Grafton Paramount Records Plaza

Paramount Records: Grafton & Port’s Blues history comes alive this weekend

Grafton Paramount Records Plaza

Are you aware of the great music history of Blues, Jazz, R&B, gospel, country, classical and more in… Ozaukee County? Turns out Grafton and Port Washington were music hotspots back in the day – starting 100 years ago. From 1917 through the 1930s, Paramount Records hosted a huge variety of musicians and their studio sessions, laying groundwork for some of the most popular music genres to ever come out of this country.

Paramount Records was a subsidiary of the Wisconsin Chair Company, which had a factory along the Milwaukee River in Grafton where 78 rpm records were pressed and distributed to the nation. These recordings allowed artists such as Lawrence Welk, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Tom Dorsey and Louis Armstrong to inspire future music generations and lay the seeds for the R&B and Rock ‘N Roll Eras. Between 1929 and 1932 alone, over 1,600 songs were recorded in Grafton; the output accounted for about 1/4 of the so-called “race records” of the era.

Paamount Records Blues Walk, Grafton

Part of the Blues Walk in Grafton includes this keyboard, etched with names of Paramount Records’ performers through the years.

Many of the musicians were from Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, or other points south. Most came up from Milwaukee or Chicago by train, recorded in Grafton, and stayed overnights in Port Washington, near Paramount’s main offices. So many major and influential musicians cut records here that it’s an official stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail.

Why a Chair Company Launched a Record Company

Paramount Records operated in the Wisconsin Chair Company factory in Grafton. How did that come to be? Well, apparently the company that produced chairs and cabinets – with record players, mind you – figured they should help produce records people could play and store in their cabinets.

Paramount Music Festival celebrates Paramount Records’ 100th Anniversary does a great job researching and celebrating the history of this iconic record company and its creations. The Paramount Blues Festival started up in Grafton in 2006 to help recognize this history and bring Blues music and more to the area from today’s performers. It has since relocated to the larger grounds of Coal Dock Park in Port Washington; the three-day fest will take place over Labor Day Weekend, September 1-3 right along the shore of Lake Michigan.

Come celebrate the music history of Grafton and Port Washington at the Paramount Music Festival this weekend! Performers will include

Paramount Music Festival banner

By the way, the PBS series History Detectives covered Paramount Records and their history, scroll down to watch the videos!