Dr. Clarence Penney, Mysterious Marvelous Mandolinist

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jmad7474
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Dr. Clarence Penney, Mysterious Marvelous Mandolinist

Post by jmad7474 »

Greetings everyone!

I have had these records in my collection for the better part of a decade, but this is the first time I am reaching out to fellow collectors regarding information about the elusive Dr. Clarence J. Penney, a ragtime mandolinist and composer who recorded three sides for Victor with Felix Arndt in 1914 and (sadly) never recorded again. His playing is delightfully spirited and quite complex for the era, pre-dating the instrument's role in jazz and ragtime by nearly a decade! Of course, the mandolin had been recorded before as a solo instrument (like Samuel Siegel's recordings), but those were mostly "folk" arrangements of popular tunes - Penney's recordings take the mandolin in a more "hot" direction and give more than a hint of the jazz era that followed WWI.

All I know for certain about him is that he was president of Columbia University's mandolin club during the 1920s (he also graduated there in 1901, presumably with a DMA or Ph.D. in Music) and wrote a few musicals for the University during the 1910s. Again, if anyone knows more information about Dr. Clarence Penney, please let me know! Thanks so much and enjoy the music!

https://youtu.be/90LK6A6nw44 ("Toots")

https://youtu.be/jTIZhRltE60 ("Indianola Patrol")

https://youtu.be/JIhOi1jP_-U ("Azalea Waltz")
Last edited by jmad7474 on Wed May 02, 2018 12:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.

melvind
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Re: Dr. Clarence Penney, Mysterious Marvelous Mandolinist

Post by melvind »

I don't know anything about Dr. Penney, but I checked DAHR and it shows that there were 5 records made in 1914 on Victor and one test record.

http://victor.library.ucsb.edu/index.ph ... t_mandolin

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Re: Dr. Clarence Penney, Mysterious Marvelous Mandolinist

Post by jmad7474 »

melvind wrote:I don't know anything about Dr. Penney, but I checked DAHR and it shows that there were 5 records made in 1914 on Victor and one test record.

http://victor.library.ucsb.edu/index.ph ... t_mandolin
Thank you for sharing that! It appears that the masters of his other two recordings, "Le trousseau" and "Entr'acte gavotte", were destroyed. That is a shame - I have no doubt that his virtuosic and peppy arrangements would have carried over to those tunes quite well.

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Re: Dr. Clarence Penney, Mysterious Marvelous Mandolinist

Post by hightechhobo »

Thanks to ancestry.com and newspapers.com I have been able to find more information about Clarence J. Penney. I host and produce a weekly broadcast radio program of 1920s and 30s pop and jazz called "Rapidly Rotating Records. It is broadcast Sundays at 6:00 PM (Pacific) over KISL-FM Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, California. It is also available as a podcast and all shows are archived at www.RapidlyRotatingRecords.com. On tomorrow's show, the first segment is dedicated to Clarence Penney. Tomorrow I will post a link to the show, but here is the portion of the script having to do with Dr. Penney:

Dr. Penney is getting his own birthday segment today, but a bit belated. I started researching and it got so confusing I was ready to completely give up on giving any biographical information at all and just play the records, when I unearthed a single paragraph in the August 24, 1905 edition of the Monmouth Inquirer newspaper, published in Freehold, New Jersey. It turns out the good doctor was not John Clarence Penney, but Clarence John Penney. And he wasn’t born in 1893, but on October 9, 1877 in New York City to William Penney, a bookeeper and expert cellist, and his wife Antoinette Hexter, a well known church singer.

Clarence took up the violin when he was nine years old and was playing in public concerts at 15. In the late 1880s a mandolin craze began in the US and one day Clarence’s father brought home one of the instruments. Without any formal training, Clarence was quickly able to master the instrument and when he entered Columbia College he also applied for admission to the mandolin club and was enthusiastically accepted. Within a year he was elected President of the club and held the post for the duration of his time at Columbia.

Penney wrote music for the club and he was able to have several of his compositions published by the famous banjoists Ruby Brooks and Harry Denton who also owned Brooks and Denton Music Publishing Company. In 1894, Columbia’s oldest performing arts tradition, the Varsity Show, began as a fundraiser for the school’s athletic teams. Penney wrote the entire score for two of the annual shows, “The Mischief Maker” in 1903 and “The Isle of Illusia” the following Year. Another of Penney’s compositions was Ingomar, an intermezzo, recorded in 1905 as a bells solo by Chris Chapman but rejected by Victor.

While he was a Dr., Clarence J. Penney was not an M.D. At the time of the 1910 census, Dr. Penney was a dentist with a private practice in Manhattan. On August 19, 1918 he married Elsie C. Borroto, a New York City public school teacher and twelve years his junior, in a ceremony in Lake George, New York. In 1942 at age 64 he was still working as a dentist in the office of Dr. T. Holland Adam on East 61st St., in New York. It was through Brooks and Denton that he was introduced to the folks at the Victor Talking Machine Company and in 1914 he landed a recording contract. In four sessions, Dr. Clarence J. Penney made six sides, only three of which were issued and he never recorded again. You heard one of those sides last week, here are the other two.

I hope you find the information interesting and that you will consider giving my show a listen.

Glenn Robison

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Re: Dr. Clarence Penney, Mysterious Marvelous Mandolinist

Post by Inigo »

Thanks! It's very interesting, and his record of Toots is very nice and funny... Thanks also for the link to your program.
Inigo

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Re: Dr. Clarence Penney, Mysterious Marvelous Mandolinist

Post by hightechhobo »

Here's the link to the web page for this week's show. It contains a photograph of Dr. Clarence J. Penney.

https://www.glennrobison.com/rapidly-ro ... r-24-2021/

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