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Learn the Interesting History of Columbia Records Recording Company

Columbia Records

Columbia Records has come a long way since it has been established in the nineteenth century. It’s a music industry pioneer in both content and technology that still operates until today, being one of the four label groups of Sony Music Entertainment, along with long-time RCA Records, as well as Epic Records and Arista Records.

Company Background

Columbia Records is an American record label owned by Sony Music Entertainment, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America. It was founded on January 15, 1889. This American record label evolved from the American Graphophone Company and is the oldest surviving brand name in the sound recording business and the second largest company to recorded records instead of blank cylinders.

Columbia Records had no connection to Columbia Pictures – rather, it was connected to CBS, which stands for Columbia Broadcasting System. From 1961 to 1990, recordings were released outside North America on the CBS Records label, before adopting the Columbia brand in most of the world. As of 2012, Columbia Records has the highest label share in Adult Contemporary Radio in the US.

The relationship between Columbia Records and the current owner, Sony Corporation, dates back to 1968 when CBS joined with Sony to expedite its expansion in the Asian market. After 20 years, Sony acquired CBS Records Group. Headquartered in New York City, New York, Columbia records has more than 9,000 employees. In 2018, Ron Perry was named as the chairman and CEO of Columbia Records.

Columbia Records’ subsidiaries include Kemosabe Records, CloudBoy Records, and Small Giant Records. Meanwhile, its affiliate labels include Columbia Label Group (UK), Columbia Nashville, American Recording Company (ARC), and Aware Records.

Company History

Columbia Records started in the late 1880s under the name Columbia Graphophone Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. The company was originally built upon the experiments of Chichester A. Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter. Bell, an engineer, was a cousin of telephone inventor Alexandar Graham Bell. In 1886, the two received their patent for a wax-coated cardboard cylinder where sounds could be recorded. Their invention was called the graphophone and made its official debut in Washington, DC area in 1899.

The invention of the graphophone led to the foundation of the Columbia Phonograph Company by lawyer and stenographer Edward D. Easton and a group of investors. At first, the company had a local monopoly of sales and services of the Edison phonographs and phonograph cylinders. Columbia produced commercial cylinder recordings of its own, and its catalog of musical records was ten pages, as of 1891. In 1984, the company severed its ties with Edison and began selling manufactured recordings of its own. They began selling disc records in 1901. For a decade, Columbia competed with both the Edison Phonograph Company and the Victor Talking Machine Company disc records. By 1912, Columbia was the exclusive seller of disc records.

In 1926, Columbia acquired Okeh Records, making the company a leader in jazz and blues. The purchase added artists like Louis Armstrong and Clarence Williams, plus its catalog of blues and jazz artists.

With the Great Depression’s tightening of the country’s economic status, the phonograph has become a luxury. By 1936, pop releases were discontinued. Columbia declined fast until it almost became defunct. However, the signing of the country gospel group The Chuck Wagon Gang helped the label survive. It has become Columbia’s bestseller with at least 37 million records.

In 1938, Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) acquired Columbia Records, beginning a long collaboration between broadcasting and recording companies. When Frank Sinatra signed with the company in the 1940s, the company boosted its revenue. Columbia also began experimenting with longer-playing, higher-fidelity discs to replace the 78 rpm records. They released their first pop LP in 1946: Frank Sinatra’s The Voice of Frank Sinatra.

In 1947, the company was renamed Columbia Records and founded its Mexican record company. Columbia Records introduced the standard 33 1/3 rpm LP that would later become a music industry standard for almost 50 years. In 1951, Columbia began issuing records in the 45 rpm format that RCA Victor introduced two years earlier.

In the 1950s, the label earned a reputation for being the most commercially successful non-rock label after it lured producer Mitch Miller away from the Mercury label. Despite being successful, Columbia remained largely uninvolved in the teenage rock and roll market until the late 1960s. Miller brought in some of the decade’s biggest artists, including Tonny Bennet, Jimmy Boyd, Guy Mitchell, Johnny Ray, Ray Conniff, and Johnny Mathis. He also oversaw some early singles of the top female recording star of the decade, Doris Day. In 1953, Columbia formed a new subsidiary label Epic Records.

