Bluebird Records is a blues and jazz record label known for its low-cost releases in the 1930s and 1940s. Founded by RCA Victor during the Great Depression, Bluebird concentrated on producing and selling music inexpensively. It created what came to be known as the "Bluebird sound", which influenced rhythm and blues and early rock and roll.
The label was begun in 1932 as a division of RCA Victor by Eli Oberstein, an executive at the company. Bluebird competed with other budget labels at the time. Records were made quickly and cheaply. The "Bluebird sound" came from the session band that was used on many recordings to save money. The band included musicians such as Big Bill Broonzy, Roosevelt Sykes, Washboard Sam, and Sonny Boy Williamson. Many blues musicians were brought to Bluebird by Lester Melrose, a talent scout and producer who had a virtual monopoly on the Chicago blues market. In these years, Bluebird became the home of Chicago blues.
Bluebird also recorded and reissued jazz and big band music. Its roster included Ted Weems, Rudy Vallée, Joe Haymes, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Shep Fields, and Earl Hines. During the World War II years, Victor reissued albums by Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, and Bennie Moten. Bluebird's roster for country music included the Monroe Brothers, the Delmore Brothers, Bradley Kincaid. It reissued many titles by Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family.
After World War II, Bluebird was retired and its titles were issued on RCA Victor. In the 1950s RCA Victor revived Bluebird for certain jazz releases and reissues, children's records, and low-priced classical titles. In the mid-1970s it was again reactivated by RCA for a series of 2-LP sets of big band and jazz reissues produced by Frank Driggs.
RCA Victor's entry into the budget market was the 35c Timely Tunes, sold through Montgomery Ward retail stores. 40 issues appeared from April to July 1931 before the label was deleted.
The first Bluebird records appeared in July 1932 along with identically numbered Electradisk records, test-marketed at selected Woolworth's stores in New York City. These 8" discs may have sold for as little as 10c. Bluebird records bore a black-on-medium blue label, Electradisks a blue-on-orange label.
The 8" series ran from 1800 to 1809, but both labels reappeared later in 1932 as 10" discs: Bluebird 1820–1853, continuing to April 1933, and Electradisk 2500–2509 and 1900–2177, continuing to January 1934.
Electradisks in the 2500 block were dance-band sides recorded on two days in June 1932. These rare issues were given Victor matrix numbers, but the four-digit matrix numbers on the 78 look more like discs from Crown Records, an independent label that had its own studios, though its products were pressed by Victor. The few records in that block that have been seen resemble Crowns, leading to speculation that all were recorded at Crown. The 2500 series may also have been for sale only in New York City.
In May 1933 RCA Victor restarted Bluebird as a 35c (3 for $1) general-interest budget record, numbered B-5000 and up, with a new blue-on-beige label (often referred as the "Buff" Bluebird, used until 1937 in the US and 1939 in Canada). Most 1800-series material was immediately reissued on the Buff label; afterwards it ran concurrently with the Electradisk series (made for Woolworth's).
Another short-lived concurrent label was Sunrise, which may have been made for a store chain. Few discs, and essentially no information, survive. Sunrise and Electradisk were discontinued early in 1934, leaving Bluebird as RCA's only budget priced label. RCA Victor also produced a separate Montgomery Ward label for the Ward stores.