Capitol Records, Inc. is an American record label owned by Universal Music Group through its Capitol Music Group imprint. It was founded as the first West Coast-based record label in the United States in 1942 by Johnny Mercer, Buddy DeSylva, and Glenn E. Wallichs, and was later acquired by British music conglomerate EMI as its North American subsidiary in 1955. EMI was later acquired by Universal Music Group in 2012 and was merged with the company a year later, making Capitol and the Capitol Music Group both a part of UMG. The label's circular headquarter building located in Hollywood is a recognized landmark of California.
Artists currently signed to Capitol Records include Special Forces, Paul McCartney, Mary J. Blige, the Beach Boys, the Beastie Boys, Neil Diamond, Eagles, Katy Perry, Brian Wilson, Beck, Avenged Sevenfold, 5 Seconds of Summer, Don Henley, Sam Smith, NF, Emeli Sandé, Troye Sivan, Calum Scott, Tori Kelly, Jon Bellion, Niall Horan, and Minus Gravity.
Capitol Records was founded by songwriter Johnny Mercer in 1942, with the financial help of fellow songwriter and film producer Buddy DeSylva and the business acumen of Glenn Wallichs, the owner of Wallichs Music City. Mercer first raised the idea of starting a record company while golfing with Harold Arlen and Bobby Sherwood. By 1941, Mercer was an experienced songwriter and a singer with multiple successful releases. Mercer next suggested the idea to Wallichs while visiting his record store. Wallichs expressed interest in the idea and the pair negotiated an agreement whereby Mercer would run the company and identify their artists, while Wallichs managed the business side. On February 2, 1942, Mercer and Wallichs met with DeSylva at a Hollywood restaurant to inquire about the possibility of investment of the company from Paramount Pictures. While DeSylva declined the proposal, he handed the pair a check worth $15,000. On March 27, 1942, the three men incorporated as Liberty Records (not to be confused with an unrelated label later founded in 1955, Liberty Records, which was eventually acquired by Capitol). In May 1942, the application was amended to change the company's name to Capitol Records. On April 6, 1942, Mercer supervised Capitol's first recording session where Martha Tilton recorded the song "Moon Dreams". On May 5, Bobby Sherwood and his orchestra recorded two tracks in the studio. On May 21, Freddie Slack and his orchestra recorded three tracks in the studio; one with the orchestra, one with Ella Mae Morse called "Cow-Cow Boogie" and "Air-Minded Executive" supervised by Mercer. On June 4, 1942, Capitol opened its first office in a second-floor room south of Sunset Boulevard. On that same day, Wallichs presented the company's first free record to Los Angeles disc jockey Peter Potter, thus originating the practice of distributing free discs to DJs. On June 5, 1942, Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra recorded four songs at the studio. On June 12, the orchestra recorded five more songs in the studio, including one featuring Billie Holiday, "Trav'lin' Light." On June 11, Tex Ritter recorded "(I Got Spurs That) Jingle Jangle Jingle" and "Goodbye My Little Cherokee" for his first Capitol recording session, and the songs formed Capitol's 110th produced record.
The earliest recording artists included co-owner Mercer, Whiteman, Tilton, Morse, Margaret Whiting, Jo Stafford, the Pied Pipers, Johnnie Johnston, Tex Ritter, and Paul Weston and His Orchestra. Capitol's first gold single was Morse's "Cow Cow Boogie" in 1942. Capitol's first album was Capitol Presents Songs By Johnny Mercer, a three 78-rpm disc set with recordings by Mercer, Stafford and the Pied Pipers, all with Weston's Orchestra. The label's other 1940s artists included Les Baxter, Les Brown, the Nat Cole Trio, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Benny Goodman, Betty Hutton, Stan Kenton, Dinning Sisters, Skitch Henderson, Billy Butterfield, Kay Starr, Peggy Lee, Billy May, Alvino Rey, Jimmy Bryant, Speedy West, Les Paul, Mary Ford, Andy Russell, Smilin' Jack Smith, Sammy Davis Jr., Cootie Williams, and western swing artists on the Capitol Americana label Lead Belly, Cliffie Stone, Hank Thompson (musician), Merle Travis, Wesley Tuttle, Jimmy Wakely and Tex Williams amongst others. Capitol was the first major West Coast label and competed with New York City-based East Coast powers RCA Victor, Columbia and Decca. In addition to its Los Angeles recording studio, Capitol owned a second studio in New York City and, on occasion, sent mobile recording equipment to New Orleans and other cities.
By 1946, Capitol had sold 42 million records and was established as one of the "Big Six" record labels. Also in 1946, writer-producer Alan W. Livingston created Bozo the Clown for the company's new children's record library. Examples of notable Capitol albums for children during that era are Sparky's Magic Piano and Rusty in Orchestraville. Capitol also developed a noted jazz catalog that included the Capitol Jazz Men and issued the Miles Davis-led sessions, "Birth of the Cool". Capitol released a few classical albums in the 1940s, some of which featured a heavily embossed, leather-like cover. These recordings initially appeared in the 78 rpm format and were then released on LPs (33 1/3 rpm) in 1949. Among the recordings was a unique performance from Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos' Choros No. 10, with contributions from a Los Angeles choral group and the Janssen Symphony Orchestra (1940–1952), conducted by Werner Janssen; Symphony No. 3 by Russian composer Reinhold Moritzovich Glière; and César Franck's Symphony in D minor, with Willem Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw Orchestra. In 1949, its Canadian branch was established and Capitol purchased the KHJ Studios on Melrose Avenue that is adjacent to the Paramount Pictures lot in Hollywood. By the mid-1950s, Capitol had become a huge company that concentrated on popular music.
The label's roster during the 1950s included Nat King Cole, the Four Knights, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Frank Sinatra, Stan Kenton, June Christy, Louis Prima, Keely Smith, the Louvin Brothers, Judy Garland, the Andrews Sisters, Dick Haymes, Kay Starr, Jackie Gleason, Harry James, Jane Froman, Wesley Tuttle, the Four Preps, Ray Anthony, Andy Griffith, Shirley Bassey, Hank Thompson, Merle Travis, Tommy Duncan, Skeets McDonald, the Kingston Trio (who in 1960 would account for 20% of all record sales for Capitol), Dean Martin, Nelson Riddle, the Four Freshmen, Al Martino, and Dinah Shore. Notable comedy recordings included Johnny Standley, several by Stan Freberg and the Yiddish-dialect parodies of Mickey Katz. The label also began recording rock and roll acts such as the Jodimars, and Gene Vincent. Children listened to Capitol's Bozo the Clown albums, which featured 78-rpm discs and full color booklets that children could follow as they listened. Although various people played Bozo the Clown on television, Capitol used the voice of Pinto Colvig, who was also the voice for Walt Disney's cartoon character Goofy. Don Wilson also released some children's records. In June 1952, Billboard magazine presented a multi-page chronicle of the label's first ten years in business.
In 1955, the British record company EMI ended its 55-year mutual distribution agreement with RCA Victor and acquired 96% of Capitol Records' stock for $8.5 million. Soon afterward, EMI built a new studio at Hollywood and Vine to match its state-of-the-art Abbey Road Studios in London. EMI's classical Angel Records label was merged into Capitol in 1957. Some classical recordings were issued in high fidelity and even stereophonic sound on the label by William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski with various orchestras (including the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra) and Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as light classical albums by Carmen Dragon and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and a series of albums of film music conducted by leading Hollywood composers such as Alfred Newman.