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“The First RCA Victor Recording of 1948”: Petrillo, Truman and the 1948 Recording Ban. Emil R. Pinta Columbus OH

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the first rca victor recording of 1948 petrillo truman and the 1948 recording ban

“The First RCA Victor Recording of 1948”: Petrillo, Truman and the 1948 Recording Ban

Emil R. Pinta

Columbus OH

The New York Times, Dec. 15, 1948, p. 46, announced the end of an 11.5-month recording ban by the American Federation of Musicians. The article featured photos of James C. Petrillo, president of the AFM, and David Sarnoff, head of RCA.

The NY Times reported: “At the RCA-Victor studios a chorus of Metropolitan Opera Stars made a special non-commercial recording of ‘I’m Just Wild About Harry’ to be presented to President Truman. Mr. Petrillo led the singers in their rendition of the song and also recorded a greeting to the President.”

twelve identified vocalists
Twelve Identified Vocalists

1. Perry Como (1912-2001); 2. Marilyn Cotlow (1924 - ); 3. Tommy

Dorsey (1905-1956); 4. Cloe Elmo (1910-1962); 5. Thomas Hayward

(1917-1995); 6. Dorothy Kirsten (1910-1992); 7. Jan Peerce (1904-

1984); 8. Gladys Swarthout (1900-1969); 9. Ferruccio Tagliavini

(1913-1995); 10. Lawrence Tibbett (1896-1960); 11. Fran Warren

(1926- ); 12. Leonard Warren (1911-1960)

group photo from ny star unknown date photo removed
Group Photo from NY Star (unknown date)Photo Removed

L to R: T. Hayward, L. Warren, G. Swarthout, L. Tibbett, J. Peerce, M. Cotlow,

T. Dorsey, F. Warren, P. Como, D. Kirsten, C. Elmo. Jack Priest, pianist

time magazine dec 27 1948 p 56
TimeMagazine, Dec. 27, 1948, p. 56

Time described the recording event in a brief article entitled “One for Harry.” No photo was given. The article described vocalists practicing words to the refrain in RCA-Victor’s Studio One while waiting for Petrillo to arrive. He arrived with David Sarnoff just before 5 p.m. Petrillo muffed the first version of his Xmas greeting to Truman and blamed it on the attractiveness of the women present.

Time reported that nine Met “headliners” were “helped out” by Perry Como and Fran Warren. Afterwards, Como “rushed” to Studio Two where he recorded RCA-Victor’s first commercial record after the ban--“Missouri Waltz,” said to be Truman’s favorite.

james caesar petrillo 1892 1984 president afm 1940 1958 time cover jan 26 1948 photo removed
James Caesar Petrillo (1892-1984)President AFM 1940-1958 Time Cover, Jan. 26, 1948Photo Removed
james caesar petrillo 1892 1984
James Caesar Petrillo (1892- 1984)

Born and raised in Chicago.

Played trumpet in early years, but discovered skills were as a union organizer and labor leader.

President of Chicago Local 10 of the AFM from 1922 to 1962.

Earned reputation as tough-talking and often controversial leader.

Elected president of AFM in 1940. Membership increased from 134,000 in 1940 to 232,000 in 1948. Petrillo became highest paid union leader in the U.S.

Two goals as AFM pres. were to unionize the Boston Symphony Orch., accomplished in 1942, and to gain support for a recording ban.

Petrillo waged war against all forms of “canned music” that replaced musicians’ jobs: records and transcriptions (Muzak) in restaurants; jukeboxes in bars and saloons; records broadcast over radio; and movie soundtracks.

In June 1942 announced that a recording ban would begin on Aug. 1st.

afm recording ban of 1942 to 1944
AFM Recording Ban of 1942 to 1944

1. Ban lasted 27 months from Aug. 1942 to Nov. 1944 for RCA and Columbia; Decca signed earlier agreement with AFM in Sept. 1943.

2. The AFM bypassed broadcast stations, jukebox and restaurant owners and went to point of origin of recorded music—the recording studios.

