The Marks History
The Edward B. Marks Music Company was founded in 1894 by Mr. E. B. Marks, a traveling salesman of hooks, eyes, and whalebones who teamed up with a necktie salesman, Joseph W. Stern. Originally called Joseph W. Stern & Co., because Marks did not want to risk losing his regular job, it was among the first firms to usher in the modern era in pop music, which it did from a 100-square-foot basement space at 304 E. 14th Street near Second Avenue in Manhattan. Their success was launched with a song they penned themselves (Marks as lyricist and Stern as composer), a tear jerker in the popular current of the day called “The Lost Child.” This was followed up with their own first publication, another “weeper” called “Mother Was a Lady.” (Among the many firsts accredited to Marks is the first-ever music video, when he accompanied performances of “The Lost Child” with graphic colored-lantern slides which were screened opposite the performer.)
Marks quickly diversified into serious music and operetta, bringing the compositions of Claude Debussy to American music stores and signing many highly popular light operas and comedies, such as Oscar Strauss’s A Waltz Dream and Emmerich Kalman’s Sari. The Stern company published songs and compositions by a veritable “Who’s Who” of the most important African-American composers from the pre-Jazz era, including J. Rosamond & James Weldon Johnson, Bob Cole, James Reese Europe, Ford Dabney, Lucky Roberts, Chris Smith, Bert Williams, Eubie Blake, and Scott Joplin. By the early 1920’s (when the Marks namesake replaced Stern upon the latter’s retirement), the firm moved into the educational market with its series of Half Hour Teaching Editions (1921) for various instruments, and it was soon publishing piano transcriptions as well.
Expansion during the successful Tin Alley Years relocated the company to the MarksStern Building near the corner of West 38th Street and Broadway, which was at one time the biggest music publishing building in the U.S.
Herbert Marks, the son of Edward who took over the company in 1945 upon his father’s death, helped spark the craze in this country for Latin music in the 1920’s when he honeymooned in Havana and fell under the spell of such writers as Moises Simons and especially Ernesto Lecuona, the composer of such classics as “Andalucia” (aka “The Breeze and I”) and “Malaguena.” The Marks international catalog has also imported hits from South America (“El Condor Pasa”), Mexico (“Yellow Days”), France (Jacques Brel and “If You Go Away”), Cuba (“Cecilia Valdes”), and Italy (“More,” “Mah-Na-Mah-Na”).
Marks Music’s existence as a publisher of both popular and serious music has led to a unique style of cross-fertilization which continues to this day. In 1946 Felix Greissle, pupil and son-in-law of the towering Viennese composer Arnold Schoenberg, became the Director of Serious Music at the new Marks offices in Rockefeller Center. His advising of Schoenberg on arranging for Marks publication Three Folksong Settings, Op. 49 in 1948 is a classic example of the Marks mission to introduce serious music composers to the educational market and amateur musician. Greissle also had an impact on the high-quality publications of the 1950’s and 1960’s by such atonalists as Roger Sessions and the earlier works of Mario Davidovsky, including his Pulitzer Prize-winning composition, Synchronisms No. 6. Publications such as American Composers of Today (1955) compiled newly-commissioned piano pieces for young people from distinguished composers Milton Babbitt, Robert Helps, Ben Weber, Henry Cowell, and others, and became a classic among teaching books. (Marks re-released this book upon its 50th anniversary under the title American Composers of the 20th Century.) Another Pulitzer Prize-winner, Norman Dello Joio, is a notable example of a composer whose move from a mostly-contemporary idiom into a predominantly accessible style for younger musicians can be charted in the Marks catalog.
The educational catalog, under the directorship of longtime publishing professional Bernard Kalban in the 1960’s and 1970’s, was greatly developed with the rapid addition of material by some of youth band music’s biggest names, like Alfred Reed and Robert Jager. In the early 1970’s composer William Bolcom, the quintessential genre- and style-hopping serio-popular composer of our age, signed with E. B. Marks, going on to not only win a Pulitzer Prize, the Presidential Medal of Honor, and virtually every major American award, but also to populate the catalog with works in every category at every ability level.
With the acquisition of Edward B. Marks Music Company on April 1, 1983 by fellow Brill Building resident Freddy Bienstock Enterprises, at least two aspects of the Marks legacy were not only continued but enhanced: the side-by-side publication of popular and serious music, and family ownership. Acquired by both the Bienstock family and the Oscar Hammerstein Estate, Marks Music was held within a group of publishers under Carlin America, Inc. until 2018, when Carlin was acquired by Round Hill Music.
E. B. Marks Classical distinguishes the operations of serious and educational music, and their related sheet music publication activity. Printing and distribution has been administered by the Hal Leonard Corporation since 1984, with rentals and on-demand print being handled by the Theodore Presser Company and Subito Music Corporation, respectively. Upon Bernard Kalban’s retirement at the end of 2004, Evan Hause became Publications Director and General Manager. The 1990’s and 2000’s have been a time of maintaining commitments to Marks’s current composers, administering its vast, 100-year old catalog, and signing important new composers, such as Kenneth Fuchs and Justin Dello Joio, as well as established composers from the past, such as Warren Benson. Piedmont Music is the Marks ASCAP-affiliated company.
E. B. Marks continues to publish new works and explore the many new developments occurring in the publishing and serious music performance world. At the same time, Marks maintains its commitment to education and to the synergistic relationships between the popular and the serious, the innovative and traditional, and the contemporary and historical.