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~ By Megan Katz

How did a Wisconsin chair company, producing records on the cheap and run by men with little knowledge of their audience or the music business, build one of the greatest musical rosters ever assembled under one roof?

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Photo courtesy of UW Center for the Humanities

From April 23-25 2015, The Center for the Humanities will present The Rise and Fall and Rise of Paramount Records, a three-day program exploring the music, history and artists of Wisconsin’s own Paramount Records. The events, workshops, and listening sessions will take place at UW-Madison, The Wisconsin Historical Museum, and the Bubbler at the Madison Central Public Library. Special guests include Dean Blackwood owner of Revenant Records and Executive Producer of The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, and Amanda Petrusich, author of Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78 RPM Records (2014).

This program takes its inspiration from “The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records 1917-1932” a curated release of 1600 newly re-mastered tracks, 290 fully restored original Paramount ads and images, 760 pages of discography and artist portraits, and an art book detailing the history of the record company from Grafton, Wisconsin, “that would become a ‘race records’ powerhouse. This historic compilation was produced by Revenant Records (John Fahey & Dean Blackwood) and Third Man Records (Jack White) and includes an unrivaled roster of performers, including ‘jazz titans (Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton), vaudeville songsters (Papa Charlie Jackson), the first solo guitar bluesmen (Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake), theater blues divas (Ma Rainey, Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters), gospel (Norfolk Jubilee Quartette), masters of Mississippi blues (Charley Patton, Son House, Skip James) and the indefinable other (Geeshie Wiley, Elvie Thomas).’

This groundbreaking archive of vernacular American music provides a window into the America of the 1920s and 30s, where Paramount was becoming the first, and perhaps most important, chronicler of the sounds of an urban/rural, black/white, and secular/sacred America. Through its open-door recording policy Paramount became an unintentional documentarian of this critical era in American popular culture.

Photo courtesy of UW Center for the Humanities
Photo courtesy of UW Center for the Humanities

Join us on April 23-25 to hear selections from Paramount collection, learn about the musicians who recorded there, and learn about the history of the company. We’ll discuss the culture of collecting, the history of recording technology, and highlight Wisconsin’s unexpected place in the history of American blues and folk music, with special attention to the richness of the archival holdings of the UW-Madison libraries.

“The Rise and Fall and Rise of Paramount Records” is presented by the UW-Madison Center for the Humanities in partnership with UW-Madison Libraries, the Wisconsin Historical Museum, the Madison Public Library, Mad City Music Exchange, and Rabble: Software for Libraries. All events are free and open to the public. For more information please our website.

The Rise and Fall and Rise of Paramount Records

All Events are Free and Open to the Public

Sounds Transformed: From Analog Capture to Digital Formats

Thursday, April 23 at 3:00 pm * Room 313, University Club Building, 432 E. Campus Mall

  • Jeremy Morris, Assistant Professor of Media and Cultural Studies, UW-Madison
  • Craig Eley, ACLS Public Fellow, To the Best of Our Knowledge
  • Dean Blackwood, Owner, Revenant Records; Executive Producer, The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records
  • Amanda Petrusich, Author, Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78 RPM Records (2014)

With Paramount as the starting point, we’ll examine how capture and playback of sound has evolved from early analog and electrical recording technologies to new digital formats, and how this affects the value of the recording as cultural artifact.

Music in a Box: The Containment and Commodification of Paramount Records

Thursday, April 23 at 5:30 pm * Room L140 Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, 800 University Ave.

  • Ann Smart Martin, Professor of Art History and Director, Material Culture Program, UW-Madison
  • Craig Werner, Professor of Afro-American Studies, UW-Madison
  • Dean Blackwood, Owner, Revenant Records; Executive Producer, The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records
  • Amanda Petrusich, Author, Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78 RPM Records (2014)

Moderated by Steve Paulson, Executive Producer,To the Best of Our Knowledge

This moderated conversation will unbox the Paramount Records story, discussing notable songs, addressing issues of commodification, the creation of artificial barriers between “black” and “white” music, the early history of the phonograph and record cabinet, and the physical containment of music.

The Other Sides of Paramount Records

Friday, April 24, 2015 at Noon * Wisconsin Historical Museum, 30 N. Carroll Street

  • Tom Caw, Music Public Services Librarian, Mills Music Library, UW-Madison
  • Dean Blackwood, Owner, Revenant Records; Executive Producer, The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records

Though best known for its blues recordings, Paramount released hundreds of records in dozens of genres, including work by a number of Wisconsin artists recording Old Time music, polka, dance orchestra, and Stoughton’s own Jack Penewell, playing Hawaiian steel guitar. Come hear the music and tales of the musicians who made it.

Music and Media: Live Sounds, Silk Screens, and the Story of Paramount Records

Saturday, April 25 – 9:30am to 1:00pm * Bubbler Room, Madison Public Library, 201 W. Mifflin Street

  • Matthew Bindert, Printmaker and Artist-Mentor at Artworking
  • Simon Balto, Musician and PhD Candidate in History and Afro-American Studies, UW-Madison
  • Jeffrey Kollath, Public Humanities Program Manager, UW-Madison Center for the Humanities
Photo courtesy of UW Center for the Humanities
Photo courtesy of UW Center for the Humanities

A hands-on, all-ages workshop featuring a live performance by Simon Balto, a record album silk screening workshop with graphic artist Matthew Bindert, free art projects using old vinyl records, and a listening lab with record players, reel-to-reel tape decks, and more, all while learning about the unique history of Paramount Records. Art supplies donated by Mad City Music Exchange.

 

http://www.tonemadison.com/articles/dean-blackwood-on-an-unwittingly-essential-wisconsin-record-label/