1916 - 1940 / 1950s - 1973
Vocalion was founded in 1916 by the Aeolian Piano Company of New York City, which introduced a retail line of phonographs at the same time. The name was derived from one of their corporate divisions, the Vocalion Organ Co. The fledgling label first issued single-sided. Vertical cut disc records, soon switching to double sided, then switching to the more common lateral cut system in 1920.
Aeolian pressed their Vocalion discs in a good quality reddish-brown shellac, which set the product apart from the usual black shellac used by other record companies.
Though their early discs are relatively elusive, the British Aeolian-Vocalion records were conceived from the beginning as a quality product. They appeared in September 1920, a pressing plant having been built at Hayes, Middlesex.
One innovation was that some of their early single sided discs carried a spoken commentary or analysis of the work pressed onto the reverse, with the black & gold label. Even if there was no commentary, a logo and legend, 5.5" (14cm) in diameter, was pressed into the back of the disc.
In 1925 the label was acquired by Brunswick Records.
In 1925-27, quite a few Brunswick titles were also issued on Vocalion, and since the Vocalion issues are much harder to find, one can speculate that they were not available for sale in as many stores as their Brunswick counterparts.
By 1928-1929, many of the records issued on the Vocalion 15000 series were hot jazz exclusive to Vocalion and are extremely rare and highly sought after.
During the 1925-1930 period, Brunswick appeared to use this series as something of a specialty label for purposes other than general sale.
In April 1930, Warner Bros. bought Brunswick Records and, for a time, managed the company themselves.
In December 1931 Warner Bros. licensed the entire Brunswick and Vocalion operation to the American Record Corporation. ARC used Brunswick as their flagship 75 cent label and Vocalion became one of their 35 cent labels.
Starting in about 1935, with the change in label design to the black and gold scroll label, Vocalion became even more popular.
Also, starting in 1935, Vocalion started reissuing titles that were still selling from the recently discontinued OKeh label.
After the short-lived Variety label was discontinued (in late 1937), many titles were reissued on Vocalion, and the label continued to release new recordings made by Master/Variety artists through 1940.
ARC was purchased by CBS and Vocalion became a subsidiary of Columbia Records in 1938.
The popular Vocalion label was discontinued in 1940, and the current Vocalions were reissued on the recently revived OKeh label with the same catalog numbers.
The name Vocalion was resurrected in the late 1950s by Decca (US) as a budget label for back-catalog reissues. This incarnation of Vocalion ceased operations in 1973; however, its replacement as MCA's budget imprint, Coral Records, kept many Vocalion titles in print and held its costs down by not bothering to change the Vocalion trademarks and catalog numbers on album covers, even when the records inside bore Coral labels.
In the UK, Decca used the Vocalion label mainly to issue US artists.
In 1997 the Vocalion brand was brought back for a new series of compact discs produced by Michael Dutton of Dutton Laboratories of Watford, England.
This particular label specialises in sonic refurbishments of recordings originally made between the 1920s and 1970s, often leasing original master recordings originally made by Decca and EMI.