History Of EMI – the 1950s-60s


During the 1950s, EMI held the worldwide license and distribution rights the American recording companies Columbia Records and RCA Victor except for North and South America. Columbia Records was the North American descendant of Columbia Graphophone, the parent company.

One of the artists on the RCA label was a young performer from Mississippi named Elvis Presley. Elvis’ first records that were released outside America (it all started in 1956 with Heartbreak Hotel) were released on EMI’s HMV (His Masters Voice) Pop label.

Over the two following years, EMI released around a dozen of Elvis’ first hit records including Love me tender, Blue Suede Shoes, Hound Dog as well as Elvis’ first UK number one hit, All Shook Up. In 1957, however, EMI’s license agreement with RCA Victor ended and RCA set up its own London office.

Similarly, Columbia had decided to market its international record releases by itself and had ended its contracts with EMI already in 1952. Together, RCA Victor and Columbia supplied the majority EMI’s U.S. music representations so, in response, EMI set out to look for American performers and artists all by itself.

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The Birth of EMI

Wherever are people, whatever their society, whatever their culture, you will find music. During most of our history, we could hear that music if we were only close enough to the people who played it, the musicians. For many, many years, music was a transient, live form of art.

See also this video about when Sony bought EMI:

Then something important happened. Just a few years before the turn of the 19th century, it all changed and things wouldn’t be the same any longer.


In the year 1887, Emile Berliner, an inventor who was born in Germany, presented his invention, the “Gramophone” which was a totally new technique for recording and reproducing sound. He used discs and this process would revolutionize the way we would listen to and experience music.

The history of EMI started at one of Berliner’s companies, the London-based Gramophone Company which was founded in 1897, taking a leading role in bringing musicians and the revolutionary sound recording machines together.

In the first years, the new medium was shunned by many well-established stars. Many saw the “gramophone” merely as a sort of gimmick. The Gramophone Company realized, however, that making recording deals with well-known artists was key if they wanted to attract wider audiences to recorded music.

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EMI-Canada Icon Anne Murray

One of Canada’s most prominent vocalists and recording artists of all time is EMI-Canada Icon Anne Murray. Anne was born in 1945 in  Spring Hill, Nova Scotia, and made her debut in 1968.

She was the first Canadian female artist that scored gold for a record in the United States with the song “Snowbird”. Just listen to Anne Murray sing “You Needed Me” and you’ll understand why she is among the greatest Canadian vocalists of all time:

Anne Murray was awarded three “Single of the Year” Juno Awards, two “Album of the Year” Juno Awards and nine “Vocalist of the Year” Juno Awards. She won four Grammy awards and the CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association) elected her as the most prominent Canadian artist of the 1970s. Anne was awarded altogether an incredible 31 Juno Awards throughout her singing career.

Overall, Anne Murray sold more than 54 million records across the globe including five number-1 hit singles and two number-1 albums in Canada. Her biggest hits include “You needed me” (1978) which reached the number-1 position in Canada and the United States, “Snowbird” (1970), “Danny’s Song” (1972), to name just a few masterpieces of her incredible oeuvre.

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Annie Murray (U of C): Crazy Fun

Annie Murray is a librarian at the University of Calgary and responsible for the entire EMI Canada collection that was donated to the University by Universal Music Canada that took over EMI Music Canada a few years way back.

Annie says that this collection is probably the most exciting collection she has ever (and will) ever be working with. She says her work is just crazy, super fun.

The U of C librarian can only with difficulty hide her enormous excitement over the impressive archive that was donated to the University and the huge task it is to take care of the beautiful and historically very important collection.

This is definitely the most exciting music collection she’ll ever work with, says the music fan, and the chance to do this kind of work professionally is absolutely mind-blowing. She loves to work on the collection that spans the EMI Canada years until it was taken over by Universal Music Canada in 2012.

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Iconic album covers at EMI Music Canada Archive Exhibit

It’s really not that long ago since cassette tapes, compact discs, and vinyl were ruling the world of music. Numerous music lovers and fans would be flocking to their local record or music shops where they often lost track of time while browsing through the available albums. These were the places where they admired the artwork on the albums’ covers and discussed their passions with so many other lovers of great music.

