Swede Home Chicago: The Wallin’s Svenska Records Story, 1923-27

November 5, 2021

We are pleased to announce that Swede Home Chicago: The Wallin’s Svenska Records Story, 1923-27, a 2-CD set produced by Archeophone Records in cooperation with Mills Music Library and the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, with partial support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, is now here and available for borrowing.

Chicago, the most populous Swedish city after Stockholm, was also home to the first record label founded by a Nordic immigrant to the United States. Gustaf Waldemar Wallin, a former crofter from Sweden’s rocky western coast, owned a music shop and launched Wallin’s Svenska Records, issuing 28 ten-inch shellac discs (56 tracks) from 1923 to 1927. Performers ran the era’s gamut: raucous vaudevillians; operatic tenors; accordion dance bands intermingling venerable folk tunes with hot jazz; sedate classical duos and novelty bell ringers; rousing vocal quartets and massed choirs; seasoned professionals and moonlighting amateurs. Further, Wallin’s discs were recorded by two important entrepreneurs with Chicago studios: evangelist Homer Rodeheaver, who made acoustic records, and Orlando Marsh, who pioneered in the field of electrical recording. 

Comprising two CDs remastered from rare discs, Swede Home Chicago includes a richly illustrated 76-page booklet—co-authored by folklorists Jim Leary and Marcus Cederström, and Archeophone’s Richard Martin—featuring an essay on the label’s history, performers’ biographies, track notes, Swedish lyrics, and English translations, combining to illuminate a vibrant bygone musical scene that expands our understanding of America’s perpetual musical pluralism.

We have 13 Wallin’s Svenska Records 78 rpm records, which Audio-Visual Preservation Archivist Nate Gibson transferred and contributed to the set. Some of these recordings are also available online in Local Centers/Global Sounds: Historic Recordings and Midwestern Musical Vernaculars, via UW Digital Collections. For example: Hör oss Svea, by Gunnar Wennerberg, a live recording of the 1200-member chorus Svensk Amerikanska Sångarförbundet made during the 20th Swedish Singing festival, circa June 26, 1924 in Chicago.

Label of Wallin's Svenska Records 78 rpm record, "Hör oss Svea," Svensk Amerikanska Sångarförbundet. 113-A

Gibson also travelled to Chicago with Jim Leary and Marcus Cederström to do research at the Swedish American Museum, scouring their collections and bringing their Wallin’s Svenska Records 78s and record sleeves back to Mills. Nate also contributed to the discographical research side of things with matrix numbers and pressing information.

Archeophone Records includes brief sound excerpts for all 56 tracks on its Swede Home Chicago page. Archeophone also has guest blog posts about the project on their site: The Hunt for Wallin’s Svenska Records, and Wallin’s Performers: Beyond Anonymity, both by Jim Leary; Transcription, Translation, and Operatic Tenors, and The Captain and The Jazz Boy, both by Marcus Cederström.

Leary and Cederström are giving a free online program titled Historic Sounds from Swedish Chicago: An Immigrant Record Label Revealed, in which they will discuss Swede Home Chicago: Wallin’s Svenska Records, 1923-1927, presented by The Swedish-American Historical Society, at noon Central Time on Sunday, November 7, 2021, via Zoom. Participants will receive the Zoom link ahead of the event.