Columbia Records began recording in stereo in 1956, but they did not begin manufacturing stereo LPs until two years later. Most of the early stereo recordings were of classical music, while in the summer of 1958, Columbia Records began releasing pop stereo albums. By September 1958, the label began releasing mono and stereo versions of the same albums.

Mitch Miller was vocal in his dislike of rock music. While no rock artists were added to their roster, they signed big names like Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, and Barbra Streisand. When Miller left Columbia Records for MCA in 1965, the label began adding rock as a key part of their story. In 1967, Clive Davis was appointed as president, signaling a strong venture to rock music when he signed Janis Joplin.

Under the leadership of Clive Davis, Columbia Records became a record label at the vanguard of pop and rock music. The label signed Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, and the Electric Light Orchestra, while Bob Dylan and Barbra Streisand continued to prosper. By the mid-70s, Clive Davis exited the company and was replaced by Walter Yetnikoff.

In 1988, CBS Records Group, including Columbia Records, was purchased by Sony. By the ’80s to ’90s, Mariah Carey, Will Smith, and Michael Bolton are some artists who provided hits for the label.

In recent years, Columbia Records became a major force in mainstream pop music. By 2013, it was home to 90 artists.

Popular Artists

Here’s a list of famous recording artists who are currently or formerly recorded for Columbia Records:

  • 50 Cent
  • AC/DC
  • Rahman
  • Adele
  • Aerosmith
  • Alanis Morisette
  • Alice in Chains
  • Alicia Keys
  • Aretha Franklin
  • Barbra Streisand
  • Barry Manilow
  • Beasty Boys
  • Beyonce
  • Bette Midler
  • Big Time Rush
  • Blink-182
  • Bob Dylan
  • Bonnie Tyler
  • Billie Holiday
  • Billie Joel
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Bullet for My Valentine
  • Busta Rhymes
  • BTS
  • Calvin Harris
  • Carol Channing
  • Celine Dion
  • Cher
  • Creed
  • Daft Punk
  • David Bowie
  • Depeche Mode
  • Destiny’s Child
  • Dione Warwick
  • Dolly Parton
  • Doris Day
  • Earth, Wind & Fire
  • Eddie Murphy
  • Electric Light Orchestra
  • Evanescence
  • Fleetwood Mac
  • Foster the People
  • Frank Ocean
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Frankie Laine
  • George Michael
  • Gleecast
  • Heart
  • Hozier
  • Iron Maiden
  • Liza Minnelli
  • Cole
  • Janis Joplin
  • John Mayer
  • James Arthur
  • Jamie Grace
  • Jay Z
  • Jessica Simpson
  • Joe Pesci
  • Joey McIntyre
  • Johnny Cash
  • John Cena
  • John Legend
  • John Mayer
  • John Mellencamp
  • Johnnie Ray
  • Johnny Mathis
  • Josie and the Pussycats
  • Judas Priest
  • Judy Garland
  • Katharine McPhee
  • Katy Perry
  • Kendrick Lamar
  • Little Mix
  • London String Quartet
  • Louis Armstrong
  • Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
  • Marc Anthony
  • Mark Ronson
  • Mariah Carey
  • Marvin Gaye
  • Meghan Trainor
  • Michael Bolton
  • Michael Jackson
  • Neil Diamond
  • New Kids on the Block
  • Nine Inch Nails
  • Oasis
  • One Direction
  • OutKast
  • Paul Anka
  • Peabo Bryson
  • Pearl Jam
  • Pharrell Williams
  • Pink Floyd
  • Ramones
  • Ray Charles
  • Ray Conniff
  • Ricky Martin
  • Robbie Williams
  • Santana
  • Savage Garden
  • Shaggy
  • Simon and Garfunkel
  • Steve Perry
  • Switchfoot
  • T-Pain
  • The Brothers Four
  • The Carter Sisters
  • The Chainsmokers
  • The Hooters
  • The Jacksons
  • The Rascals
  • The Rolling Stones
  • The Stanley Brothers
  • Tony Bennett
  • Toto
  • Weezer
  • Weird Al Yankovic
  • Wham
  • Will Smith

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