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FOOTLIGHT NOTES
no. 459

updated
Saturday, 8 July 2006

Fred Barnes (1885-1938)
English music hall character and comedy vocalist
'The Incomparable Artiste'
singing
'Sally (The Sunshine of Our Alley)'
and
'Give Me a Million Beautiful Girls'
recorded London, 5 May 1922

Fred Barnes

Fred Barnes

(photo: Mason, England, circa 1914)

Fred Barnes, 'The Incomparable Artiste', enjoyed an extremely successful career before a sensational episode in 1924 which resulted in humiliation and waning public support. Throughout his 30s when at the height of his popularity, he was considered by some the handsomest man in Britain. A pleasing baritone, his good looks and easy charm delighted audiences everywhere. As S. Theodore Felstead recalled (Stars Who Made the Halls, T. Warner Laurie Ltd, London, 1946, p.177), Fred was a man with 'first-class melodies and the voice to sing them . . . and then [he] faded out at a comparatively early age.'

Fred Barnes

Fred Barnes

(photo: James Bacon & Sons, Leeds, circa 1920)

Although Fred Barnes made a handful of recordings, commencing in 1911 with his signature song, 'The Black Sheep of the Family', he did not master the art of recording, or perhaps the medium was not particularly sympathetic to his voice and style. It therefore has to be said that, for a man reported to have had such a fine stage presence, his recordings are something of a disappointment. But judge for yourself from two of Fred's discs, his last, both made for the Regal label (G-7789) in London on 5 May 1922: 'Sally (The Sunshine of Our Alley)' (1.4mb Mp3 file), and 'Give Me a Million Beautiful Girls' (1.3mb Mp3 file).

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