The association of the Brunswick name with popular music goes back a long way. Brunswick-Balke-Collender, a company based in Iowa, was a manufacturer of pianos and sports equipment, that began trading in 1845. In 1916 they began making phonographs and then records too. In 1930, they sold their record business to Warner Brothers, who developed it until 1941, when it was sold to Decca. The Brunswick label had fallen out of use in 1940, but was revived by the new owners, mainly for re-issues of older material.
At last, in the early fifties, Decca started issuing new pop and R&B songs on the Brunswick label, notably recordings of Buddy Holly & the Crickets. By the end of the fifties, the R&B focus was dominant, with the Chi-Lites and Jackie Wilson finding success. By 1969, Jackie Wilson’s manager, Nat Tarnopol, who had joined the label in 1957 as head of A&R, had bought Brunswick Records and had established Carl Davis as the lead producer in Chicago. A sister label Dakar Records had also been set up.
Brunswick and Dakar artists included the Chi-Lites, Tyrone Davis, Jackie Wilson, Barbara Acklin, Young-Holt Unlimited, Gene Chandler, the Artistics, Lavern Baker and Little Richard. Main producers for the labels were Carl Davis, Eugene Record and Willie Henderson. Tom Washington, Quinton Joseph and Willie Henderson were amongst the arrangers employed by the company.
The Chi-Lites’ “Oh Girl” was the label’s only release that reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart, but Brunswick/Dakar singles topped the R&B chart ten times, with six songs by Jackie Wilson, two by Tyrone Davis and two by the Chi-Lites.
Brunswick had its last chart hit in 1982, after which no further records were issued on the label, due to some legal problems. Carl Davis and the majority of the artists left the company. Nat Tarnopol died in 1987.
Chicago Soul was put on the map by Vee-Jay and made famous by Chess, but the contribution of Brunswick was also significant, thanks largely to the work of Carl Davis.
Some of the best songs issued by Brunswick/Dakar in the late 50s, 60s and 70s include:
Jackie Wilson: “Reet Petite” and “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher”
The Chi-Lites: “Have You Seen Her” and “Oh Girl”
Barbara Acklin: “Love Makes a Woman”
Tyrone Davis: “Can I Change My Mind” and “Turn Back the Hands of Time”
The Brunswick Records official site lists over one hundred and forty singles that entered the top 100 of the Billboard R&B or Pop charts during golden years of Chicago Soul.