In 1899, John Bieling, William F. Hooley, Jere Mahoney and S. H. Dudley first recorded for Edison Records as the Edison Male Quartet and started recording for other labels as the American Quartet.
But the most famous version of the American Quartet came about in 1909, when Bieling and Hooley joined forces with Steve Porter and the popular Philadelphia native Billy Murray (b. May 25, 1877, d. August 17, 1954). By 1909, Murray was well established in his solo career (he had made his first solo recordings in 1897), and his distinctive voice made the new edition of the American Quartet very marketable.
The Murray-era version of the American Quartet (which recorded for Edison as the Premier Quartet and for Victor as the American Quartet) enjoyed quite a few hits in the 1910s, including "Chinatown, My Chinatown," "Oh, You Beautiful Doll," "Casey Jones" (not to be confused with the Grateful Dead song), "On the 5:15," "Moonlight Bay" and "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm." Bieling, it should be noted, remained with the group until 1913, when he was replaced by Robert D. Armour (who was replaced by John Young in 1915). And when Hooley died in 1918, he was replaced by Donald Chalmers. $The American Quartet remained active in the early 1920s, but in 1925, the American Quartet broke up and ended its 26-year run (or 16-year run if you consider the pre-1909 American Quartet a separate group).
Murray continued to record and perform as a solo artist after the American Quartet's breakup, but with the rise of crooners like Bing Crosby, Gene Austin, Art Gillham, Russ Columbo and "Whispering" Jack Smith, his popularity as a solo artist faded. Murray, who was used to consistently belting and projecting (or as he called it, "hammering") because of the limitations of acoustical recording, tried to soften his voice in order to adapt to electrical recording technology. But even so, his singing sounded very dated to younger listeners in the 1930s, and Murray made his final recordings in 1943; Murray was retired from music during the last eleven years of his life. Murray's solo hits can be heard on Archeophone's excellent collection The Billy Murray Anthology: The Denver Nightingale.
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