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Paramount Records


Paramount Records label

Paramount Records label

Photo copyright Blues Images, courtesy John Tefteller

Paramount Records: Paramount was an independent record label particularly important to blues and jazz fans for its release of recordings in these genres during the 1920s and '30s. The label was originally formed in 1918 as a subsidiary of the Wisconsin Chair Company of Port Washington, Wisconsin. The label came about after its parent company, which had begun manufacturing Vista brand phonographs in 1915, decided to start releasing recordings to play on its equipment. Called Paramount, the label's early 78rpm recordings were of the era's pop music artists, pressed on substandard shellac by yet another Wisconsin Chair subsidiary, New York Laboratories.

While the Vista phonograph was a commercial flop and disappeared by 1920, sometime early in the decade Paramount decided to contract out its record-pressing capabilities to other labels. After they had bought out one of their customers, Paramount found itself in the business of making "race" records, primarily blues music, for the African-American market. Among the early artists signed to the label by talent scout J. Mayo Williams were Ma Rainey and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Paramount rode the "race" market for better than a decade, achieving success with a wide array of Delta blues artists, including Charley Patton, Son House, and Skip James. The economic conditions of the Great Depression all but killed independent labels during the 1930s, and Paramount closed its doors in 1935. Seven years later, Wisconsin Chair sold the label's properties to a businessman who would later lease Paramount recordings to Riverside Records, which reissued a number of the label's early records during the 1950s. In 1970, the label was again sold, to George Buck's Jazzology label.

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