Regarding Paramount Records
December 18, 2006 1:31 PM   Subscribe

...In 1924 New York Recording Laboratory decided to expand its reach into that market by purchasing the Black Swan label. Founded in 1920 or 1921 by black entrepreneur Harry H. Pace, the pioneering company recorded everything from ragtime to grand opera, as long as it was sung by African-Americans... Paramount's biggest star was Ma Rainey, a blues moaner who influenced the legendary singer Bessie Smith... Paramount did not neglect male blues singers, who tended to be folk artists in the sense that their music was made initially for the entertainment of isolated rural communities. These included the singers and guitarists Charlie Patton... Blind Lemon Jefferson...
Compliments of the Season from ParamountsHome--where, among many other things, one can find an online copy of David Evans's biography Charley Patton in Parts 1, 2 and 3 or look at a picture of Skip James in 1932, not to mention a view of Paramount's promotion of Patton as the Masked Marvel. And that is not, as they say, all...
posted by y2karl (14 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
See also
Nowadays it would be called niche marketing. But during the early years of recorded sound, the music industry's efforts to tap African-Americans for their entertainment dollars were tainted by segregation. Paramount Records, a Wisconsin company with studios in Port Washington and Grafton, was among the first to specialize in "race records," as African-American discs were called before World War II. Sixty-five years after its demise, Paramount remains the most historically significant record label to operate in Wisconsin.

Paramount, along with its sister companies, recorded a wide variety of music, but today it is remembered chiefly as an important footnote in the development of blues music. Probably Paramount would have received even greater notice from historians had it been located in Chicago, Memphis, or other places known as meccas for black creative endeavor. Operating instead from a pair of unlikely towns in what was then rural Wisconsin, Paramount has been relegated to the status of a curiosity, albeit an important one, for its role in documenting the first generation of blues musicians.

The Paramount story is also interesting for what it tells us about the origins of today's glitzy, multi-billion-dollar recording industry. Not unlike several other early record companies, Paramount began in a most unglamorous fashion, as a subsidiary of Wisconsin Chair Company, whose Port Washington and Grafton factories made low-cost chairs, tables, and school desks which were marketed in the Midwest and the South. A line of wooden cabinets for Edison phonographs was added sometime around 1914. Before long the company began to consider producing phonograph
records as an incentive to phonograph buyers. From such nickel-and-dime concerns a new industry was nurtured.
From the University of Wisconsin comes Blues in Wisconsin: The Paramount Records Story and, also, the Paramount Records Label Gallery.

There are some tantalizing glimpses of records as yet unheard--Willie Brown's Kicking In My Sleep Blues, for one--in the Online 78 Discography's pages Paramount Race Series 1922-1927, 1927 - 1930 and 1930 - 1932 and here is another sample label shot:

High Water Everywhere, Part I
Charley Patton
Paramount 12909

via John Tefteller's World's Rarest Records.
posted by y2karl at 1:31 PM on December 18, 2006

And then there is Paramount's Rise and Fall.
posted by y2karl at 1:31 PM on December 18, 2006

A Simple Twist of Fate:
He was in Grafton as the honored performer for the first Grafton Blues Festival. On Friday, he became the first inductee onto the Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame. He was hospitalized hours later. Reportedly, Townsend lobbied doctors unsuccessfully to be released from the hospital to make his scheduled Saturday performance. His son, Alonzo, spoke from the stage on Townsend's behalf and said that Townsend planned to attend a ceremony in his honor at Noon Sunday. Instead, Alonzo attended and accepted a plaque on behalf of his father. He then delivered it to Townsend's hospital bed, where the blues legend was still awake and able to appreciate the honor. But his condition worsened, and Townsend died Sunday night.
Henry Townsend 1909-2006.
posted by y2karl at 1:32 PM on December 18, 2006

Of ancillary interest from Joel Slotnikoff's Bluesworld is Slotnikoff's Pete Whalen Interview and Gayle Dean Wardlow with southern race record talent scout H. C. Spiers.

See also The Rise and Fall of Black Swan Records.

And, from the publisher of Paramounts Rise and Fall, Paramount’s Legacy: What Happened to NYRL's Inventory? is another question of ancillary interest--at least to the hardcore. A collector can dream, can't he ?
posted by y2karl at 1:36 PM on December 18, 2006

See as well
...Conceived as a venture to produce a broad range of music by and for African Americans, the company that became known as Black Swan Records was an audacious didactic project designed to utilize the combined power of music and business as vehicles of uplift and racial justice. Musically, Pace sought to issue all kinds of records--not just blues, ragtime, and comic records, but also opera, spirituals, and classical music--in order to challenge stereotypes about African Americans, promote African Americans' cultural development, and impugn racist arguments about African American barbarism. The company would also be a model of economic development, inspiring and instructing African Americans in capital accumulation and the potential for economic self-determination.5

Black Swan Records, then, was a radical experiment in the political economy of African American culture in the guise of musical entertainment and small-business development. Its distinct but connected priorities--music and business--were at once practical and symbolic, designed to effect real change in African Americans' condition in the United States. The diversity and quality of its musical products would uplift and empower African Americans, as well as challenge (white) public opinion about African Americans' qualities and capabilities. Its business aims brought together many competing strains of African American political activism to form a solid consensus on black economic self-determination. Closely, though unofficially, aligned with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp), Black Swan also benefited from the direct support and guidance of Du Bois, who invested the project with heavyweight political credibility. The record company was about more than selling records, and the one-two punch of its uplift through music and business makes its brief history an important, revealing event in the African American political struggles of the twentieth century.
Co-workers in the Kingdom of Culture: Black Swan Records and the Political Economy of African American Music.
posted by y2karl at 1:37 PM on December 18, 2006

Nice job there y2karl. Marked for deeper reading later. Thanks.
posted by marxchivist at 2:32 PM on December 18, 2006

If I ever invent a time machine, I'm taking y2karl back with me as my musical tourguide. Once again, a superlative post.
posted by horsemuth at 3:26 PM on December 18, 2006

good goddamn. thanks y2karl.
posted by sleepy pete at 3:26 PM on December 18, 2006

If I ever invent a time machine, I'm taking y2karl back with me as my musical tourguide.

Plus he'll have a Wii so you can pass the time during breaks.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:41 PM on December 18, 2006

Correction, he will have money from selling the Wii on Ebay.
posted by wheelieman at 4:44 PM on December 18, 2006

I will bring a fresh deck and dramatically recite Wink Martindale's Deck of Cards during rest breaks.
posted by y2karl at 5:41 PM on December 18, 2006

People complained about the posts taking up too much space on the font page, so I moved for the most part to using the 'more inside' convention. Then another set of people complained that the more inside comments were too long. Cutting the more inside comments into more or less topic specific paragraphs of a few links each was an attempt to accommodate those complaints. Flapjax at midnite and Civil_Disobedient were merely joking around, as it turns out, when I mentioned the above via email. I was not sure, though, when I read first them. It's so hard to tell what people's intentions are sometimes. You read the comments in the mood you have, not the mood you want. But all is good and enough said. Merry War On Christmas, Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings and so forth.
posted by y2karl at 7:23 AM on December 19, 2006

a few comments removed -- take it to MetaTalk.
posted by jessamyn at 11:00 AM on December 19, 2006

No point--it was a nonevermind hours ago.
posted by y2karl at 11:18 AM on December 19, 2006

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