Chapter

African American Blues and the Phonograph

William Howland Kenney

in Recorded Music in American Life

Published in print January 2004 | ISBN: 9780195171778
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199849789 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195171778.003.0006
                   African American Blues and the Phonograph

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Commercial recordings of music made by African Americans, discs designed by record companies to sell to African Americans, finally emerged in the 1920s as a further extension of earlier ethnic music recording programs. The phonograph's mediation of the musical experience for both performers and listeners emerges clearly enough in ethnic records, but all the more so in those marketed to African Americans. Just as the recording industry had created its spinning encapsulations of ethnicity, so too it now turned to making engravings of the sounds of race. From 1920 to 1945, the race record era, many different companies made recordings of African American music, but four major record labels—Okeh, Paramount, Brunswick/Vocalion, and Columbia—took control of the field. Race records, however, present a dilemma: several Black musicians and singers claimed that despite the rich eclectic variety of Black popular music, they were allowed to record only blues.

Keywords: African Americans; phonograph; recording industry; record labels; African American music; blues; race records; Columbia; Paramount

Chapter.  12645 words. 

Subjects: American Music

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