by Carson Robison and the Pioneers
April 10, 2004 – With the sudden collapse of vaudeville in 1928 due to the “talkies,” many top entertainment stars were suddenly looking for new venues for their talents. At a chance NY city street corner meeting, John Mitchell, a big-time ex-vaudevillian with the Keith circuit, and Carson Robison, an established name in country songs, speculated about putting a group together to do western and folk songs. They cemented their plans and “Carson Robison and the Pioneers” were born.
John had had a vaudeville act with his brother Bill Mitchell that uniquely presented a duo of long-necked plectrum banjos playing a mixture of classical music and popular songs . Their theme song had been the energetic “Song of India” which never failed to get their audiences’ rap attention. Along with selections from Brahm’s Hungarian dances and other favorites such as “Golden Earings,” they did such roaring 20’s songs as “High-toned Mama of Mine” and “Nobody knows What a Red Hot Mama Can Do” – both Victor Record best sellers. Their act was a consistent “show-stopper” according to Variety.
Also in the Pioneers was Bill Mitchell’s wife Pearl Pickens Mitchell. Pearl was a classically trained soprano who had graduated from the Julliard School of Music before marrying Bill. Her classical training is evident in all of her recordings.
The group put their repertoire together and landed a contract to play the Victoria Palace Theater and the famous Berkeley Hotel in London in the summer of 1932. Thus began their 1932 European tour.
Londoners were quite taken with this “hill-billy” music imbued with the classical touches of the Mitchell’s. “They are four of the most popular people in London, Carson Robison is the top one, then come John and Bill Mitchell, who play banjos like angels; and then Pearl Pickens, who sings most charmingly,” wrote the London Bystander on August 19, 1932.
The Pioneers went on to play for the King and Queen and gave charity balls for the Duke and Duchess of York. Their 4-week tour lasted over a year with many European recording studios cutting their songs – from which this CD is made, and the British film studio Pathe filming a number of their performances which can be seen on the British Pathe website.
Here are the links to the Mitchell videos made in England in 1932 – 1934 with Carson.
http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=28029 (mis-titled as “Robinson.”)
This CD preserves the music from this pivotal introduction of folk and western music to European audiences. The Pioneers went on to return to Europe many times until the war. They also had a long-running radio show in the late thirties and forties.
Have you ever wondered, “If Roy Rogers had the ‘Sons’ of the Pioneers, who were the parents of his qroup?” Well — here are they are.
This is a great CD preserving the creative arrangements of some true musical pioneers. View their films on Pathe and, as you listen to this CD, you’ll get an appreciation of the effect they had on their audiences and how classical and country can combine.
And here is another collection from the British Academy of Country Music.
I responded to your email sent 14 June, but not sure if you got it, or if it’s coasted away somewhere into cyberville. If not, I’ll reiterate briefly: I’m really excited to learn you are the Mitchell’s were your uncles and would appreciate beyond words looking at the materials to which you refer. I wrote a bio piece on Carson Robison a year or so ago which as in the Old Time Music Herald, and briefly mentioned the Pioneers configuration and their work in England and Europe. Robison’s archives at PSU contains some information about your uncles, but I have not found a source for comprehensive information about the Mitchells. I believe they were originally from Kansas, then moved to California where they got into show business? I would be grateful for any further information or corrections you can provide. My email is email@example.com. I look forward to our continuing correspondence. JK
Thanks for linking to the Pathe videos. They are awesome. CJR has impressed me with his musicality and profound, yet rarely recognized, prevalence in early country music. If you are interested, I can provide you with some of my notes on his career I’ve compiled as part of my research in his archives at Pittsburg, Kan., State University.
I have a ton of stuff – 78’s, sheet music, photos, etc. – that I’ve collected over the years and would be happy to share/swap with you. Of particular interest to you would be my collection of newspaper reviews on the Pioneers’ first London tour in 1932. It was scheduled for four weeks and streched out to nearly a year because of their huge popularity. Kind of a reverse Beatles thing. I’m new at the blogging thing and don’t know how to get your email address. Let me know. BAM