Paramount Records was an American record label, best known for its recordings of African-American jazz and blues in the 1920s and early 1930s, including such artists as Ma Rainey and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Label of a Paramount record from 1926 Paramount Records was founded in the 1910s as a subsidiary of the Wisconsin Chair Company of Port Washington, Wisconsin, Fred Dennett Key, director.

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The chair company had made some wooden phonograph cabinets by contract for Edison Records. Wisconsin Chair decided to start making its own line of phonographs with a subsidiary called the "United Phonograph Corporation" at the end of 1915. It made phonographs under the "Vista" brand name through the end of the decade; the line failed commercially. In 1918 a line of phonograph gramophone records was debuted with the "Paramount" label. They were recorded and pressed by Chair Company subsidiary "The New York Recording Laboratories, Incorporated", which despite its name was located in the same Wisconsin factory complex as the parent concern (advertisements, however, stated somewhat misleadingly, "Paramounts are recorded in our own New York laboratory").

In its initial years, the Paramount label fared only slightly better than the "Vista Phonograph" line. The product had little to distinguish itself. Paramount offered recordings of standard pop-music fare, on records recorded with below-average audio fidelity pressed in below-average quality shellac. Paramount Records ad, 1919 In the early 1920s, Paramount was still racking up debts for the Chair Company while producing no net profit. Paramount began offering to press records for other companies at low prices. The Paramount Record pressing plant was contracted to press discs for Black Swan Records. When that later company floundered, Paramount bought out Black Swan and thus got into the business of making recordings by and for African-Americans. These so-called "race music" records became Paramount's most famous and lucrative business. Paramount's "race record" series was launched in 1922 with a few vaudeville blues songs by Lucille Hegamin and Alberta Hunter. It had a large mail-order operation that was a key to its early success.

Most of Paramount's race music recordings were arranged by Black entrepreneur J. Mayo Williams. "Ink" Williams had no official position with Paramount, but was given wide latitude to bring African-American talent to 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 he was essentially keeping the label afloat. Problems with low audio fidelity and poor pressings continued. Blind Lemon Jefferson's big 1926 hit, "Got the Blues" and "Long Lonesome Blues", had to be hurriedly rerecorded in the superior facilities of Marsh Laboratories and subsequent releases used that version; since both versions appear on compilation albums, they may be compared. In 1927, Mayo Williams moved to competitor OKeh records, taking Blind Lemon Jefferson with him for just one recording, the now classic "Matchbox Blues". Paramount's recording of the same song can be compared with OKeh's on compilation albums, to Paramount's detriment. The Great Depression drove many record companies out of business, and the initial incarnation of Paramount closed down in 1935.

In 1942 the then-inactive Paramount Records company was purchased from Wisconsin Chair Company by John Steiner, who revived the label for reissues of important historical Paramount recordings as well as new recordings of jazz and blues. In 1952, Steiner leased reissue rights to a newly-formed jazz label, Riverside Records, which reissued a substantial number of 10" and then 12" LPs by many of the blues singers in the Paramount catalog, as well as instrumental jazz by such Chicago-based notables as Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band (which included a very young Louis Armstrong), Johnny Dodds, Muggsy Spanier, and Meade Lux Lewis. Riverside remained active until 1964. The rights to Paramount's back catalogue were next acquired by George H. Buck in 1970. Buck continues to reissue Paramount recordings as part of his Jazzology Records group, but use of the name "Paramount Records" was purchased from Buck by Paramount Pictures, a previously unconnected company. As happened with a number of record companies in the Great Depression, the majority of Paramount's metal masters were sold for their scrap metal value. Some of the company's recordings were said to have been thrown into the Milwaukee River by disgruntled employees when the record company was closing down. In 2006 an episode of PBS television show History Detectives had local divers searching the river to try to find Paramount masters and unsold 78's, but they were unsuccessful.

Gennett records was founded in Richmond, Indiana by the Starr Piano Company, and released its first records in October 1917. Earlier, the company had produced recordings under the Starr Records label. The early issues were vertically cut in the gramophone record grooves, like those of Edison Disc Records, but they switched to the more usual lateral cut method in April 1919. The Starr Piano Company also produced Gennett brand home phonographs, but these did not seem to have been sold in great numbers outside of the area around Indiana.

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Gennett set up recording studios in New York City and later, in 1921, set up a second studio on the grounds of the piano factory in Richmond, Indiana under the supervision of Ezra C.A. Wickemeyer. The sides recorded in New York are generally of about typical audio fidelity for a minor label of the time, and some masters were leased from other New York area firms. The sides recorded in Richmond are decidedly below average in audio fidelity, and sometimes have a crude sound and show problems of inconsistent speed of the turntable while the master was being recorded, problems which the major labels had solved some 20 years earlier. Gennett is best remembered for the wealth of early jazz talent recorded on the label, including sessions by Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Beiderbecke, The New Orleans Rhythm Kings, "King" Joe Oliver's band with young Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael, The Original New Orleans Jazz Band, Thomas A. Dorsey, and many others. Gennett also recorded early blues artists such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charlie Patton, and Big Bill Broonzy, and early "hillbilly" or country music performers such as Vernon Dalhart, Bradley Kincaid, Ernest Stoneman, Fiddlin' Doc Roberts, and Gene Autry.