3. Petrillo wanted royalties paid by record companies for each record made that would go into a union welfare fund for unemployed musicians.

4. Ban ended when major record companies agreed to pay 1/4 to 5 cents for each record made and 3 percent of profits for transcriptions. In 1946 record royalties amounted to $1.7 million and $2 million in 1947.

5. Contracts expired at end of 1947.

afm recording ban of 1948
AFM Recording Ban of 1948

1. Ban in effect from Jan. 1, 1948, to Dec. 14, 1948.

2. Although Petrillo gave several reasons for calling this second ban,

the deciding factor was conflict with the federal government over

the union-welfare fund.

3. In June 1947, a Republican congress passed the Taft-Hartley

Labor Act, restricting the power of labor unions.

4. Taft-Hartley was passed over the veto of President Truman

who called it a “slave-labor act.”

afm recording ban of 1948 cont
AFM Recording Ban of 1948 (cont.)

5. One stipulation of Taft-Hartley was to outlaw union-controlled welfare funds distributed to union members whose employers did not contribute to the funds. Consequently, the AFM Union Welfare Fund was declared in violation of Taft-Hartley.

6. In Dec. 1947, Petrillo was so enraged that he vowed no AFM musician would ever record again!

7. In Dec. 1948, the issue was resolved when the U.S. attorney general and secretary of labor—acting on Truman’s behalf—ruled the AFM Union

Fund would be legal if managed by a non-union trustee appointed by the secretary of labor. Recording was restarted Dec. 14, 1948.

8. Royalties paid by record companies were similar to pre-1948 ban royalties, although a more complicated formula was used.

“I’m Just Wild About Harry,” 1921w/m by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake. Intr. In “Shuffle Along”Photo Removed
the first rca victor recording of 1948 greeting to president truman by james c petrillo
The First RCA Victor Recording of 1948Greeting to President Truman by James C. Petrillo
  • “Mr. President, it is a pleasure and a privilege to extend to you on behalf of 237,000 musicians of the American Federation of Musicians the season’s greetings. There is no one to whom we would rather help dedicate this first recording of 1948 than to you, a fellow musician and a great president.
  • “If you will pardon my rewording of a familiar wish, may I say to you a Merry Christmas and a Truman New Year.”
the first rca victor recording of 1948 chorus of i m just wild about harry
The First RCA Victor Recording of 1948Chorus of “I’m Just Wild About Harry”

I’m just wild about Harry, and Harry’s wild about me.

The heav’nly blisses of his kisses fill me with ecstasy.

He’s sweet just like choc’late candy,

And just like honey from the bee.

Oh, I’m just wild about Harry,

And he’s just wild about, cannot do without,

He’s just wild about me.


RCA-Victor Mx. D8-MB-4077 has importance in several areas:

1. As a recording of research and discographical interest consisting of a highly unusual combination of popular and operatic artists that is not included in published discographies.

2. As an vestige of the U.S. labor movement and recording bans; and, in particular, the 1947 Taft-Hartley Labor Act in which President Truman interceded on behalf of labor.


Anderson, Tim: Buried Under the Fecundity of His Own Creations: Reconsidering the Recording Bans of the American Federation of Musicians, 1942-1944 and 1948. American Music 22:231-269, 2004

Leiter, Robert D.: The Musicians and Petrillo. New York, Bookman Associates, 1953

Lunde, Anders S.: The American Federation of Musicians and the Recording Ban. The Public Opinion Quarterly 12, 1: 45-56, 1948

NY Times: Records Ban Ends as Clark Upholds Petrillo Accords.

Dec. 14, 1948, pp. 1, 39

NY Times: First New Discs Under Pact Made. Dec. 15, 1948, p. 46

Seltzer, George: Music Matters: The Performer and the American Federation of Musicians. Metuchen NJ, Scarecrow Press, 1989

Time: The Pied Piper of Chi. Jan. 26, 1948, pp. 18-22

Time: One for Harry. Dec. 27, 1948, p. 56