Allen McQuhae: The Melodic Engineer

When I see a name like Allen McQuhae (Charles Allen McQuhae, 1884-1960), I discern with amusement the inadequacy of the Latin Alphabet in attempting to service Gaelic consonants and vowels. I have no idea how to pronounce it even spelled this way, and it’s possibly the best way. (Those inclined to instruct me on the correct pronunciation are advised to whisper it into a hollow tree deep in the forest, spin around three times, and then walk briskly off the edge of a cliff.)

McQuhae gave out that he was an Irish tenor from the seacoast town of Bray, County Wicklow (just south of Dublin), and that he’d participated in the Yukon Gold Rush and was a cattle rancher. He was actually born in Liverpool, and his family came there from Scotland, and only from Ireland centuries before that. (Many thanks to his relative Ken McQuhae who put me right to the facts. It turns out that the most Irish thing about his grandfather’s cousin was a penchant for blarney). He came to North America by way of Canada and then moved to the Cincinnati area. McQuhae was a gifted amateur singer, and he often shared his gift in public, including employment as a soloist with a local church. He was discovered singing in a cabaret by an enterprising manager and promoted as the “next John McCormack“. Throughout the late teens and 1920s he toured vaudeville and venues like the Smith Opera House in western New York (which is where I learned about him) and cut dozens of records for Edison, Brunswick and other labels, many of which are available on Youtube.

Here is an amusing if ethnically charged anecdote I found in an 1918 edition of the Decatur Illinois Record and Review:

McQuhae is known to have performed at Carnegie Hall in 1919 and 1920, though his biggest audience base seems to have been the midwest. Starting in 1927 he became popular on radio on The Atwater Kent Hour, one of the top rated early radio programs, which was on the air in 1934. At the time of McQuhae’s death in 1960, he was living in Corpus Christi, Texas.

For more on show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.