Wisconsin Weekend: Blues Bash 2018

STT Spotlight: Why two small Wisconsin towns are of “Paramount” importance for early Blues, Jazz, and R&B music

Paramount Records recording of "Hangman's Blues" by Blind Lemon Jefferson, recorded in Grafton, Wisconsin.
A 78 rpm record from the 1920s, produced in a Wisconsin chair factory, from pioneering Blues musician Blind Lemon Jefferson.

In a studio inside a chair factory in Grafton run by a company in nearby Port Washington between 1917 and 1932, a little-known activity was taking place: some of the earliest Blues, R&B, Jazz, and Country classics were being recorded, pressed into 78 rpm records, and distributed by Paramount Records. Many of these artists came up from Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis, or the Mississippi Delta, most of the, African-American. Today, music fans around the world are embracing the rediscovery of these monumental – and unique – these early music sessions (also known as “race records”) were, and how its influence still affects music today. Find out more about Paramount, and the Paramount Music Festival that celebrates this history, in this episode of the State Trunk Tour Podcast:

You can find out more from the Paramount Music Association, which has been the impetus behind Paramount Plaza in downtown Grafton, which features a fountain, statues of the musicians, a “Walk of Fame,” and more. The Association, in conjunction with Visit Port Washington, also holds the Paramount Music Festival every Labor Day weekend.

Grafton Paramount Records Plaza
Paramount Plaza in Grafton, saluting musicians who recorded here 90-100 years ago and helped set the table for the music of the 20th century.
Paamount Records Blues Walk, Grafton
The Paramount Music “Walk of Fame” in downtown Grafton, noting the many legends who recorded here from 1917 to 1932.

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Grafton Paramount Records Plaza

Paramount Music Festival: Grafton & Port’s Blues history comes alive this weekend!

Who knew Ozaukee County had such a rich history with early recorded music?

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 over 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. And the Paramount Music Festival is about to celebrate it all in Port Washington this weekend!

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.

ParamountsHome.org 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 Veterans Memorial Park in Port Washington; the three-day fest will take place over Labor Day Weekend, August 31 – September 2, 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 (click on the poster below to enlarge it):

Paramount Music Festival lineup

Click for the larger image!

Friday, August 31

Tommy Bentz Band – 5:00pm
The Blues Disciples – 6:30pm
Kashmir – The Led Zeppelin Show – 8:30pm

Saturday Sept. 1

Jonny T-Bird & the Mps – Noon
Tallan Noble Latz – 1:00pm
Ivy Ford Band – 2:30pm
Katz Sass – 4:00pm
Reverend Raven & the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys with Westside Andy – 6:00pm
Altered Five Blues Band – 8:00pm

Sunday, Sept. 2

Sue DaBaco – Noon
Jay Edward Band – 1:00
The Spectaculars – 2:15pm
Paul Filipowicz – 3:30pm
Alex Wilson Band – 4:45pm
Aaron Williams & the Hoodoo – 6:00pm
The Bel Airs – 7:30pm

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

Paramount Records celebration and Paramount Music Festival Address:

Veterans Memorial Park
430 N. Lake Street
Port Washington, WI 53074