Ada Jones sings "Just Plain Folks" on Edison Standard Record 9085, issued in 1905.
Ada Jones lived from June 1, 1873, to May 2, 1922. She was the leading female recording artist in the acoustic recording era, especially popular from 1905 to 1912 or so. Her singing range was limited, but she was remarkably versatile, successful with vaudeville sketches, sentimental ballads, hits from Broadway shows, British music hall material, "coon" and ragtime songs, and Irish comic songs.
She was known for an ability to mimic dialects.
Victor catalogs listed roles at which she excelled: "Whether Miss Jones' impersonation be that of a darky wench, a little German maiden, a 'fresh' saleslady, a cowboy girl, a country damsel, Mrs. Flanagan or an Irish colleen, a Bowery tough girl, a newsboy or a grandmother, it is invariably a perfect one of its kind."
Columbia catalogs as late as 1921 stated: "Miss Jones is without question the cleverest singer of soubrette songs, popular child ballads and popular ragtime hits adaptable for the soprano voice now recording for any Company. She is also one of the most popular singers in the record field and her records have been heard in all quarters of the globe. Her duet records with Mr. [Walter] Van Brunt, unique and entertaining as they are, have also come in for unlimited popular approval."
Despite this high praise in Columbia's 1921 catalog, very little of her vast output was available by the early 1920s. For example, of the nearly two hundred titles that she recorded for Columbia from 1904 to 1917, only six remained in the catalog by 1921--five duets and one solo effort, "Cross My Heart and Hope To Die."
She was born in her parents' home at 78 Manchester Street in Oldham, Lancashire, England. Her father, James Jones, ran an inn, or public house, named The British Flag--the original building no longer stands. Her mother's maiden name was Ann Jane Walsh. Ada was baptized on June 15 in Oldham's St. Patrick's Church as Ada Jane Jones. Her birth was registered on August 18, 1873.
The family moved to Philadelphia by 1879 (documents show that a brother was born there in that year). Her mother died and her father remarried. Ada's stepmother, Annie Douglas Maloney, encouraged Ada to make stage appearances, and "Little Ada Jones" was on the cover of sheet music in the early 1880s. One example is the sheet music for Harry S. Miller's "Barney's Parting" (1883).
The January 1921 issue of Farm and Fireside duplicates an 1886 photograph showing Ada Jones as "Jack, a stable boy with song."
Ada's stepmother had been hired to make or mend drapes for the Edison company. The Jones family at that time lived nearby in Newark, New Jersey. It is likely that at the studio she saw an opportunity for her talented stepdaughter. Ada's earliest recordings were brown wax cylinders made for Edison in late 1893 or early 1894 (no recording logs of this period exist). Two surviving cylinders are "Sweet Marie" (North American 1289), a song by Raymon Moore, and "The Volunteer Organist" (North American 1292).
They are among the earliest commercial recordings of a female singing as a solo artist. Estimating how many female singers preceded Jones is difficult. Moreover, nothing is known of singers such as "Miss Lillian Cleaver, the phenomenal contralto of the Howard Burlesque Co."--she is included in an 1892 New Jersey Phonograph Company catalog described by Jim Walsh in the October 1958 issue of Hobbies.
Though Jones would later win fame as a performer of comic numbers, her brown wax cylinders give no hint of her comic talents.
During most of her recording years she resided in Huntington Station, Long Island, New York. She died of uremic poisoning (kidney failure) in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, on May 2, 1922, while on a performing tour.
Ada Jones is buried in Saint Patrick's Cemetery in Huntington, New York (Section C, Plot 70).