Many early religious recordings were made by Homer Rodeheaver, early shape note singers and others. Gennett issued a few early electrically recorded masters recorded in the Autograph studios of Chicago in 1925. These recordings were exceptionally crude, and like many other Autograph issues are easily mistaken for acoustic masters by the casual listener. Gennett began serious electrical recording in March 1926, using a process licensed for General Electric. This process was found by to be unsatisfactory, for although the quality of the recordings taken by the General Electric process was quite good, there were many customer complaints about the wear characteristics of the electric process records.

The composition of the Gennett biscuit (record material) was of insufficient hardness to withstand the increased wear that resulted when the new recordings with their greatly increased frequency range were played on obsolete phonographs with mica diaphragm reproducers. The company discontinued recording by this process in August 1926, and did not return to electric recording until February 1927, after signing a new agreement to license the RCA Photophone recording process. At this time the company also introduced an improved record biscuit which was adequate to the demands imposed by the electric recording process. The improved records were identified by a newly designed black label touting the "New Electrobeam" process.

The Gennett Company was hit severely by the Great Depression in 1930, and massively cut back on record recording and production until it was halted all together in 1934. At this time the only product Gennett Records produced under its own name was a series of recorded sound effects for use by radio stations. In 1935 the Starr Piano Company sold some Gennett masters, and the Gennett and Champion trademarks to Decca Records. Jack Kapp of Decca was primarily interested in some jazz, blues and old time music items in the Gennett catalog which he thought would add depth to the selections offered by the newly organized Decca company. Kapp also attempted to revive the Gennett and Champion labels between 1935 and 1937 as specialists in bargain pressings of Race and Old-time music with but little success. The Starr record plant soldiered on under the supervision of Harry Gennett through the remainder of the decade by offering contract pressing services. For a time the Starr Piano Company was the principle manufacturer of Decca records, but much of this business dried up after Decca purchased its own pressing plant in 1938 (the Newaygo, MI plant that formerly pressed Brunswick and Vocalion records). In the years remaining before World War II, Gennett did contract pressing for a number of New York based jazz and folk music labels, including Joe Davis, Keynote and Asch. With the declaration of war in December 1941 War Industries Board declared shellac a rationed commodity, and newly organized record labels were forced to purchase their shellac allocations from existing companies. Joe Davis purchased the Gennett shellac allocation, some of which he used for his own labels, and some of which he sold to the newly organised Capitol Records. Harry Gennett intended to use the funds from the sale of his shellac ration to modernise this pressing plant after Victory, but there is no indication that he did so, Gennett sold increasingly small numbers of special purpose records (mostly sound effects, skating rink, and church tower chimes) until 1947 or 1948, and the business then seemed to just fade away The Gennett company produced the Gennett, Starr, Champion, Superior, and Van Speaking labels, and also produced some Supertone, Silvertone, and Challenge records under contract. The firm pressed most Autograph, Rainbow, Hitch, KKK, Our Song, and Vaughn records under contract.

Gennett Walk of Fame: In September 2007, the Starr-Gennett Foundation began to recognize the most important Gennett artists on the Gennett Walk of Fame near the site of Gennett's Richmond, Indiana recording studio. The Gennett Walk of Fame is located along South 1st Street in Richmond at the site of the Starr Piano Company and embedded in the Whitewater Gorge Trail, which connects to the longer Cardinal Greenway Trail. Both trails are part of the American Discovery Trail, the only coast-to-coast, non-motorized recreational trail. Markers are three-dimensional, cast bronze and colored tile mosaic emblems in the form of 78 rpm phonograph records. Each marker features the classic Gennett label design and an artistic mosaic rendering of the represented musician. A smaller bronze plaque is installed next to each record to recognize the accomplishments of the inductee. The Foundation estimates the Walk of Fame eventually will contain up to 80 markers. The Foundation convened its National Advisory Board for the first time in January, 2006, to select the first 10 inductees for the Gennett Records Walk of Fame. The Advisory Board selects inductees from these categories: classic jazz, old-time country, blues, gospel (African-American and Southern), American popular song, ethnic, historic/spoken, and classical, giving preference to classic jazz, old-time country, blues, gospel, and American popular song. The Advisory Board's consensus selection for the first inductee in the Gennett Walk of Fame was Louis Armstrong.

The following is a list of the first ten inductees: * Louis Armstrong * Bix Beiderbecke * Jelly Roll Morton * Hoagy Carmichael * Gene Autry * Vernon Dalhart * Big Bill Broonzy * Georgia Tom * Joe "King" Oliver * Lawrence Welk A second set of ten nominees was inducted in 2008: * Homer Rodeheaver * Fats Waller * Duke Ellington * Uncle Dave Macon * Coleman Hawkins * Charley Patton * Sidney Bechet * Blind Lemon Jefferson * Fletcher Henderson * Guy Lombardo