved into the Woolworth Building in New York City[45] and housed its first recording studio there. In 1917, Columbia used this studio to make a recording of a dixieland band, the Original Dixieland Jass Band.[46][47]

In New York City, Columbia Records had some of the most highly respected sound recording studios, including the Columbia 30th Street Studio at 207 East 30th Street ("Studio C" and "Studio D"), the CBS Studio Building at 49 East 52nd Street ("Studio B" on the second floor and "Studio E" on the sixth floor), and one of their earliest recording studios, "Studio A" at 799 Seventh Avenue near 52nd Street.[48]

The Columbia 30th Street Studio was considered by some in the music industry to be the best sounding room in its time and others consider it to have been the greatest recording studio in history.[48]

Columbia also had the highly respected Liederkranz Hall, at 111 East 58th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues, in New York City, a building built by and formerly belonging to a German cultural and musical society, The Liederkranz Society, and used as a recording studio.[48][49][50][51] The producer Morty Palitz had been instrumental in convincing Columbia Records to begin to use the Liederkranz Hall studio for recording music, additionally convincing the conductor Andre Kostelanetz to make some of the first recordings in Liederkranz Hall which until then had only been used for CBS Symphony radio shows.[52] In the late 1940s, the large Liederkranz Hall space was physically rearranged to make room for television studios.[48][53]

See also

  • RCA Records
  • Epic Records
  • Sony Music Entertainment
  • Sony BMG
  • Alex Steinweiss, the label's Art Director from 1938 to 1943, inventor of the illustrated album cover and the LP sleeve
  • Jim Flora, successor to Alex Steinweiss and legendary illustrator for the label during the 1940s
  • List of record labels


  • Rob Stringer Chairman
  • Joel Klaiman Executive vice president and general manager


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  16. D. Kern Holoman The Orchestra: A Very Short Introduction 2012 Page 107 "The first classical LP was the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with Nathan Milstein, Bruno Walter, and the New York Philharmonic-Symphony, Columbia ML-4001. RCA capitulated in 1950, leaving 45s as the medium ofchoice for pop singles."
  17. John F. Morton Backstory in Blue: Ellington at Newport '56 2008 Page 49 "1947.. The following year Columbia made what it regarded as record history, introducing the first twelve-inch LP, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, with violinist Nathan Milstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Bruno Walter ... Within a year and a half of the introduction of the LP, Columbia had sold twice as many Masterworks as RCA was selling of Red Seal. RCA had begun to lose its artists. Some, like opera tenor Ezio Pinza, would go to Columbia..."
  18. Columbia Record Catalog 1949, p. 120, Columbia Records Inc..
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  46. Cogan, Jim; Clark, William, Temples of sound : inside the great recording studios, San Francisco : Chronicle Books, 2003. ISBN 0-8118-3394-1. Cf. chapter on Columbia Studios.
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Further reading

  • Cogan, Jim; Clark, William, Temples of sound : inside the great recording studios, San Francisco : Chronicle Books, 2003. ISBN 0-8118-3394-1. Cf. chapter on Columbia Studios, pp. 181192.
  • Hoffmann, Frank, Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound, New York & London : Routledge, 1993 & 2005, Volume 1. Cf. pp. 209213, article on "Columbia (Label)"
  • Koenigsberg, Allen, The Patent History of the Phonograph, 1877-1912, APM Press, 1990/1991, ISBN 0-937612-10-3.
  • Revolution in Sound: A Biography of the Recording Industry. Little, Brown and Company, 1974. ISBN 0-316-77333-6.
  • High Fidelity Magazine, ABC, Inc. April, 1976, "Creating the LP Record."
  • Rust, Brian, (compiler), The Columbia Master Book Discography, Greenwood Press, 1999.
  • Marmorstein, Gary. The Label: The Story of Columbia Records. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press; 2007. ISBN 1-56025-707-5
  • Ramone, Phil; Granata, Charles L., Making records: the scenes behind the music, New York: Hyperion, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7868-6859-9. Many references to the Columbia Studios, especially when Ramone bought Studio A, 799 Seventh Avenue from Columbia. Cf. especially pp. 136137.
  • Dave Marsh; 360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story Legends and Legacy, Free eBook released by Columbia Records that puts a spotlight on the label's 263 greatest recordings from 1890 to 2011.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Columbia Records

  • Official site
  • Columbia Records (UK)
  • Columbia A&R team contact list
  • Columbia Nashville Official Website
  • See the Profile of Designer Alex Steinweiss
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