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Len Spencer

Len Spencer
Portrait of Spencer, 1899
Leonard Garfield Spencer

(1867-02-12)February 12, 1867
DiedDecember 15, 1914(1914-12-15) (aged 47)
Resting placeGlenwood Cemetery, Washington, DC
Occupation(s)Recording artist, composer, author, booking agent
Spouse(s)Margaret (Kaiser) Spencer (married 1885, died 1891)
Elizabeth (Norris) Spencer (married 1892, died 1941)
Children5, one died at birth, another in infancy

Leonard Garfield Spencer (February 12, 1867 – December 15, 1914) was an early American recording artist.[1] He began recording for the Columbia Phonograph Company, in 1889 or 1890.[2] Between 1892 and 1897 he recorded extensively for the New Jersey Phonograph Company and its successor the United States Phonograph Company.[3] He specialized in vaudeville sketches and comic songs, but also sang sentimental ballads popular at the time.[3] He returned to Columbia in 1898 for an exclusive contract[4] then began recording for Berliner Gramophone (disc) records in 1899 and continued with Victor and Columbia as discs became the dominant format in the early 1900s.[5]

He began performing with banjoist Vess L. Ossman in 1901 and with Ada Jones in 1905. He is best remembered today for his vaudeville-style comic sketches, such as "The Arkansaw Traveler" (1902), combining clever turns of phrase, ironic elocutionary delivery, sound effects and music to create colorful dialogues featuring itinerant Southerners, auctioneers, circus barkers, and Irish, Jewish or Black Americans.[6] Many of his roles were performed in either blackface or brownface. Spencer's output was eclectic. He imitated animal sounds in "A Barnyard Serenade" (1906) and released another record titled "The Transformation Scene from 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'," but also popularized songs still known today such as "Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom De-ay" and "A Hot Time in the Old Town." Music historian Bob Stanley deems it "probable" that Spencer's comedic "Arkansaw Traveler" routine was the first record to sell one million copies, though official documentation is lacking.[7]

As the popularity of Len's style of humor waned in the latter part of the decade, he opened a booking agency called "Len Spencer's Lyceum" in New York.[8] He died of a cerebral hemorrhage while working at the Lyceum on December 15, 1914.[9] His funeral was held at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in New York City and his remains were cremated and buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Washington, D.C.[10]

Advertisement for Len Spencer's Lyceum, ca. 1912.


Some of his most popular recordings include:

See also


  1. ^ "Mr. Leonard Spencer". The Phonoscope. 1 (1): 14. November 1896.
  2. ^ "Reminiscences of the Columbia Cylinder Records". Phonograph Monthly Review. Vol. 4, no. 4. January 1930. pp. 114–115. Free access icon
  3. ^ a b Catalog of Standard New Jersey Records for the Phonograph. United States Phonograph Company. c. 1894. pp. 33–41.
  4. ^ "Gallery of Talent Employed for Making Records". The Phonoscope. 2 (7): 12–13. July 1898.
  5. ^ "Len Spencer (vocalist : baritone vocal)". Discography of American Historical Recordings.
  6. ^ "Len Spencer (author)". Discography of American Historical Recordings.
  7. ^ Stanley, Bob, Let's Do It: The Birth of Pop Music, Pegasus Books, 2022, pg 32
  8. ^ a b Frank Hoffmann, B Lee Cooper, Tim Gracyk -Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925 - Page 188 1136592296 2012 -"She is called "Miss Ada Jones," though in Manhattan on August 9, 1904, she had married Hughie Flaherty...On various records the two imitated Bowery toughs (on the popular "Peaches and Cream," Spencer was a "newsy" named Jimmie..."
  9. ^ Walsh, Jim (October 1958). "Len Spencer, as his Daughter Ethel Lovingly Recalls Him". Hobbies Magazine: 30–35.
  10. ^ "Leonard Garfield "Len" Spencer (1867-1914) - Find". Find a Grave.
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Len Spencer
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