Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Armand DiStefano, January 30, 1984

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Introduction / Record stores in his childhood

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Partial Transcript: Do I have to answer that?--(laughs)--

Segment Synopsis: DiStefano describes his childhood living in an Italian neighborhood where the family lived at 1237 Christian Street. He fondly recalls how his father would take him and his brother to a record shop, Iannellis, where they served Coca-Cola and ice cream. On Sundays, they would see concerts with some of the great Italian opera singers. His father used this same idea and opened his own record shop in 1917 on 11th and Catherine Street.

Keywords: 1237 Carlisle Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Artists; Catharine Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Chestnut Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Concerts; Enrico Caruso; Factory workers; Family history; Iannellis; Ice cream parlors; Italian Americans; Italian neighborhoods; John McCormack; Kugler's Restaurant; Luisa Tetrazzini; Neck tie makers; Opera; Record companies; Record company; South Philadelphia; Waiters

Subjects: Childhood; Families.; Neighborhoods.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; Recreation; Stores, Retail.

00:03:46 - History of Victor Cafe

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Partial Transcript: Okay, let me ask you about that.

Segment Synopsis: DiStefano describes how his father opened the record shop using his talents of music and food, based on the same idea of the restaurant, Iannelli's, that he would visit as a child with his brother, Henry. He says the record shop was friendly and people came to listen to music and the company.

Keywords: 11th and Catharine Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Businesses; Coca-Cola; Dickinson Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Enjoyment; Ice cream; Music; Prohibition; Records; Success; Victor Café (Philadelphia, Pa.); Victor Company; Victor RCA; Victor Talking Company

Subjects: Childhood; Families.; Neighborhoods.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; Recreation; Restaurants.; Stores, Retail.

00:05:56 - Employment history and work ethic

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Partial Transcript: We were able to overcome the, the, the hard times and, and with a little, um, barring here and there, my father made it.

Segment Synopsis: DiStefano says he saw his father work hard to achieve success and he did the same thing. He says that from hard times comes success, and that one has to suffer first in order to enjoy success later on in life. DiStefano recalls his many jobs after graduating from Central High School. He began as a stock boy at Weinman Company then worked at Raymond Rosen Company, a record distributor, which provided better opportunities. He worked as a buyer and in public relations before becoming a salesman, and stayed for 20 years. After his parents passed away in 1957, he ran their two properties in Cherry Hill, New Jersey while his brother ran the family business, the record shop.

Keywords: Careers; Central High School (Philadelphia, Pa.); Cherry Hill (N.J.); Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Decca Records; HMV Retail Ltd.; Jobs; Larry Urban; Occupations; Raymond Rosen Company; Salesman; Salesmen; Stock boys; Victor Cafe; Weinman and Company; Work

Subjects: Employment; Families.; Restaurants.; Stores, Retail.

00:11:09 - The family record store and importance of music

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Partial Transcript: Let me ask you some questions about the--how your father got into the record business and what that was like during the early days.

Segment Synopsis: DiStefano shares how his father got into the record business and what it was like to run a record shop. He reminisces about the friendliness of the shop and how his father treated his customers well. DiStefano remembers the glass listening booths and how opera and Italian folk songs were the big thing. The shop had a huge Italian clientele so his father catered to them. In those days, the music business was a joy and very personal to his father. He also mentions how Italian families were very protective of their children, so when he was offered opportunities to work in New York and Boston, his father wouldn't allow it.

Keywords: "Il'Progresso"; "L'Opinione"; 11th and Catherine Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Family; Italian Americans; Italian clientele; Italian folk songs; Italian newspapers; Listening booths; Opera music; Record companies; Record company; Victor Catalog; Victor RCA

Subjects: Childhood; Families.; Neighborhoods.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; Recreation; Restaurants.; Stores, Retail.

00:16:42 - Buying records and Italian-American gender roles

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Partial Transcript: I noticed in, um, the 1925 Victor catalog that I guess your standard, uh, Victor black label record was 75 cents.

