Presentation: Swede Home Chicago: The Wallin’s Svenska Records Story, 1923-1927

September 25, 2023

Swede Home Chicago: The Wallin’s Svenska Records Story, 1923-27
Tuesday, October 3, 2023
4:00-5:30 p.m.
Memorial Library, Room 126, 728 State St
Free and Open to the Public

Immigrant recording artists have made significant yet often overlooked contributions to their diasporic communities and larger American life since the late 19th century. Since 2016, Mills Music Library and Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures have collaborated with Archeophone Records on the award-winning Ethnic and Foreign Language series, including the Grammy-nominated Alpine Dreaming: The Helvetia Records Story, 1920-1924, featuring rare Swiss recordings issued in the 1920s on Monroe, Wisconsin’s Helvetia label.

Richard Martin and Meagan Hennessey from Grammy-winning Archeophone Records, UW Emeritus Professor and two-time Grammy nominee Jim Leary, and Marcus Cederström from the Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic+ will offer a multimedia presentation on their latest collaboration with Mills, Swede Home Chicago: The Wallin’s Svenska Records Story, 1923-1927. We had hoped to schedule this presentation when Swede Home Chicago got released in 2021, but the global pandemic disrupted those plans.

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. 

We have 13 Wallin’s Svenska Records 78 rpm records, which Audio-Visual Preservation Archivist Nate Gibson transferred and contributed to the 2-CD set Swede Home Chicago. 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

Offering insights into the collecting, archiving, sonic restoring, researching, and reissuing of rare historic sound recordings, the October 3rd event will also highlight the recent discovery of a “lost” Wallin’s disc of recordings by the still mysterious accordionist Berg Brothers, who barnstormed the Upper Midwest in support of a Swedish strongman who bent horseshoes with his teeth.

This event is free and open to the public and is sponsored by the Nordic Folklife Project, the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, and Mills Music Library.