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
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
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
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
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,
Howard Barlow married Jeannette Thomas on December 12,
1926, and they had no children. He died on January
31, 1972, at Danbury, Connecticut
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.
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
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
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
Other authors: Barlow, Howard, 1892-1972 Location:
Oregon Historical Society (Portland) (Mss 2608) Control
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
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,
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