Now there’s a fantastic new exhibit in the Taylor Family Digital Library that will take you back to those days as it highlights design mock-ups and original artwork of numerous iconic album covers dating back to the 1970s through the 1990s. All artwork comes from from the impressive EMI Music Canada Archive.

The EMI archive was donated by Universal Music Canada in Toronto to the University of Calgary’s Library in 2016. The entire EMI collection is being cataloged and preserved by the University of Calgary’s Archives & Special Collections Department.

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University of Calgary receives crucial music history with EMI Canada archive

The massive EMI archive of music history in Canada has found a new home at the University of Calgary’s Archives & Special Collections. To learn more about the school’s Archives & Special Collections Department, watch this video:

Thousands and thousands of boxes filled with historically import artifacts and pictures of artists like Anne Murray, Nickelback, and Tom Cochrane and numerous studio recordings were donated to the University’s Library by Universal Music Canada, the owners of EMI Music Canada, in 2016.

The EMI archive is very large and it will take a few more years before all is cataloged and available to researchers and the general public. The archive provides a rare glimpse into most important years of music developments in the past century and the inner procedures and workings of one of Canada’s most important record labels and is spanning over 60 years of EMI’s Canadian branch. EMI Canada was operating from 1949 to 2012 when it was bought by Universal Music Canada.

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The EMI Music Canada Exhibit

Tom Hickerson, vice-provost of libraries and cultural resources at U of C.

Tom Hickerson, vice-provost of libraries and cultural
resources at U of C. Photo by Riley Brandt.

The University of Calgary’s Archives & Special Collections preserves the EMI Music Canada archive. The Virtual Exhibit highlights numerous items from this important collection that was given to the university by Universal Music Canada which has acquired EMI in 2012.

The collection is a goldmine of Canadian Music history. The EMI Music Canada Archive is packed with historic material from the company’s 63-year history.

The history of EMI Music Canada goes back to its beginnings in 1949 when Capitol Records Canada, under the wings of EMI started music production and distribution in Canada.

The EMI collection contains numerous early ’60s and ’70s studio recording, demo tapes, video music tapes, posters, photographs, record and music awards, as well as artwork for record covers, marketing plans, publicity material, and studio master tapes from a few of the label’s most famous Canadian performers like Tom Cochrane, Anne Murray, Helix, Glass Tiger, and The Rankin Family.

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The EMI Archive

In March 2016, the University of Calgary made public that Universal Music Canada made a fantastic donation to the school. The university’s Libraries and Cultural Resources department was to become the proud owner of the entire archive of EMI Music Canada.

The impressive EMI Music Canada collection consists of more than 5,500 boxes with over 21,000 music recordings, over 18,000 videotapes and some two million files and documents and photographs that picture a great period in Canadian music history in a perfect way.
The vast EMI Archive offers students, teachers, researchers, and music lovers from around the world a unique insight and access to a wonderful documentation of over six decades of contemporary Canadian and worldwide music history.
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Universal Music Canada Gives EMI Archive to University of Calgary

Universal Music Canada was proud to be part of the musical celebrations in Calgary in 2016. The company donated the immensely important archive of EMI Music Canada to the University of Calgary.
Universal Music Canada Donates EMI Archive to University of Calgary
The collection is both commercially and culturally invaluable and it contains recordings and files spanning more than 60 years. It includes documents and recordings that are witnesses to a wonderfully creative period of time and the collection includes recordings of all sorts of genres such as country, rock, folk, classical, jazz, pop, and heavy metal. The impressive collection will now soon be available to students, researchers, and the general public at the University’s Libraries & Cultural Resources Department.
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University of Calgary receives heaps of Canada’s music history

A massive and historically important archive of Canada’s music history has found a new home at the Library of the University of Calgary. In 2016, the school received an important donation that indicates the growing importance of Calgary as one of the nation’s main cultural centers, as shown in this video about Studio Bell National Music Centre.

Tens of thousands of studio recording hours and numerous boxes of historical items and photographs from over five decades including the likes of Anne Murray, Nickelback, and Tom Cochrane were donated to the University by Universal Music Canada that acquired EMI Music Canada in 2012.
The massive and culturally and commercially highly interesting archive is offering a rare and unique glimpse into how a major record label works and the collection spans over six decades of the music and recording industry of one of Canada’s leading music production and distributing companies, EMI Music Canada from 1949 to 2012 when it was taken over by Universal Music.
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