Vanguard Records

Last updated
Vanguard Records
Parent company Concord Bicycle Music
Founded1950 (1950)
Founder Maynard Solomon
Seymour Solomon
Distributor(s) Virgin Music Label & Artist Services [1]
Genre Classical music, folk, rock, jazz
Country of originU.S.
Official website

Vanguard Records is an American record label set up in 1950 by brothers Maynard and Seymour Solomon in New York City. It was a primarily classical label at its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, [2] but also has a catalogue of recordings by a number of pivotal jazz, folk, and blues musicians. The Bach Guild was a subsidiary label.


The label was acquired by Concord Bicycle Music in April 2015. [3]


The newly-founded venture's first record was of J.S. Bach's 21st cantata, "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, BWV 21" ("I had much grief"), with Jonathan Sternberg conducting Hugues Cuénod and other soloists, chorus and orchestra. "What speaks for the Solomons' steadfastness in their taste and their task", wrote a Billboard journalist in November 1966, "is that this record is still alive in the catalogue (SC-501). As Seymour says, it was a good performance, not easy to top. Of the whole Vanguard/Bach Guild catalogue, numbering about 480 issues, 30 are Bach records..." [4]

In 1953, under the direction of John Hammond, the company began the Jazz Showcase series that concentrated on mainstream jazz, producing about two dozen recordings before it was closed in 1958. [5] Recordings made at the Spirituals to Swing concerts in 1938 and 1939 were released by Vanguard in 1959. The company only intermittently pursued recording jazz after that.

In the mid-1950s Vanguard signed blacklisted performers Paul Robeson and the Weavers. It continued to issue folk music with newly signed artists Joan Baez, Hedy West, the Rooftop Singers, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ian and Sylvia, and Mimi and Richard Fariña.

In the summer of 1965, Maynard Solomon hired Samuel Charters to edit the tapes of the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. Following that project, the company sent Charters to Chicago to capture the broad range of blues musicians there. Those sessions resulted in the 1966 three-album series titled Chicago/The Blues/Today!. The albums included Junior Wells with Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters's bandmates Otis Spann and James Cotton, Otis Rush, Homesick James, Johnny Shines, Big Walter Horton, and Charlie Musselwhite.

Vanguard released numerous classical recordings, both domestically-produced and imported. Many of the latter came from the United Kingdom's Pye Records label, featuring performances by the Halle Orchestra conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. The recordings were so exceptional that many classical radio stations programmed them. Vanguard even released some quadraphonic classical recordings in the early 1970s, including a performance of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony with the American Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski. The label also released many performances by the Utah Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maurice Abravanel, including one of the first sets of the complete ten symphonies of Gustav Mahler, a complete performance of The Nutcracker , as well as the earlier P.D.Q. Bach recordings, from 1965 to 1983. Vanguard was the first American label to release the complete 1944 high fidelity recordings of composer Richard Strauss conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in most of his tone poems; the recordings were made on the Magnetophon tape recording equipment in the Vienna Opera House.

The multiplicity of popular in-house classical music series released by the Solomons on Vanguard and Bach Guild between 1950 and 1966 include, in addition to 22 Bach cantatas, pieces from the English Madrigal School performed by the Deller Consort, Italian and French madrigal masterpieces, Elizabethan and Jacobean music, Henry Purcell and the virtuoso trumpet, virtuoso flute and virtuoso oboe, along with German University Songs with Erich Kunz, songs of the Auvergne, Viennese dances with Willi Boskovsky, traditional songs by Roland Hayes, Vivaldi's Four Seasons and other concertos from I Solisti di Zagreb, music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, numerous Haydn symphonies performed by the Esterhazy Orchestra, a double LP of Gluck's opera Orfeo ed Euridice sung in Italian with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra led by Charles Mackerras, and an influential Mahler cycle with the Utah Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maurice Abravanel. [6]

After entering the rock and roll market by signing Country Joe and the Fish, Vanguard started a 6500 series for releases by rock acts but had little success. By the early 1970s, with acts such as Joan Baez and Ian & Sylvia leaving for other labels, and disappointing sales for the "Everyman" budget classical series, Vanguard's stature in the music industry was diminished. The label stayed minimally active with specialty releases such as those by Indian classical musician and sarod virtuoso Vasant Rai. An unexpected novelty hit on Vanguard, "Shaving Cream" by Benny Bell, led the company to release albums of humorous music inspired by Dr. Demento. In the late 1970s Tom Paxton issued two albums, New Songs from the Briar-patch and Heroes, on the label. A few disco albums by acts such as Players Association were released on Vanguard without much chart impact.

After this period of near-dormancy, Vanguard was sold to the Welk Music Group in 1985. The Welk Group sold the classical music catalog back to Seymour Solomon. Welk Music Group revitalized the label, reissuing much of its extensive folk and popular music back catalogue (a good deal of which had been out of print for several years) on CD, as well as signing a number of new artists (such as Matt Nathanson, Mindy Smith, Greg Laswell, and Trevor Hall), in addition to established musicians such as Merle Haggard, John Fogerty, Chris Isaak, Robert Cray, Shawn Mullins, and Linda Ronstadt. The label also formed marketing partnerships with a number of artist-run label imprints, to include Levon Helm (Dirt Farmer Music), Indigo Girls (IG Recording), and Chely Wright (Painted Red Music), among others. This era for Vanguard also garnered the label three consecutive Grammy Awards for Levon Helm, multiple Grammy Awards for Robert Cray, and an RIAA certified platinum single for Matt Nathanson's "Come on Get Higher." In 2008, Welk Music Group began a distribution deal with EMI to handle its labels, including Vanguard.


After Seymour Solomon's death, Vanguard Classics was sold to Artemis Records, which reactivated the company with new releases by Leon Fleisher and Gil Shaham. When Artemis folded in 2004, the Vanguard Classics catalogue was sold to Sheridan Square Entertainment, which is licensing the Vanguard Classics material. Sheridan Square eventually became IndieBlu, which was acquired by Entertainment One in 2010. [7] Vanguard Music Group was acquired by Concord Bicycle Music in April 2015., [8]

Vanguard used the Brooklyn Masonic Temple in New York City as one of its recording studios for many of its sessions. [9] [10]


Classical artists (1950-1966)

Current artists

Former artists

(Partial list)

See also

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  1. "EMI Label Services & Caroline Distribution". Caroline Distribution. Retrieved 2014-09-21.
  2. Billboard magazine, 19 November 1966 issue, dedicated to Vanguard Records.
  3. Billboard "Concord and Bicycle Merge to Form Concord Bicycle Music, Acquires Vanguard and Sugar Hill Records",, 1 April 2015
  4. Billboard magazine's 19 November 1966 issue, dedicated to Vanguard Records.
  5. Vanguard Records Listing (jazz & blues releases)
  6. Billboard magazine, 19 November 1966, in an issue dedicated to Vanguard Records.
  7. Chris Walsh (29 April 2010). "E1 Acquires IndieBlu". Billboard. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
  8. "Concord Music Group Acquires Famed Independent Labels Vanguard and Sugar Hill from the Welk Music Group". Concord. April 1, 2015. Retrieved August 19, 2019.
  9. Kahn, Ashley, Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece, Da Capo Press, 2001. Cf. p.77
  10. "The Vanguard Sessions", Jazz Lives, November 12, 2009.