Segment Synopsis: DiStefano remembers that before the Great Depression, men would spend the afternoon in the record shop while the women went home to cook the great Italian meals. He recalls Sunday church and family dinners, and shares that although women would mention certain items they liked, men bought most of the records. DiStefano mentions some of the popular selling artists, such as Billy Murry and Frank Crummit. It wasn't until after the 1930s when women became more involved.

Keywords: 1925 Victor Catalog; Billy Murry; Churches; Family; Family values; Frank Crummit; Franklin Barr; Gender roles; George Olsen; Henry Burr; Italian Americans; Italian clientele; Italian meals; Paul Whiteman; Record collectors; Sundays; Traditions

Subjects: Childhood; Families.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; Recreation; Restaurants.; Stores, Retail.

00:22:01 - Relations with the Victor Record Company

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Partial Transcript: Let me ask you more about the recordings.

Segment Synopsis: DiStefano describes how his father was very friendly with the Victor Company. His father was a professional, was very loved by his customers, and knew how to handle himself with the big companies. He promoted the Victor Talking Machine by selling the opera tickets in addition to the sales of records.

Keywords: Eldridge R. Johnson; Italian opera; John DiStefano; RCA Victor; Radio Corporation of America (RCA); Record industry; The Victor Dog; Victor Company; Victor Publication; Victor Records; Victor Talking Machine Company

Subjects: Families.; Restaurants.; Stores, Retail.

00:25:38 - Sound quality of different phonographs

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Partial Transcript: What--was there a lot of variety within, um, in, in the sound quality coming out of different machines at that point?

Segment Synopsis: DiStefano discusses the different quality of the various record players and how the sound chamber on a table model was not as great as on the larger machines. He explains the difference between Victrolas, gramophones, and non-electrical orthophonic machines and says that electrical music players weren't available until 1926. He briefly mentions Victor Talking Company owner Eldridge R. Johnson and how he feels his father had an influence on Giovanni Zenatello and Nino Martini, who were opera singers, getting signed by the Victor Talking Company.

[Segment ends abruptly.]

Keywords: Giovanni Zenatello (Opera singer); Gramophones; Hand-wound; Nino Martini (Opera singer); Orthophonic; Phonographs; Record players; Sound chambers; Sound quality; Titto Ruffo (Opera singer); Victor Talking Company; Victor catalog; Victrolas

Subjects: Sound--Recording and reproducing; Stores, Retail.

00:30:10 - Impact of radio on the record industry

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Partial Transcript: --put it this way, uh, Charlie, right?

Segment Synopsis: DiStefano discusses how radio impacted records sales for a while because of the novelty. However, radio eventually helped sell records and became an instrument to help promote phonograph records and movies. His father accepted radio and played mostly Italian opera stations. However, Victrolas were still their biggest selling items until radio finally came into its own after 1925 and still remains strong today.

Keywords: Cecil B. Demille; Education; Ethnicity; Films; Italian opera; Jack Dempsey; Movies; Phonographs; Radios; Records; Television; Victrolas

Subjects: Radio--History.; Recreation; Sound--Recording and reproducing; Stores, Retail.

00:33:57 - Favorite radio shows

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember what the first radio show you used to listen to as a kid regularly or your father used to tune into regularly?

Segment Synopsis: DiStefano remembers the radio shows and music that interested him most and how his father favored Henry Burr. DiStefano enjoyed sports but found his interests moved into operatic music in the late 1920s. He enjoyed the Firestone Program, both on radio and TV when it became available. Some favorite shows included Eddie Cantor and Uncle Andy and the Showboat. His favorite bands were The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw.

