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Paramount Records

paramount records, paramount records discography
Paramount Records was an American record label known for its recordings of jazz and blues in the 1920s and early 1930s, including such artists as Ma Rainey and Blind Lemon Jefferson


  • 1 Early years
  • 2 Race records
  • 3 Broadway Records
  • 4 Depression, closure, reissues
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links

Early yearsedit

Paramount Records was founded in 1917 by the Wisconsin Chair Company1 The label's offices were located in Port Washington, Wisconsin and the pressing plant was in Grafton The label was managed by Fred Dennett Key2

The Wisconsin Chair Company made wooden phonograph cabinets for Edison Records In 1915 it started making its own phonographs in the name of its subsidiary, the United Phonograph Corporation It made phonographs under the Vista brand name through the end of the decade; the line failed commercially

In 1918, a line of records debuted on the Paramount label They were recorded and pressed by a Chair Company subsidiary, the New York Recording Laboratories, Inc which, despite its name, was located in the same Wisconsin factory as the parent concern in Port Washington Advertisements, however, stated: "Paramounts are recorded in our own New York laboratory"

In its early years, the Paramount label fared only slightly better than the Vista phonograph line The product had little to distinguish itself Paramount released pop recordings with average audio quality pressed on average quality shellac With the coming of electric recording, both the audio fidelity and the shellac quality declined to well below average, although some Paramount records were well pressed on better shellac and have become collectible

Paramount Records ad, 1919

In the early 1920s, Paramount was accumulating debt while producing no profit Paramount began offering to press records for other companies on a contract basis at low prices

Race recordsedit

Paramount was contracted to press discs for Black Swan Records When the Black Swan company later floundered, Paramount bought out Black Swan and made records by and for African-Americans These so-called race music records became Paramount's most famous and lucrative business, especially its legendary 12000 series

Paramount's race record series was launched in 1922 with vaudeville blues songs by Lucille Hegamin and Alberta Hunter3 The company had a large mail-order operation which was a key to its early success2

Most of Paramount's race music recordings were arranged by black entrepreneur J Mayo Williams "Ink" Williams, as he was known, had no official position with Paramount, but he was given wide latitude to bring African-American talent to the Paramount recording studios and to market Paramount records to African-American consumers Williams did not know at the time that the "race market" had become Paramount's prime business and that he was keeping the label afloat

Problems with low fidelity and poor pressings continued Blind Lemon Jefferson's 1926 hits, "Got the Blues" and "Long Lonesome Blues", were quickly rerecorded in the superior facilities of Marsh Laboratories, and subsequent releases used the rerecorded version Both versions were released on compilation albums

In 1927, Ink Williams moved to competitor Okeh Records, taking Blind Lemon Jefferson with him for just one recording, "Matchbox Blues" Paramount's recording of the same song can be compared with Okeh's on compilation albums In 1929, Paramount was building a new studio in Grafton, so it sent Charley Patton —"sent up" by Jackson, Mississippi, storeowner H C Speir —to the studio of Gennett Records in Richmond, Indiana, where on June 14 he cut 14 famous sides, which led many to consider him the "Father of the Delta Blues"4

Broadway Recordsedit

As the 12000 race series sold well, Paramount's 20000 popular series floundered Paramount turned to its dime-store label, Broadway Records, which was taken over by Paramount following the collapse of Bridgeport Die & Machine Company in 1924 Besides making its own recordings of regional bands and popular artists, Broadway issued scores of records from leased master recordings, including those from Emerson Records, Banner, and later Crown Alternate takes were often issued on the Broadway label Montgomery Ward sold Broadway records, but it is not known if they had an exclusive contract Broadway records can still found in junk shops, which suggests that they sold wellcitation needed Broadway outlived Paramount The American Record Corporation took over the label in the early 1930s, and in 1935 Decca Records issued a number of records on the Broadway label probably fulfilling the Wards contractcitation needed

Depression, closure, reissuesedit

The Great Depression drove many record companies out of business Paramount stopped recording in 1932 and closed in 1935

In 1948 Paramount was bought by John Steiner, who revived the label for reissues of important historical recordings and new recordings of jazz and blues In 1952 Steiner leased reissue rights to a newly formed jazz label, Riverside Records Riverside reissued 10" and then 12" LPs by many blues singers in the Paramount catalog, as well as jazz by such Chicago-based notables as Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band which included a young Louis Armstrong, Johnny Dodds, Muggsy Spanier, and Meade Lux Lewis The Riverside label remained active until 1964 The rights to Paramount's back catalog were acquired by George H Buck in 1970 The use of the name "Paramount Records" was purchased from Buck by Paramount Pictures, a previously unconnected company

Like other record companies during the Great Depression, Paramount sold most of its master recordings as scrap metal Some of the company's recordings were said to have been thrown into the Milwaukee River by disgruntled employees when the company was closing in the mid-1930s5 A 2006 episode of the PBS television show History Detectives showed divers searching the river for Paramount masters and unsold 78s, but they were unsuccessful6 Author Amanda Petrusich also dived into the river to find some records for her 2014 book Do Not Sell At Any Price, but did not find any7

When Riverside re-released the original recordings, they used records from the collection of John Hammond8

John Fahey's Revenant Records and Jack White's Third Man Records issued two volumes of remastered tracks from Paramount's catalog, The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Volume One 1917–27 and The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Volume Two 1928–32, on vinyl records with a USB drive for digital access9 Each volume features 800 songs, contemporary ads and images 200 in volume one and 90 in volume 2, two books a history of Paramount and a guide to the artists and recordings and six 180-gram vinyl LPs, packaged in a hand-crafted oak case modeled after those that carried phonographs in the 1920s10

See alsoedit

  • List of record labels
  • Paramount Records 1969
  • Puritan Records


  1. ^ Rohter, Larry 25 October 2013 "Jack White Explores History of Paramount Records" The New York Times Retrieved 4 July 2016 
  2. ^ a b Barlow, William 1989 Looking Up at Down: The Emergence of Blues Culture Philadelphia: Temple University Press p 131 ISBN 0-87722-583-4 
  3. ^ Russell, Tony 1997 The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray Dubai: Carlton Books p 12 ISBN 1-85868-255-X 
  4. ^ Grossman, Stefan 2007 Stefan Grossman's Early Masters of American Blues Guitar: Delta Blues Guitar Alfred Publishing p 41 
  5. ^ Petrusich, Amanda Do Not Sell At Any Price Scribner, 2014, p 78
  6. ^ Sussman, Lawrence 9 June 2006 "PBS Investigates Grafton Legend" Google/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 
  7. ^ Petrusich, pg 111
  8. ^ Chinen, Nate 1 March 2015 "Orrin Keepnews, Record Executive and Producer of Jazz Classics, Dies at 91" The New York Times 
  9. ^ Hudson, Alex September 24, 2013 "Jack White's Third Man Chronicles Paramount Records with Massive Box Set Housed in "Wonder-Cabinet"" Exclaimca Retrieved October 30, 2013 
  10. ^ Blistein, Jon 2013-09-24 "Jack White's Third Man Records to Co-Release Paramount Records Set" Rolling Stone Retrieved 2015-03-12 

External linksedit

  • Paramounts Home
  • 1924 Paramount catalog
  • Online Discography, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • "In A Few Fateful Years, One Record Label Blew Open The Blues" Tom Cole, NPR Weekend Edition, January 31, 2015
  • "Paramount Records" Interview with author Amanda Petrusich on Central Time show on Wisconsin Public Radio, April 22, 2015

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