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Arthur Collins

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Phonograph records existed for less than half of this artist's life, but he certainly made the most of the technology when it came along. Arthur Collins may have been the most widely recorded vocalist of the early 20th century, for the eager Edison engineers alone concocting some 200 solo sides as well as another 100 releases as part of the popular duo Collins & Harlan. Collins had the kind of physical heft which is said to be ideal for vocalists in the baritone or bass range, and, in fact, the combination with the equally portly Harlan quickly led to a nickname of "the Half-Ton Duo." Two years of prime career time was lost by Collins recovering from a 1929 backstage accident that happened when his blubber caused him to plummet through a trap door all the way down into the basement. A listener with a collection of antique recordings by this artist stuffed under their shirt might look equally corpulent. The effect could also be created with reissue collections on both cassette and compact disc, of which there are many, some of dubious legal status due to the erosion of copyright from this period. Over the course of so many recordings, Collins became well-known for a variety of styles, including sentimental ballads, ragtime, and novelty songs. In these early days of American song publishing, just about any subject might be considered novel; Collins particularly liked tributes to the South, regularly cutting ditties such as "There's a Lump of Sugar in Dixie," "I Miss the Mississippi Miss," and "When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam." One southern tradition that some listeners may find offensive is traditional minstrel material such as "Coon, Coon" or "There's a Dark Man Coming with a Bundle," to mention just a few of these sorts of titles that Collins recorded either in solo or in duo with Harlan. Whatever he sang, having him sing became a mark of quality in itself, evidenced by a popular expression of the era meant to denote superiority: "as sung by Collins & Harlan." ~ Eugene Chadbourne

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