Vaudeville and the Phonograph

"The Graphophone Girl"


By Doug Boilesen, June 2024

Vaudeville entertainment in North America from the 1880's into the 1930's saw a variety of acts, often unrelated performances, grouped together under one bill. Wikipedia identifies types of acts to have included "popular and classical musicians, singers, dancers, comedians, trained animals, magicians, ventriloquists, strongmen, female and male impersonators, acrobats, clowns, illustrated songs, jugglers, one-act plays or scenes from plays, athletes, lecturing celebrities, minstrels, and films."

In 1912 "Miss Adelaide Francis, a clever singing comedienne," created a "Sister" act with "musical numbers and humorous dialogue" performed by Miss Francis interacting with a voice from a Columbia graphophone. The act was billed as "The Graphophone Girl."

Miss Francis explains how she is only half of the act and that the voice from the Graphophone sitting on the stage is the other half. Besides the humorous dialogue between the two "sisters" the following three musical numbers were identified as part of the reviewed act:

"Just Dreams," "Tell That to Sweeney," (sic) and "Beautiful Rag" were included in the repertoire of musical numbers, and for an encore Miss Francis created a good deal of laughter with her witty remarks about the voice in the graphophone.

The vocal numbers and the dialogue are timed very carefully so that the voice of Miss Francis joins in perfectly and actually gives the impression that there are two persons on the stage...

Besides the making of the records there remained the choice of songs and patter that would prove most effective on the stage. Though now I have a fairly extensive repertoire, I only use three songs and the dialogue at each show. For the encore I have recorded a neat little speech for reproduction on the machine, which, when assisted by a few side remarks of my own, appears to please the audience thoroughly.


The following is the original article "The Talking Machine Scores in Vaudeville" from The Talking Machine World, December 15, 1912.


"The Graphophone Girl," The Talking Machine World, December 15, 1912.

Very late (ca. 1910-12) Columbia BI “Sterling” Disc Phonograph with 22" Music Master wood horn. (Courtesy TechnoGallerie).


The Referenced Musical Numbers


"That Beautiful Rag," by Berliner & Snyder, Ted Snyder Co. Publisher, New York, 1910 (Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection, Johns Hopkins).


LISTEN to "That Beautiful Rag" by Ted Snyder, Sung by Arthur Collins, Columbia Record A853 (between January and August 1910, New York, New York, DAHR).


"Just Dreams" by Berliner & Snyder, Published by Ted Snyder, New York, 1910 (Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection, Johns Hopkins).

LISTEN to “Dream, Just Dreams” sung by Reinald Werrenrath on Victor Record No. 5809. Released November 3, 1910. (DAHR)



"Tell it to Sweeny" by Blanche Ring, Harry Von Tilzer Music Publishing Co., New York, 1910 (Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection, Johns Hopkins).

Note: The Yankee Girl is also a "1915 silent film comedy produced by Oliver Morosco, distributed by Paramount Pictures and starring Blanche Ring, from the Broadway stage. This film though a comedy is actually based on Ring's 1910 musical-comedy play of the same name. Being a silent film of course Ring's singing could not be heard by the film audiences but they would get the rare chance of seeing this Broadway star in a film as many could not afford to make the journey to New York to see her in person in the play." Wikipedia


Source: The AV Club


FACTOLA: In the history of vaudeville "The Graphophone Girl" is the earliest documented example of a vaudeville performance which used a phonograph as a participating co-star exchanging lines and singing. The act was also said to have won "much praise wherever heard for originality and finish."

Note: The 1906 melodrama "The Phonograph Girls" was reported as "the first play known in which the talking machine and its commercial environment has figured in a professional way and carrying off the honors." The commercial environment was a scene inside the interior of a phonograph store where the Columbia Phonograph Co.'s Twentieth Century machine was "employed to advantage in revealing the plot." See Phonographia's "The Phonograph Girls" for more details.

Additionally, "The Judge," an English play in 1890, used a phonograph "to provide the sound effects of a crying infant from off stage." This is believed to be the first use of a phonograph in a supporting role of a stage play. Source: "Edison in Hollywood" by Allen Koenigsberg, The Antique Phonograph, June 2016.