Race Records (AtoZ Challenge 2016 – Jazz Age Jazz)

Race Records (Jazz Age Jazz Series) In the 1920s, black jazz was very different form white jazz. That's why the two market were separete and diverse. Race records were almost only bought by African Americans

 

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R - Race Records (AtoZ Challenge 2016)

The 1920s were the golden age of the recording industry. True, it was the dawn of that business, it was still rough and clumsy, but it offered an array of completely new possibilities to make money.

Offerings of recording aimed to a particular audience began when record companies realised there was an untapped market of new immigrants yarning for the sound of home. Catalogues of ethnic records were produced specifically for this market and included re-pressed recordings form Europe and new recording by American immigrants artists. These records were marketed directly to the specific ethnic community and seldom found their way outside of that context.

Harry H. Pace

Harry H. Pace – Founder of Balck Swan Records

The first jazz record specifically labelled as such was recorded in 1917 by the Original Dixieland Jass Band, a white band originally from New Orleans. Not until 1920 black musicians and singers started to be recorded with any regularity. That was the year in which black composer and pianist Perry Bradford championed a young entertainer named Mamie Smith, who recorded a version of Bradford’s Crazy Blues with the General Phonographer’s Company OKeh label. It was a huge success. It sold 75.000 copies the first week in Harlem alone and prompted OKeh Records to launch their own ‘race records’ line, the first ethnic line specifically produced for African Americans.
Soon, other white-owned record companies followed in OKeh’s footsteps and the outstanding success of these records had in African American communities across the nation made it possible for smaller – and often short-lived – black-owned companies to open business. Among these, Black Swan was the most pre-eminent.

Race Records were sold practically only to African Americans and based their appeal to authenticity to a variety of qualities including musical characteristics, performer reputation, the race of performers and even the race of the company employees and owners. In fact the name ‘race records’, that whites might have connected to segregation, probably had a very different meaning for African Americans who in the 1920s were strongly called to upholding the Race pride.

Race records didn’t just offer blues, although that was the main and more popular subject. They also featured sermons, minstrel songs, spirituals and gospel tunes, popular song and some early jazz.
Sales reached 5 million copies a year. Newsboys sold blues records. So did door-to-door salesmen. Pullman porters carried copies south with them and paddled them in whistle shops.
They were hugely popular.

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RESOURCES

Ogren, Kathy J., The Jazz Revolution. Twenties America and the Meaning of Jazz. Oxford University Press, New York, 1989

Shmoop – Race in blues music history
Encyclopedia Britannica – Race Records
The Library of Congress – African American Performers on Early sound Recordings (1892-1916)
The People History – 1920s Music
PBS – Jazz
CentreStage – Race Records

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About the Author

jazzfeathers
I was born, raised and I still live near Verona (Italy), though I worked for a time in Dublin. I started writing fantasy stories as a kid. Today I’m a bookseller who reads fantasy, history, mythology, anthropology and lots of speculative fiction. Somehow, all of this has found its way into my own dieselpunk stories.

14 Comments on "Race Records (AtoZ Challenge 2016 – Jazz Age Jazz)"

  1. It always takes one pioneer to start the gold rush, doesn’t it. I wonder what percentage of the recordings have survived, what with it being such a particular market.
    Tasha
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)
    Tasha recently posted…R – Ellen Rimbauer – Fictional Phantoms #AtoZChallenge 2016My Profile

    • I’m no expert, but I suppose quite a lot. These records were very popular, there was a great number of them produced every year.
      Besides, it isn’t difficult to find recordings from the era even on you tube. I suppose most of them come from race records. Black music wasn’t really listen to outside the African American community, back in those days.

  2. Recording companies have come a long way. Wish I had some of those old records!

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Arlee Bird recently posted…Record Stores (#atozchallenge)My Profile

  3. Wow! I would love to listen to some of those first recorded songs!

  4. I can only imagine how thrilling it must have been for people to have records of their own music, sermons, stories. I wonder how many have survived all these years.

    @Kathleen01930
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  5. I had no idea about this! Like Arlee said, I would love to get my hands on some of those old records!
    Megan Morgan recently posted…R – Red HerringMy Profile

  6. I first heard the term “race records” when I was 20 or 21, and in the homestretch of the first draft of my first Russian historical. The source I found it in said it referred to jazz records, as a kind of euphemism for letting white folks know this was music made by African–Americans. The source also said they were typically only sold in African–American stores, in places like Harlem, never white establishments.
    Carrie-Anne recently posted…The Semicircular Hall, the Sorbonne, and St. Serafim of SarovMy Profile

  7. 1917!! Wow! The first Jazz record came out that early! amazing!
    Shilpa Garg recently posted…Unconditional#AtoZChallenge @AprilA2ZMy Profile

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