Motivated primarily by contract limitations, many early recording artists liberated themselves
to record as they pleased through the use of alterior names. But many individuals found
freedom in relative anonymity, including as Harry McClaskey (Irving Gillette, etc.), Walter Scanlan
(Walter van Brunt), William B. Shires (Billy Golden), Jeff Branen (Jeff Nebarb), and Irving Berlin
(Ren G. May). Of course this practice would be quickly vetoed under today's harsh legal standards, but
many bands today play shows advertised under different names in order to attract the most devoted and
even unexpecting fans. Following is an exploration of the specific circumstances that led each
individual to disguise himself.
When recording as a tenor, primarily on Edison cylinders, Harry McClaskey had used the name Irving
Gillette beginning at the start of his commercial career in 1904 Later on his career, McClaskey recorded
for the Victor label, under which he would typically identify himself as Henry Burr and on occasion by his
birth name of Harry McClaskey. At Columbia records, he most frequently used the name Henry Burr,
although he frequently differed to Gillette when recording duets with female vocalists, most notably Ada
Jones, Helen Clark, and Frances Fisher. Interestly, he also returned to his birth name when recording
Irish songs, perhaps as a throwback to his heritage. Finally, "Allan Sutton's A Guide to Pseudonyms on
American Records," 1892-1942 (Greenwood Press, 1993) refers to his usage of the names Henry Gillette
(Crescent), Alfred Alexander (Patha), Shamus McClaskey (Emerson), Robert Rice (Emerson) Harry Barr
(Harmony), Frank Knapp (Harmony), Harry Haley (Banner and Cameo--"Haley" was the tenor's middle
name), and Al King (Oriole).
Further information on Harry McClaskey
There is very little information of Walter Scanlan, both biographically and more specifically. However,
it is known that he used the name Scanlan (as opposed to the more commonly used van Brunt) when
recording with Billy Murray.
Lyricist Jeff Branen on one occasion referred to himself as Jeff Nebarb, using an anagram of his real
name, most likely in order to avoid the restrictions of his previous contract.
Further information on Jeff Branen
In 1913, when Irving Berlin wished to record the song "Pullman Porters On Parade," he did so under the
name Ren G. May. Ren G. May again is an anagram for "Germany," referring slyly to its capital Berlin.
Above, a photograph taken on September 10, 1947, includes are Billy Murray, Will Oakland, Walter Scanlan,
John Bieling, Irving Kaufman, Jim Walsh, among others.