So much of the music we love, from Rock to Pop to Country to today's R&B, Blues, and Jazz music, developed from some of the early legendary musicians from a century ago. And some of the most influential artists and songs from that era - most of them African Americans from Chicago and the Mississippi Delta region - were recorded in a studio in Grafton, Wisconsin.
Yes, Grafton and nearby Port Washington, beginning in 1917, housed the Wisconsin Chair Factory and its parent company, which made phonographs and the furniture that held them. So what do you want people buying when they buy a phonograph (as in, a record player?) You want them to buy records!
So, they made it happen by developing a record label. They called it Paramount Records, and it was immensely important for the development of early Blues, Jazz, and R&B music. Most of the artists were African-Americans from the Mississippi Delta area, although some were from Chicago, Memphis, and elsewhere. They included early legends like Charley Patton, Ma Rainey, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Trixie Smith, Bumble Bee Slim, Henry Townsend, Skip James, Lucille Bogan, Willie Brown, and more. While starting with recordings in New York City, during the 1920s Paramount began bringing artists by train to these small towns north of Milwaukee and had them record - often in the middle of the night - some of the earliest classic Blues music ever put down on vinyl. The label continued into the early 1930s, when the Great Depression helped end the whole works. But the music lives on, and proved to be enormously influential for the development of what would become the Country, Rhythm & Blues, Jazz, and even Rock & Roll records that were breaking out in the 1950s and 1960s, all the way to the music we have today.
Join us for a look at Paramount Records and how it lives on in Grafton and Port Washington (now two stops at the north end of the Mississippi Blues Trail) by checking out our podcast episode. You may also want to attend the Belgium Blues Bash tomorrow night or Saturday (August 28-29, 2020) to enjoy some great music saluting this history.