Little Wonder Records  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Little Wonder Records was a United States record label from 1914 through 1923.

Little Wonders were manufactured by the Columbia Phonograph Company, and were distributed exclusively by Henry Waterson (the business partner of Irving Berlin) in their early years (1914-1916) -- an arrangement that has only recently been discovered as the original contract stipulated that both parties were to keep this relationship a secret. Artists are generally uncredited on Little Wonder labels, which simply give recordings such general attributions as "band", "tenor", "quartette", or "accordion solo".

Little Wonders were lateral-cut single sided 5½ inch gramophone records. The records contained only about 1½ to 2 minutes of music. The small size of the discs (together with the cherubic face on later versions of the label) has led some record collectors to incorrectly assume that Little Wonders were made as children's records; they were actually made for the general audience looking for low-priced recordings.

The records retailed for ten cents each, some of the lowest priced recordings available at the time. This price point revolutionized popular recorded music, making it possible for everyday people to purchase and listen to music other than live performances. The audio fidelity is average to slightly above average for the time, with rather narrow grooves (best played with a smaller stylus than contemporary discs). Millions and millions of these records were sold, principally through many 5 & 10 cent department store chains of the time and through Sears & Roebuck catalogs.

There is some controversy about whether Little Wonders were made by artists who recorded for Columbia. One account says that recording artists would visit the Little Wonder recording studio on one floor of the Woolworth Building before or after making records at the Columbia studio on a higher floor of the same building. And there has been some speculation that the masters for Little Wonders were actually warm-up balance checks recorded as tests at the beginning of Columbia recording sessions; if such tests happened to record a usable performance, they would be leased to Little Wonder. However, court papers from an early lawsuit between Waterson and Victor Emerson indicate that performers were paid separately and specifically to record for Little Wonder records.

Among the noted artists of the day whose performances were released (uncredited) on Little Wonder include Al Jolson, Gene Greene, Wilbur Sweatman, Billy Murray, Vernon Dalhart and the Louisiana Five.

Little Wonder # 339, "The Camp Meeting Jubilee" by a male vocal "quartette", issued in 1916, contains the lyrics "We've been rockin' an' rolling in your arms / Rockin' and rolling in your arms / In the arms of Moses." This is believed to be the first use in an audio recording of the phrase "rock..and roll..", albeit in the context of a religious spiritual rather than its later secular use.

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