Saturday, December 1, 2007

Horace Grenell

About a year ago I got an email from David Bonner. He was writing a book about Young People's Records, the Children's Record Guild and the history of Horace Grenell, the genius behind the notion that you could sell chidren's records on the model of the Book-of-the-Month Club.

Bonner had found Norman Jacobowitz among the names in Horace Grenell's world. He Googled the name and found my web page. He wrote to me to ask if I was related to Norman. I knew that Horace had been a partner with Norm in producing and pressing YPR records. We had many of them to take home. Grenell was a character. I remembered the phrase he used a lot, "One Swell Foop." He was charismatic and a charmer.

They later had a falling out. Norm was bitter that when Horace testified before HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) he 'took the Fifth' when asked to say whether Norm had been a member of the Communist Party, as Horace had been. Young People's Records was accused of being a Communist front, and it probably was. Bonner explained to me that it probably wasn't personal. If Grenell had said that Norm had not been a party member but had taken the Fifth on other names, that would have been damning for them. I didn't understand the dynamic until Bonner explained it; I just took Norm's interpretation.

The book release announcement is at Scarecrow Press.
Bonner offered me a copy, which I have started (Feb 2008). It is a well-written and detailed history of the recording industry, children's records, and vinyl. "Anyone with a press can produce a record." And they did.

I got a book about the Revolution in Children's Records. It is about Horace Grenell, a musician/teacher/entrepreneur who put together the first book-club style record clb for kids. They recorded folk music and other stuff that was not sweet Disney pablum. The progressive
movement hoped to treat kids as people and give them interesting music to engage with. Grenell taught at Sarah Lawrence in the 1940s and was a partner with your Grandpa Norman in the record pressing business until he bought out Abbey Records when Norm sold and bought Sound
Plastics and B&C Records on Long Island. David Bonner, the guy who wrote the book called me last year to ask if I was related to Norman Jacobowitz and if I remembered Horace. I did remember that he used the phrase "One Swell Foop." There was also this lingering bad taste. Norm
has been pissed at Horace because Horace did not take the 5th when he was asked by HUAC whether Norm had been a member of the Communist Party. He hadn't been, but Horace didn't confirm it. Bonner explained to me that had Horace answered for Norm but taken the 5th for everybody else, it would have been the 'kiss of death' for the others. I never appreciated that point
of view until recently.

I Googled Horace Grenell and found this at Hollins:
http://www.hollins.edu/academics/library/services/mwb.htm
This bears investigation. Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight
Moon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goodnight_Moon.
It all connects at the Bank Street School, where Judith Sidorsky taught, influenced Horace, and later married him. There is this fascinating history of progressive education, social work, and
children's music. Bard is connected with the Bank Street School. I think there was a healthy exchange of faculty and students through the 50s and 60s.

Of course, Bard was Columbia's experiment in progressive college education. Before I was there, it was governed by a Community Council, made up of students, faculty, and administration. It didn't work to have the students with such a strong say. By my time, the Council no longer had any real power.

10 comments:

Ellen said...

How fascinating. I searched my aunt's name and landed on your blog. My Aunt was Judith Sidorsky and Horace Grenell was my uncle. Judith and my mother Rebecca were sisters. I remember Horace clearly. I have planned to hunt down some of his records, as I was quite fond of listening to them as a child; they were wonderful. Many have since been lost.

I had no awareness of my uncle's political activities; that came as a complete surprise. I knew him simply as "Uncle Horace," a funny man who loved to entertain us with jokes and stories.

Judith was an accomplished pianist, as well as an amazing artist.

I could go on much longer, but it is late. It is great to see that both Horace and Judith are alive on the web.

Hayai2U said...

Is Horace Grenell and Rob Grenell related? I see many discs crediting both (Horace as producer and Rob as Engineer) on titles such as "The Arab World, It's music and it's people, etc etc. thanks

Ellen Ryan said...

Rob is Horace and Judith's son.

Hayai2U said...

Thank you for your speedy response. I am a researcher for vinyl discs and this is my interest.
Just so I am clear in my question, would this profile relate to your Husband;
-Is he Horace Walter Grenell? or ? a different Horace Grenell
-If they are not the same person, who is the Father of Rob?
Would this be accurate for your Husband?
-Horace Grenell, a musician, teacher, engineer and entrepreneur who put together the first book-club style record club for kids.
He had the notion that you could sell children's records on the model of the Book-of-the-Month Club. See Young People's Records
-Did he do work with "Resto Records"
-Would this be one of his works?
Indonesia, It's Music And It's People.
Credited as
Engineer – Rob Grenell
Narrator, Script By – Christobel Weerasinghe
Producer – Horace Grenell
Producer [Assistant] – RenĂ©e Grignard

Thank you for your assistance. regards

Ellen Ryan said...

Rob is my first cousin. His mother, Judith Sidorsky Grenell, and Horace Grenell were his parents.

Judith and my mother were sisters, so Judith and Horace were my aunt and uncle.

I believe that the "Resto" record company to which you refer is actually "Desto."

I am not familiar with "Indonesia, Its Music and Its People," but I assume that it is the same Horace and Rob Grenell.

Hayai2U said...

Thank you, this is helpful.
Do you know if Horace was also involved with "Young People's Records" and a Mr. Lester Trobb?
This would have been prior to "Desto" records. Also would you have general knowledge of where Desto was located and the years of operation? Thank you so much and I appreciate your time. regards

Ellen Ryan said...

I don't know about the earlier recordings that you mentioned.

I remember visiting my Uncle Horace at an office that I believe was in the Lincoln Center area.

Do you have a web site on which you publish your research? It is quite interesting.

I am interested further, because my father was a flutist/piccolo player. He played in Pittsburgh Symphony in the 40s under Fritz Reiner and then moved to NY where he free-lanced in the radio/TV orchestras and did recording dates. He eventually ended up playing in Radio City for 20+ years.

I know that he played for CBS and NBC (summer concerts, I think).

Hayai2U said...

Hi Ellen and sorry for tardy reply.
There is confusion in my mind as there are several Horace Grenell in play here.
What was your Uncles middle name?
Horace Walter Grenell or Horace W. Grenell?

Hayai2U said...

Hi Ellen, one location you can see some of the research is "discogs.com"
and just search what you need.

As i said previously, there are several Horace Grenell... Are we speaking of Horware Walter Grenell? thanks

Premi Grenell said...

"Indonesia: It's People and It's Music" is an album from Desto. I listened to it when I was a child, and others. Horace was my grandfather and Rob, my father.