Paramount Music Festival highlights unique local Blues history

posted by Eric Paulsen - 

Are you aware of the great music history of Blues, Jazz, R&B, gospel, country, classical and more in... Ozaukee County? Turns out Grafton and Port Washington were music hot spots back in the day - over a century ago. From 1917 through the 1930s, Paramount Records hosted a huge variety of musicians and their studio sessions, laying groundwork for some of the most popular music genres to ever come out of this country.

Paramount Records was a subsidiary of the Wisconsin Chair Company, which had a factory along the Milwaukee River in Grafton where 78 rpm records were pressed and distributed to the nation. These recordings allowed artists such as Lawrence Welk, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Tom Dorsey and Louis Armstrong to inspire future music generations and lay the seeds for the R&B and Rock 'N Roll Eras. Between 1929 and 1932 alone, over 1,600 songs were recorded in Grafton; the output accounted for about 1/4 of the so-called "race records" of the era. 

Many of the musicians were from Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, or other points south. Most came up from Milwaukee or Chicago by train, recorded in Grafton, and stayed overnights in Port Washington, near Paramount's main offices. So many major and influential musicians cut records here that it's an official stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail. 

You can see some of this history in downtown Grafton at Paramount Plaza (right), like the walk with the piano design listing many of the legends who recorded at Paramount. It's just south of Highway 60 in Grafton, a few minutes west of I-43 and right by the Milwaukee River.

Find out more out why a chair company launched a record company here, and celebrate this heritage at Port Washington's Paramount Music Festival in Veterans Memorial Park this weekend! It's a three-day festival of artists playing Blues, Jazz, Rock, Country and more. It's a good option for Labor Day festivities. Scroll down for a poster with the lineup.

And check out more about this history with videos from the TV show History Detectives: Lost Musical Treasure below, too!

Paramount Music Festival 2018 lineup
Eric Paulsen

Eric Paulsen

I wanted to be in radio since I was four - and four decades later I still haven't grown out of it... Read more

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