Keywords: American Album of Familiar Music; American music; Artie Shaw; Artists; B.A. Roth; Baby RoseMarie; Benny Goodman; Captain Andy; Charles Kullman; Eddie Cantor; Edison; Firestone Program; Fox Trot; Henry Burr; Italian opera; Lady Esther's Program; Orchestras; Paul Whiteman; Radio shows; Radios; Sports; Television; Tommy Dorsey Orchestra; Uncle Andy and the Showboat

Subjects: Musicians; Radio--History.; Recreation; Sound--Recording and reproducing; Stores, Retail.

00:37:43 - The quality of recordings

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Partial Transcript: Can you give me a, uh, uh, comparison of the quality of the different--of the recordings by different companies back in the old days: Victor, Columbia?

Segment Synopsis: DiStefano liked the Victor brand because he was most familiar with it and it was their best seller. He liked Brunswick and Edison’s recreation disc, but felt the sound quality of Columbia's lamination base was an inferior record. He discusses how electrical records emerged and knocked out many of the acoustical records that Edison sold. He comments that RCA Victor built their catalog on imported records because the sound quality was far superior than records in the United States.

Keywords: 1932; Acoustic; Bach; Columbia Records; Edison recreation disk; Edvard Grieg; HMV records; Imported records; Opera; Paul Gershwin; RCA Victor; Record catalogs; Record players; Rhapsody in Blue; Tramp of March; Victor Symphony Orchestra; Victor Talking Machine Company; Vinyl records

Subjects: Recreation; Sound--Recording and reproducing; Stores, Retail.

00:43:19 - Best selling records of the 1920s

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Partial Transcript: When you were a kid then, can--do you remember what were the best selling records from, from your father's store?

Segment Synopsis: DiStefano says that the best selling records from his father's record shop were the classical records versus the popular songs back in the 1920s. Their record shop was known for their classical record selection throughout the city. He also recalls that the five and dime stores would have singers, such as Russ and May Morgan, come in and play their sheet music live.

Keywords: Arturo Toscanini; Clarence Furman; Classical recordings; Department stores; Enrico Caruso; Five and dimes (stores); Fritz Kreisler; Italian singers; Jack Denny; Jack Steck; Mae Morgan; Mischa Elman; Popular recordings; Radio programming; Radios; Record shops; Russ Morgan; Sheet music; Woolworth's

Subjects: Musicians; Radio--History.; Recreation; Sound--Recording and reproducing; Stores, Retail.

00:49:00 - Memories of movies he saw as a child

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Partial Transcript: How about movies? Do you remember--

Segment Synopsis: DiStefano recounts the many movies he saw as a child, including Salome, and refers to Theda Bara as "the vamp". He was a movie buff and frequently visited the Olympia Theatre on Broad Street with his family. His childhood heroes were Jack Holt, Conrad Nagle, Lloyd Hughes, Mary Pickford, and Tom Mix. Although he considers himself to be a romantic, he doesn't model his behavior after the movie heroes. He tries to associate the old movie actors/actresses and relate them to his life.

Keywords: Albert Rosco; Broad Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Buck Jones; Carpenter Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Childhood heroes; Christian Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Cinema; Conrad Nagle; Elma Lincoln; Entertainment; Jack Holt; Mary Pickford; Milton Stills; Olympia Theater (Philadelphia, Pa.); Prize fights; Richard Dix; Rita Hayworth; Salome; Tarzan; Theaters; Theda Bara; Tom Mix; Western movies

Subjects: Childhood; Feature films.; Motion pictures.; Recreation

00:53:14 - Differences between movies of childhood and today

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Partial Transcript: What, um--do you remember modeling your behavior after any of these, uh--

Segment Synopsis: DiStefano comments that movies today are different. He says in his childhood, going to the movies was a family affair and entertaining for everyone. He feels that today's pictures are not realistic because they portray realism on the darker side. He talks about sports and how much he dislikes professional football.

Keywords: Ben Herr; Cinema; Entertainment; Family; Ideals; Life associations; Movie actresses; Movie pictures; Realism; Road shows; Romance; Rudolph Valentino; Theaters

Subjects: Childhood; Feature films.; Motion pictures.; Recreation