AT THIS LATE DATE in Pacific Northwest music history [May, 2013] nobody is very surprised when yet another musical talent scores a big hit record with a tune cut in a local studio. The Lumineers & Macklemore are merely among the most recent examples…

But it wasn’t always this way. At many points over the decades, local musicians sensed the need to depart to more mature music-biz capitals like Hollywood, New York, or Nashville to make their recordings. Sure, by the 1940s Seattle & Portland each had a few studios emerging – & by the 1950s and ‘60s some of them began producing the occasional hit record, & by the 1980s-‘90s Grunge Rock uprising some of our studios & engineers even forged a powerful aural aesthetic that wowed the world.

But, way-back-when – at the very dawn of the recording industry – the Northwest had no sound studios whatsoever. So, it was pretty big news when one of the town’s top dance-bands did get a chance to cut a disc that would be released by a major label. That band was the Hotel Butler Orchestra, as led by the irrepressible Victor “Vic” Meyers (1897-1991). 

The band had been attracting Seattle’s collegiate dance crowd to their perch at the hotel’s Rose Room (at Second Avenue & James Street). This was at about the midpoint of the Prohibition Era (1916-1933) and the Rose Room was one of the most prominent / infamous speakeasies in Seattle – a place where guys in raccoon coats & their flapper dates danced the foxtrot, & sipped illegal booze well into the wee small hours. But the place was hardly a secret: Seattle’s social/political elite also reportedly enjoyed attending – & Meyers would famously tip everyone off to impending liquor raids by signaling his band to stop playing whatever song they were on & instead shift to the refrain of “How Dry I Am” while all the evidence was poured down kitchen drains. But even though these periodic raids were occasionally successful (with as many as 150 attendees hauled off to jail on one particular night), it took many years for the clampdown to have any real effect.

Meanwhile, it was at the Rose Room where a visiting field agent from the big-time Brunswick record company discovered Meyers’ band one night. It seems he liked what he heard & signed them to a recording contract. Then, it was on June 13, 1923, when The Seattle Daily Times noted that the orchestra “will soon make phonograph records for the Brunswick Company” – & sure enough, that summer a mobile recording crew rolled into town on their first-ever West Coast field trip & set up their gear (valued at a reported $18,000) in the room.

In essence, that Brunswick team proceeded to conduct, on August 21, 1923, what would be the very first professional recording session in Seattle’s history. And the result was the band’s debut single, “Mean Mean Mamma” / “Shake It and Break It” [Brunswick 2501] – the first of many discs they would record for Brunswick & various other labels over subsequent years. 

For their part, Brunswick promoted the tunes with the typically rosy prose of that era, touting in a sales brochure that: “Meyers and his syncopaters have a distinctive style. The melodies that they develop have a characteristic swing that is most compelling. You will delight at the versatility, harmony, precision and delightful novelties portrayed by this splendid orchestra.”

People were delighted and Meyers & band went on to cut additional toe-tappers for Brunswick, including: “Helen Gone,” “Springtime Rag,” “Heartbroken,” “Burmalone,” “Beets And Turnips,” “Weary Blues,” “Tell Me What To Do,” “Mean Looks,” No Wonder,” & “The Only Only One.”


THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST has a long & proud history of nurturing what are commonly called “barbershop quartets” – a few of which  have enjoyed considerable fame and national recording careers worthy of mention (The Four Saints from Everett, & The Eligibles from Renton, among them) – but the Seattle Letter Carriers’ Quartet were a notable early example & were touted, back in the 1920s, as being “unique.” Well, they certainly had cool stage attire!

It's not really certain if the Seattle Letter Carriers’ Quartet had any relation to the Seattle Letter Carriers' Band – which formed here back in 1892 (and carries on today as the Washington Letter Carriers Band) –  but that possibility does seem quite likely. The original Quartet was a vocal ensemble comprised of actual postmen including:  John F. Daly (baritone), C.P. Donald (tenor), H.G. Stiles (basso), & L.G. Blaine (lead).

It was in July 1925 that the Seattle Letter Carriers’ Quartet began receiving press coverage in The Seattle Daily Times. On July 5th the group performed in Wenatchee, Washington, before three hundred postal employees who were attending their state convention’s banquet at the Chamber of Commerce Building. Members of three separate organizations – the National Federation of Postoffice Clerks, National Association of Letter Carriers, & the National League of District Postmasters – attended. Quartet member John F. Daly was among a half-dozen attendees who gave brief opening remarks, and later the group sang, with the newspaper reporting that it “scored a decided hit with its selections.”

Three nights later, on July 8th, postmen of the State of Washington gathered at the restaurant in Seattle’s L.C. Smith Building (506 Second Avenue), for another banquet. After welcoming remarks offered by the evening’s toastmaster – R. B. Williams, president of Seattle Branch No. 79 of the National Association of Letter Carriers – the Seattle Letter Carriers’ Quartet entertained the assembled crowd.

The public profile of the Seattle Letter Carriers’ Quartet was rising quickly, & on the evening of July 15th they made what was likely their live radio debut. Hyped as being “the first group of its type ever organized,” the guys – reportedly including new member Oscar Telquist (second tenor) in place of Blaine – performed on the Rhodes Department Store’s (4th Avenue and Pike Street) station, KFOA, as sponsored by the Hopper-Kelly Music Company (1421 3rd Avenue). Song selections broadcast on the program were “Somebody Knows (Medley)” & “Georgia Lullaby.”

Several months later, on the evening of November 6th, the Quartet reappeared on KFOA under sponsorship of Seattle’s Sherman, Clay & Co. (3rd Avenue and Pine Street) music shop. This time they were performing jointly with the six-piece D.A.V. Orchestra, which was comprised of members of the Disabled Americans Veterans of the World War. The following month, on December 11th the "Seattle Postoffice Department" sponsored its own radio program on KFOA – one that spotlighted various talented post office employees, including the Quartet.

Although the documentary trail of evidence regarding the Quartet’s full career of musical activity is quite sparse, it is known that on Friday April 23, 1926, they sang for annual Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) of Horace Mann school (2410 E Cherry Street). The event took place at the Garfield High School auditorium (400 23rd Avenue) & the Quartet’s performance was among others contributed by the Spiegelmann Trio, whistling soloist Margaret Fogel, a Boys Glee Club, dancing by various student groups, a calisthenics drill, & the “Kitchen Band” a comedy concocted by a group of mothers.

The following year, on the evening of March 15, 1927, the Quartet were slated to “put over some red hot numbers” at an extravaganza held at the boxing ring in Seattle’s Crystal Pool Natatorium (2021-2033 2nd Avenue). After that the Seattle Letter Carriers’ Quartet seems to slip away from the public record – but it is never too late to offer a gesture of gratitude to our ever-intrepid U.S. Postal Service. Thanks to all!