Commodore Music Shop Photographs at Hagley

Monday, October 1, 2012

On September 9, 2012, the Hagley Museum and Library opened a new exhibit entitled “100 Years of Picturing the Nation’s Business: Photographs from the Collection of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America.” It features some 101 photographs from the collection at Hagley which numbers some 25,000 images in total. Thus it was obviously not possible to include all the subjects covered in the collection in the exhibit. One series of intriguing photographs that had to be left out is five 8x10 black & white photographs taken by Victor de Palma, a New York photographer, sometime in the 1940s. They show the famous Commodore Music Shop on East 42nd Street. One of the five was used in an article in the Chamber’s magazine, Nation’s Business, in April of 1950 on record collectors. The Commodore Music Shop, owned by Milt Gabler (who also issued jazz records under the “Commodore Records” label) was a Mecca for traditional jazz record collectors from the time it started as a department in Gabler’s father’s hardware and radio store in 1926 until it closed in 1959. Also used to illustrate the article was a photograph of noted jazz historian Rudi Blesch talking with Bill Grauer, editor of the jazz journal The Record Changer. An original print of this is in the collection at Hagley, too.

Milt Gabler went on to work for Decca Records, where he hired Bill Haley & the Comets and produced their recording of “Rock Around the Clock,” a song often credited as the beginning of the Rock & Roll era. For this and many other accomplishments, Gabler was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In addition to the exhibit images, some 1,000 other photographs from the Nations Business collection, including the Commodore Music Shop photographs, have been put into Hagley’s online digital archive at They are just a small sampling of the richness of this collection, which could provide substance for many future exhibits.

Jon M. Williams is curator of the Pictorial Collections Department.