RCA Records is an American record label
currently owned by Sony Music Entertainment, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America. It is one of Sony Music's four flagship labels, alongside RCA's former long-time rival Columbia Records; also Arista Records, and Epic Records. The label has released multiple genres of music, including pop, classical, rock, hip hop, afrobeat, electronic, R&B, blues, jazz, and country. Its name is derived from the initials of its defunct parent company, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). RCA Records was fully acquired by Bertelsmann in 1987, making it a part of Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) and became a part of Sony BMG Music Entertainment after the 2004 merger of BMG and Sony; it was acquired by the latter in 2008, after the dissolution of Sony/BMG and the restructuring of Sony Music. RCA Records is the corporate successor of the Victor Talking Machine Company, making it the second-oldest record label in American history, after sister label Columbia Records.
The RCA catalogue includes records by influential artists such as Elvis Presley, David Bowie, Nina Simone, Diana Ross, Harry Belafonte, ABBA and Sam Cooke. As of 2021, the label's roster included A$AP Rocky, Ateez, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Chris Brown, Cage the Elephant, Miley Cyrus, Craig David, D'Angelo, Dave Matthews Band, Doja Cat, Foo Fighters, Kirk Franklin, Becky G, G-Eazy, Childish Gambino, Martin Garrix, H.E.R., Enrique Iglesias, Kesha, Alicia Keys, Khalid, Kings of Leon, Normani, Pentatonix, P!nk, Mark Ronson, Shakira, The Strokes, SZA, Three Days Grace, Bryson Tiller, Justin Timberlake, Usher, Walk the Moon, and ZAYN.
In 1929, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) purchased the Victor Talking Machine Company, then the world's largest manufacturer of phonographs (including the famous "Victrola") and phonograph records. The company then became RCA Victor. In absorbing Victor, RCA acquired the New World rights to the famous Nipper/"His Master's Voice" trademark. In 1931, RCA Victor's British affiliate the Gramophone Company merged with the Columbia Graphophone Company to form EMI. This gave RCA head David Sarnoff a seat on the EMI board.
In September 1931, RCA Victor introduced the first 33⅓ rpm records sold to the public, calling them "Program Transcriptions". These used a shallower and more closely spaced implementation of the large "standard groove" found on contemporary 78 rpm records, rather than the "microgroove" used for post-World War II 33⅓ rpm "LP" (long play) records. The format was a commercial failure, partly because the new Victrolas with two-speed turntables designed to play these records were exorbitantly priced, the least expensive model retailing for $395.00 in the depths of the Great Depression. The format was abandoned by 1933, and two-speed turntables were no longer offered, but some Program Transcriptions lingered in the Victor record catalog until the end of the 1930s.
During the early part of the Depression, RCA Victor made a number of attempts to create a successful cheap label to compete with the "dime store labels" (Perfect, Oriole, Banner, Melotone, etc.). The first was the short-lived "Timely Tunes" label in 1931 sold at Montgomery Ward. Bluebird Records was created in 1932 as a sub-label of RCA Victor. It was originally an 8-inch record with a dark blue label, alongside an 8-inch Electradisk label (sold at Woolworth's). Neither were a success. In 1933, RCA Victor reintroduced Bluebird and Electradisk as a standard 10-inch label (Bluebird's label was redesigned, and it became known as the 'buff' label). Another cheap label, Sunrise, was produced (although nobody seems to know for whom it was produced, as Sunrise records are exceptionally rare today). The same musical couplings were issued on all three labels and the Bluebird label still survives today, eight decades after Electradisk and Sunrise were discontinued. RCA Victor also produced records for Montgomery Ward label during the 1930s.
Broadway and Hollywood
RCA Victor has produced several notable Broadway cast albums, among them the original Broadway recordings of Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, the Mary Martin Peter Pan, Damn Yankees, Hello, Dolly!, Oliver!, and Fiddler on the Roof. RCA has also recorded and released recordings of revival stagings of musicals. These include the musical productions staged at Lincoln Center, such as the 1966 revivals of Show Boat and Annie Get Your Gun, the 1987 revival of Anything Goes and the 1998 Broadway revivals of Cabaret and The Sound of Music. Call Me Madam was recorded by RCA Victor with all of its original cast except for its star Ethel Merman, who, due to contractual obligations, could not be released from her American Decca Records contract. She was replaced on the RCA Victor album by Dinah Shore. RCA Victor was also responsible for the film soundtrack albums of Damn Yankees, South Pacific, Bye Bye Birdie, Half a Sixpence, and The Sound of Music. The album made from the 1965 hit Julie Andrews film was (and is) one of the best selling soundtracks of all time. The film soundtrack of Oliver!, made by Colgems Records, was distributed by RCA, which had released the Broadway cast album. RCA Victor also released the original American cast album of Hair.
Similarly, RCA Victor also made several studio cast recording albums, including a Lerner and Loewe series with Jan Peerce, Jane Powell, and Robert Merrill, as well as a 1963 album of excerpts from George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, with its 1952 revival leads, Leontyne Price and William Warfield, but a different supporting cast. They also issued two studio cast versions of Show Boat, one with Robert Merrill, Patrice Munsel, and Rise Stevens in 1956, and the other with Howard Keel, Anne Jeffreys, and Gogi Grant in 1958. Unfortunately, contrary to the way the show is written, both of these Show Boat albums featured all-white casts, reflecting the era of racial segregation.
In 2006, Sony BMG merged its Broadway music labels, including RCA Victor, to the new Masterworks Broadway Records. All of these recordings are now on Masterworks Broadway Records, which has remastered and reissued many of these albums.
As the twentieth century continued, recording and manufacturing process were moved to other locations, and the RCA-Victor Corporation began to sell buildings in Camden. The final RCA building in Camden was sold in 1992.