The Black Swan: A History of Race Records

Karl Ackermann By

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Dozens of smaller Race Record labels have been forgotten to history. Metal masters were often sold for scrap, even with the larger labels trying to liquidate assets in the face of the Great Depression. Among those largely forgotten labels was Herwin Records which issued budget jazz and blues records, only through mail-order, and Bluebird Records, also known for bargain-priced jazz and blues. Pathé Records marketed its low-cost 78s through Perfect Records, beginning in 1922. Regal Zonophone Records was a UK-based label that distributed Okeh, Victor, and Columbia Records, in Europe, and also produced local artists. Founded in 1896, Parlophone Records is a German-British joint venture that remains in business as a division of the Universal Music Group. Its UK branch produced jazz Race Records in the 1920s.

For the labels that survived in some form, broad national recognition didn't come until 1942 when Billboard published its Harlem Hit Parade chart. In 1945 they renamed the list as the Race Records chart and retained that list until June 1949, when, at the urging of the publication's journalist Jerry Wexler, the magazine changed the name to Rhythm & Blues Records. Wexler felt that "Race Records" was no longer appropriate for the times. The R&B chart lasted for twenty years when it was changed to "Soul" and then in 1982, to the "Black Chart." There were a few Race Record labels that formed after the genre had passed its prime. Chicago's Miracle Records was established in 1946 but folded in the early 1950s. The Los Angeles label, Supreme Records was started in 1947 to issue Race Records. Its roster included some top talent but legal issues forced the label to close in 1950.


Jazz the World Forgot, Vol. 1 (Yazoo Records, 1996) Various Artists

Bennie Moten, Jelly Roll Morton, and King Oliver share space on a twenty-three-track collection that includes almost forgotten names such as Sam Morgan's Jazz Band, The Pickett-Parham Apollo Syncopators and Frenchy's String Band. The Hot Jazz of Jazz the World Forgot, Vol. 1 is somewhat indistinguishable from one piece to another but the quality of the playing is impressive and the audio is better than might be expected, considering sources.

Race Records of the 1920s (Van Up Records, 2013) Various Artists

As with Jazz the World Forgot these twenty-five tracks come from some very familiar names, and some, not so much. Included in this collection are early sides from King Oliver And His Dixie Syncopators, Fletcher Henderson And His Orchestra, Clarence Williams Washboard Band, Bessie Smith, Johnny Dodds' Washboard Band, Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra, Earl Hines, and McKinney's Cotton Pickers. UK label, Van Up, specializes in Dixieland and Hot Jazz from the 1920s through 1930, all in the digital format.




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