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Howard Dunham Barlow, The Voice of Firestone

Originally published in May 1994, Barlow of Barlow Newsletter, Edson L. Barlow Editor

Howard Barlow (1892-1972) -- Radio Pioneer

by James A. Pegolotti

Howard Barlow was truly a radio pioneer. He was music director of CBS for its first sixteen years (1927-1943), then moved to NBC to become conductor of the long-running Voice of Firestone. He was born May 1, 1892, in Plain City, Ohio, a few miles northwest of Columbus. His great - grandfather John Barlow left Ridgefield, Connecticut, "in about 1802" arriving in Ohio via New York State by 1820. The family farmed the Darby Plain area as well as began wood-working businesses.

When the family'sPlain City furniture factory burned down in 1893, Barlow's family moved first to Urbana, Ohio (where a brick furniture factory was built), then to Mount Carmel, Illinois (where Howard spent his formative years and another family furniture factory burned to the ground), then to Denver, Colorado, (where he completed high school and received his only lesson in conducting from Wilbeforce Whiteman, father of Paul Whiteman) and finally to Portland, Oregon, in 1912 where he and his sister Ruth entered newly-opened Reed College. In Ohio and Illinois, he had had formal music lessons on the piano, but taught himself the cello, the trumpet and almost every other instrument and sang in a quartet.

Reed had no music program, so he founded the glee club and became its conductor. He majored in English literature but failed his senior orals and was not allowed to graduate. Since he had won a scholarship to Columbia University to study music, Reed's president agreed to allow Barlow to complete his English degree at Columbia. In 1915 he arrived in New York City and commenced his music studies at Columbia while simultaneously completing his literature degree for Reed College.

Fortunately for Barlow, who wanted to conduct, the New York City area abounded in choral groups always seeking new and energetic conductors. Barlow conducted two or three of these at a time. In 1917, when The Great War called young men to action, Barlow found he could both conduct and still serve his country through the Fosdick Commission whose purpose it was to provide uplifting activities, such as singing, for soldiers in new training camps. He was assigned to be music director at Camp Greene in Charlotte, North Carolina, but his days there were cut short when he was sent to France and the war itself. His unusual abilities were recognized (he taught himself French) and he became part of the Army's Division of Criminal Investigation.

When the war ended, Barlow returned to New york and found opportunities to conduct both choral groups and orchestras. There he met Arthur Judson who was becoming the most important manager of concert artists and conductors in the United States. "We hit it off immediately, "and from that time on he served as my manager without contract", Barlow states in his oral history. The many contacts he had made became springboards to many unusual ventures for him in the early 1920s, among which was the American National Orchestra. A concern for "America first" emerged after World War I. Later it would be equated with isolationism, but at the beginning it was an innocent call to serve Americans first. This was a natural in the musical world as orchestras then were filled with European-born musicians.  In 1923, Barlow founded the American National Orchestra, an orchestra employing only American-born musicians.  For two years, Barlow's society connections (many from his days as a chorus conductor) supplied money for the orchestra.  Reviews were good, but Barlow recalls how the orchestra died: "Deems Taylor came out with a long Sunday article about the American National Orchestra, saying it was just what the American people needed, that it was a second-rate orchestra ... but there were enough first-rate orchestras in the country; what they needed were more second-rate orchestras such as ours.  Well, that was an atomic bomb in the Board of Directors ... they decided that they would disband.  "Barlow then spent several years as music director of Neighborhood Playhouse, a well-known theater for unusual productions in New York City.

In 1927, Arthur Judson and several other entrepreneurs initiated the Columbia Broadcasting System to challenge the existing National Broadcasting System.  Judson selected Barlow to be the new network's music director of serious music and Barlow conducted an orchestral concert as the first broadcast of the Columbia system on Sunday, September 18, 1927.

The world of radio fit his talents completely --- flexible, efficient end gifted in arranging music (an essential talent for early radio).  Many important programs in early radio bore Barlow's musical stamp.  For example, in 1931 the March of Time began and would remain one of the most listened-to programs of the 1930s.  Part documentary / part dramatization, the program of newsworthy stories had an intensity and reality greatly aided by Barlow's atmospheric musical transitions for news stories that changed from China to Italy, from tragedy to humorous episode.   The show was always live and Barlow conducted the orchestra.

