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Irving Kaufman

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Biography

Vocalist Irving Kaufman performed and recorded with jazz combos and dance bands as well as on Broadway and in vaudeville from the time he was eight years old, sometimes keeping so busy he had to make use of pseudonyms such as Noel Taylor to avoid violating contracts or otherwise irritating people in the music business. His presence might also be indicated simply by the phrase "with vocal chorus" printed on a record label. All told, Kaufman is said to have recorded more songs than any other popular tenor singer during the '20s. Kaufman's father was a Russian immigrant working as a butcher in Syracuse, NY. The youngest of five brothers, Irving initially went into vaudeville alongside siblings Phillip Kaufman and Jack Kaufman, both of whom had recording careers although hardly as prolific. Irving Kaufman was a boy tenor in the Jenny Eddy Trio and a few years later became the lead singer for the 50-piece Merrick's Band. He sang in circuses and between films in movie theaters. In 1911 he went to New York City and was hired to plug songs by the sheet music mogul Leo Feist. Kaufman's first record, cut in the summer of 1914, was entitled "I Love the Ladies" and was actually a cylinder, not a record. His voice perfectly suited the acoustic recording techniques of the time. Kaufman was a master at projecting into the recording horn with a sense of diction that never faltered: if he had been singing rock & roll, nobody's mother would have ever complained about not understanding the words. When the microphone came along a new breed of soft crooners developed, and Kaufman altered his style to keep up with the trends. Nonetheless, by the '30s and '40s he was making fewer records, although still working on radio where his craft at creating different voices and dialects was an asset. Producer Joe Davis, a friend dating back to the '20s, also put Kaufman in front of several nostalgia bands during the '40s. Kaufman continued performing on Broadway, a high point of which was his involvement with Kurt Weill's Street Scene in 1947. A heart attack in 1949 halted most of his professional work. In the summer of 1974 he cut eight new performances right at home, which were included in a double-album historical overview of his career entitled Reminisce with Irving Kaufman. The Archeophone label released an even better collection in 2006, The Last Recording Pioneer. ~ Eugene Chadbourne

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