Timeline of early women in audio (1930-1959)

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Female Engineers

1940 – Mary Shipman Howard starts working for NBC in Manhattan and is promoted to engineer during the war. She may have been engineering earlier. Donald Plunkett (who used to work for her) said in an interview Mary was doing independent/remote recordings before she started her studio.

1942 – Daphne Oram takes a job at the BBC as a Junior Studio Engineer and “music balancer.” She was 17 and turned down going to the Royal College of Music to take the job.

194? – Mary Caroline Bell learned recording on the job at a small independent New York studio. The studio did a lot of dub work for the Armed Services. A year later, the studio went out of business and she went to work for NBC.

March 27, 1947 – Evelyn Blanchard (married name Evelyn Palladino) engineers ‘Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)’ by Tex Williams at Radio Recorders in Hollywood. She may have been engineering prior to this.

1948 – Bebe Barron starts a recording studio with her husband, Louis, at 229 West 8th Street in New York. While their primary goal was exploring electronic music (and composition), they were a successful recording studio for a few years because of their monopoly on magnetic tape (Louis’s cousin worked for 3M). Louis’s specialty was electronics and Bebe’s was composing and production.

July 18, 1953 – Elvis records his first demo, “My Happiness” at Memphis Recording Service. Marion Keisker says she was the engineer.

October 1953 – Lillian McMurry engineers her first session at DRC studio in Jackson, Mississippi with Trumpet artist Jerry McCain

1954 – Ruth White starts recording music after being approached by Los Angeles County Schools. Her first recording project was filmmaker Paul Burnfords short film “Rhythms of the Freight Yard” (which she also scored). In 1955, she started doing recordings for the Los Angeles City school district, which needed folk music and other recordings.

1956 – Cordell Jackson records Beboppers Christmas in her living room (Memphis, Tennessee) for her label, Moon Records.

Female Producers

1935 (possibly 1934) – Helen Oakley Dance starts producing jazz records in Chicago. She produced Duke Ellington among others

1936 – Helen Oakley Dance is formally part of Master Records (owned by Irving Mills) in New York where she is producing records for the Variety label

1948 – Ethel Gabriel promoted to record producer at RCA in New York (she was in the factory and a record tester starting 1940). She is the first female A&R record producer for a major label.

April 3, 1950 – Lillian McMurry produces her first recording session with St. Andres Gospelaires for Trumpet Records (Jackson, Mississippi)

1951 – Wilma Cozart Fine is hired by Mercury Records to run the label’s small classical music department (not exactly sure the date she started producing)

1953 – Dorle Soria co-produces 500 albums with her husband (Dario Soria) for Angel Records, a subsidiary of EMI

1955 – Ethel Gabriel produces Perez Prado’s Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White. It becomes a number 1 hit and starts the Mambo craze in the US

1956 – Cordell Jackson self-produces Beboppers Christmas for her label, Moon Records.

Female-Owned Record Labels

1947 – Mary Shipman Howard starts releasing her own commercial recordings under the MHR label (classical music). It ran til 1955.

1950 – Lillian McMurry creates Trumpet Records to release blues records. It ran til 1955.

1953 – Dorle Soria launches Angel Records with her husband, Dario (an Italian who had another record label to distribute Italian opera recordings). They produced nearly 500 recordings and left the label in 1958.

1955 – Ruth White started the production company Rhythms Productions to produce records and educational materials for the Los Angeles city school district. She did many albums of folk music as well as albums for the physical education department. (Ruth is now primarily known as an electronic music composer.)

1956 – Cordell Jackson, a spunky guitarist and mom, starts Moon Records to release her own music. She was locally active through the 1960s and 70s but devoted most of her energy to selling real estate.

1958 – Johnnie Matthews starts the Northern Recording Company in Detroit. She was the first African-American woman to own and operate a record label. She was one of the artists on the label, also.

1958 – Florence Greenberg, a 45 year old housewife in New Jersey, starts Tiara Records. She signs her first artist, The Shirelles, after an audition in her living room.

1959 – Florence Greenberg creates Scepter Records after selling Tiara Records (with the Shirelle’s contract) to Decca Records. Scepter was a successful independent label through the 1960s

Miscellaneous History

1940 – Ethel Gabriel starts working at RCA in Camden, New Jersey. She was promoted to record tester where she had to listen to one out of every 500 records for quality. She also started hanging out at the nearby recording studios, watching and learning from the engineers.

1942 – Helen Oakley Dance leaves her record producing job in New York after the death of her brother (in WWII) and joins the Women’s Army Corps. She is assigned to the OSS, later known as the CIA.

194? – Evelyn Blanchard and Rose Palladino were the two women who worked for Radio Recorders in Hollywood during WWII. They specialized in “armed forces deletion work” which was basically dubbing acetates of radio shows but removing the commercials. These discs would be sent overseas to be played for the troops.

1944 – Kay Rose gets a job at Universal Studios as an assistant picture editor. The studio was short on union members because of the war. As a picture assistant, she learned to cut sound fx and music. Kay later transitioned into sound and went on to become the first woman to earn an Academy Award for Sound (for “The River” in 1984).

1946 – Marion Keisker is hired full-time by WREC radio station where she hosted a daily talk show

1947 – Bebe and Louis Barron received a tape machine as a wedding gift (from his cousin who worked for 3M). They move from Chicago to New York a year later and start their recording studio (and exploration of electronic music).

1949 – Lillian McMurry hears Wynonie Harris’s recording of “All She Wants to Do Is Rock” which inspires her to sell records.

1950 – Memphis Recording Service (owned by Sam Phillips) opens in Memphis. Marion Keisker was the studio assistant, manager and “Jane of All Trades”

1950 – Daphne Oram, who was working at the BBC, would stay late after work secretly experimenting with their new tape equipment (splicing, looping, layering, etc). It wasn’t until 1958 the BBC would give her a room and the equipment which became the Radiophonic Workshop.

1951 – Belinda Putnam and Bill Putnam, Sr. publish Good Morning, Mister Echo”. The first recording was released by Decca Records and it lasted 5 weeks on the Billboard magazine charts (peaking at #24). Belinda worked at Universal Recording in Chicago and was a tape editor (among many other duties at the studio).

1956 – Globe Records had its final recording (Trumpet ceased in 1955). Lillian McMurry left the recording business after this but continued to protect her recordings and pay her royalties

1956 – Wilma Cozart Fine named vice-president of the Mercury label

1957 – Marion Keisker leaves Memphis and joins the US Air Force

1959 – Ethel Gabriel launches Living Strings for RCA

1958 – Daphne Oram joins the newly created BBC Radiophonic Workshop, known for their experimentation with music and sounds for radio (and later for television). Maddalena Fagandini joined a year later.

1959 – Daphne Oram left the BBC and sets up a home studio, her Oramics Studio for Electronic Composition. The BBC had told her to take time off since they did not know the effect of radio sound waves on the female body.

Please contact me if you know of anyone who’s not in this list (but should be) or any discrepancies. 

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