Barlow became recognized as a firm supporter of American music.  In 1938 CBS commissioned works by six American composers specifically for radio performances to be conducted.   The performances of the works by such composers as Aaron Copland and William Grant Still (the Still work "Lenox Avenue" is now available in the original Barlow broadcast on compact disc) attracted national attention.  In addition to theCBS commissions, in 1938 Barlow invited young composers to send compositions directly to him.  Compositions found worthy would be part of the summer orchestra series that Barlow conducted.   Several composers were provided a national audience for their works as a result.

Barlow aspired to be appointed conductor of a major orchestra.   Arthur Judson had the power of placement of conductors with major orchestras and gave Barlow guest conducting stints with such orchestras ast he ChicagoSymphony and the New York Philharmonic.  Reviews were usually laudatory, but the American public continued to bow before foreign-born maestros.  "Too bad my name isn't Barlowski", Barlow once told his nephew.  Judson did help Barlow gain appointment as conductor of the Baltimore Symphony in 1940.  (CBS provided some release time for this).  Supported by the City of Baltimore as a municipal orchestra, the Symphony had managerial and union problems and in 1942 in the middle of his third successful season, the orchestra folded.  (It would be reorganized in a year).

In 1943, Barlow resigned from Columbia Broadcasting and accepted the conductorship of the foremost weekly radio show of classical /semiclassical music, the Voice of Firestone on NBC.   In so doing, he takeover along-standing musical tradition on radio for the program had commenced in 1928.  From its inception, the Voice of Firestone always emphasized the human  voice in song along with musical selections by an orchestra of top professionals.   Most great opera singers appeared on the program beginning the program with the well-known theme "If I Could Tell You", a song composed by Idabelle Firestone, wife of the company's founder.  The program was the mainstay of Monday night programming on NBC (later on ABC) for many years.  The Firestone family appreciated Barlow for his Ohio roots (the company was based in Akron) and love of American music.

In 1950, Barlow guided the program from radio (where it played until 1957) into its cross-over to television, the first good music program to present its soloists in staged settings for their songs.  However, the television public, as the 1950s moved along, lost interest in serious music and ratings for the Voice of Firestone began to fall.   Attempts by the producers of the Firestone program to bring a variety of popular entertainers onto the program to save its falling ratings didn't succeed. Barlow did not stay around until 1963 to see the death throes of the once proud program; he left in 1959.  (Barlow may be seen on many o fthe commercially available videotapes of telecasts of the Voice of Firestone presentedby VideoArtists International.)

The 1960s were difficult years for Howard Barlow.  After thirty-two years, he no longer was a conductor on radio.   He decried the business of music, of payola, of the loss of the sense of good music among the American public.   For the last part of his life he turned to helping young musicians, appearing as guest conductor for honor orchestras of talented high school musicians.

He and his wife of thirty-nine years moved in 1965 from their spacious home in Westchester (New York) County to a modest home twenty miles away in Bethel, Ct.  Fiscal difficulties were upon them after a life which had been full, though childless.  He had earned much money.   As the first music director for Columbia Broadcasting, Barlow had asked for and got $15,000 yr.

Not bad for 1927.  He once told the Dean of Julliard School: "I may not be the best, but I'm sure expensive".  His wife and he enjoyed spending money, but good health was lacking; they suffered many illnesses and in those years there were no health benefits.

When  he died January 31, 1972, only a dozen people attended the funeral services in Danbury, Ct. (thetown next to Bethel) including a neighbor who was an Episcopal priest and spoke kind words about this talented man relating that even the great conductor Arturo Toscanani, in the inscription on a photo of himself given to Barlow, had indicated his admiration for the accomplishments of this American born conductor.

Note: Howard Barlow's Oral History is part of the Radio Pioneer Collection at Columbia University.  He was interviewed in 1951.

Editors Note: James A. Pegolotti, Librarian at Western Connecticut State University, Danbury, Connecticut, has written extensively about Howard Barlow.  This article was prepared for Barlow of Barlow on March 29, 1994, and Mr. Pegolotti's efforts are appreciated very such.

Howard Barlow was born on May 01, 1892, at  Plain City, Madison County, Ohio.   His parents were Earl W. Barlow and Nettle Dunham, and he was a tenth generation descendant of John Barlow of Fairfield, Connecticut   (Howard10, Earl W.9, EdmondW.8, Edmund W.7, John6, Jabez5, Samuel4,John3, John2, John1)

Howard Barlow married Jeannette Thomas on December 12, 1926, and they had no children.  He died on January 31, 1972, at Danbury, Connecticut

James Pegolotti, Western Connecticut State University

 
Howard Barlow of the "Voice of Firestone" is Dead      Special to The New York Time February 02, 1972

BETHEL, Conn., Feb.1, Howard Barlow, who was the "Voice of Firestone" on radio and television from 1943 through 1961, died last night, apparently of a heart attack, at his home here. He was 79 years old. He leaves his wife, the former Jeannette Thomas, whom he married in 1926. An actress, she was known on the New York stage as Ann Winston. A funeral service will be held at the Hull Funeral Home, 60 Division Street, Danbury, on Friday at 3 P.M.

Began With C.B.S.  

Mr. Barlow began his musical career as a conductor of popular symphonies on the Columbia Broadcasting System in 1927 and continued in the nineteen twenties and thirties as the network's first musical director.

While Mr. Barlow had been a well-known name on radio since 1927, his nationwide fame dated from 1950 when the Firestone Orchestra began broadcasting simultaneously every Monday on radio and television. The conductor of the 46-piece orchestra, fastidious in white tie and tails, often recalled that in his early days in radio he performed wearing a sweatshirt and blue jeans.

Mr. Barlow was born on May 1, 1892, in Plain City, Ohio. He began his musical career as a boy soprano. Later he won a graduate scholarship in music at Columbia University and came to New York in 1915. The war intervened and Mr. Barlow became an infantry sergeant.

In 1919, he resumed his musical career, conducting a festival in Peterboro, N.H. for Mrs. Edward MacDowell, widow of the composer. He formed the American National Orchestra, employing only native-born Americans, in 1923, but the unit lasted only briefly. The conductor then joined Columbia. He replaced Alfred Wallenstein on the weekly half-hour programs of the National Broadcasting Company in 1943. When that organization some time later ended the "Voice of Firestone" programs, the American Broadcasting Company took them over as a simultaneous radio and television show.

Mr. Barlow included the works of American composers whom he favored, on programs he led as conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in1939 and as guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic in 1942 and 1943. Mr. Barlow led the Philharmonic in the first of a series of free concerts arranged by the American Federation of Musicians in 1943 at the suggestion of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In 1940, he received the "certificate of merit" awarded by the National Associations for American Composers and Conductors for being "the outstanding native interpreter of American music" in that year.

Thanks to James Pegolotti for Howard's photograph and N.Y. Times obituary

Click on thumbnail to view full image
Howard and Nadine
Howard Barlow at Carnegie Hall
The Voice of Firestone
Conducted by Howard Barlow
CBS  Howard Barlow
Howard Barlow Orchestra
 

Other resources for Howard Barlow:

Author: Barlow, Jeannette     Title: Jeannette and Howard Barlow papers, 1892-1972     Description: 3 boxes and 1 folder

Notes: Papers of Barlow and her husband, symphonic orchestra conductor Howard Barlow, including substantial correspondence with family members; Jeannette's diary (1903-1904) of a trip to New York with her mother, Lalla Thomas, and early childhood drawings; concert programs and schedules (1923- 1965) historical records and genealogies of the Thomas family; scrapbooks of Lalla Thomas; sheet music by Howard Barlow and others; and other material.

Finding aid published in:   National Inventory of Documentary Sources in the United States, microfiche 3.35.88 #1

Other authors: Barlow, Howard, 1892-1972    Location: Oregon Historical Society (Portland) (Mss 2608)     Control No: DCLV94-A164

Author: Barlow, Howard, 1892-1972    Title: Reminiscences of Howard Barlow: oral history, 1951     Description: Transcript: 213 leaves.
Forms part of: Radio pioneers project. Orchestra conductor.
Early life, Education: New York City choral groups
Early orchestral experiences: Neighborhood Playhouse; CBS: William S. Paley, public service programs, advertising; "Voice of Firestone"; planning and production problems in television. Recollections of Arthur Judson, Jerome Louckheim, Julius Sieback. Interviewed by Frank Ernest Hill. Underwritten by Broadcast Pioneers.

Copyright by The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, 1984. Permission required to cite, quote, and reproduce. Contact repository for information.

Microfiche copy available for purchase.  Columbia University oral history collection, part V, published by Meckler Publishing, Westport, Connecticut

Subjects: Barlow, Howard, 1892-1972

Other authors: Hill, Frank Ernest, 1888-1969, interviewer    Location Columbia University    Oral History Research Office,  Box 20, Room 801  Butler Library  New York, NY 10027  Control No: NXCP86-A247

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