Up the Downstair

Being a weeklie podcaste from Madison, Wisconsin featuring several remarkable curiosities therein occurring being a compendium of live music from divers artistes

Lecture Series on Paramount Records Begins Today

April 23rd, 2015

The Center for the Humanities at the UW-Madison is hosting a symposium that starts today called “The Rise and Fall and Rise of Paramount Records”. Paramount was a label out of Grafton, Wisconsin and is known for having released many historically significant blues and jazz albums. Back in 2006 I attended a lecture at the Wisconsin Historical Museum about Paramount so let me quote from it:

Paramount started distributing in 1918 and was a subsidiary of the Wisconsin Chair Company in Grafton (a bit north of Milwaukee). The WCC was contracted by Edison Records (Yes, Thomas Alva) to make phonograph cabinets. Seeing a lucrative market, WCC began making phonographs themselves and decided to give away records along with them. While Paramount is today best-remembered for having released music by blues and jazz legends such as Skip James, Son House, and Louis Armstrong, the label initially released recordings of bands playing ethnic music that appealed to the locals who were mostly German.

The inspiration for the symposium is the re-release of a slew of Paramount recordings in a two-volume set called The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records which are lavish productions that each include six LPs, a USB thumb drives with something like 800 songs, and lots of reproductions of period ads. Volume 1 appeared in 2013 with the second out last autumn.

The box sets are a collaboration between Revenant Records and Jack White’s Third Man Records and so it’s not surprising that they seem to ignore all of the other genres of music that Paramount released which wouldn’t be at home on the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack such as polka, dance orchestra music, and Hawaiian steel guitar. Considering the significant German and German-American population of Milwaukee, Paramount also released waltzes, schottisches, and so on. Sorry Mr. White but the music of America goes beyond the folk music created by African-Americans and people of Anglo-Scotch decent.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Sounds Transformed: From Analog Capture to Digital Formats
Thursday, April 23 at 3:00 pm
Room 313, University Club Building, 432 E. Campus Mall
Free and Open to the Public. Directions and Parking Information here.

Jeremy Morris, Assistant Professor of Media and Cultural Studies, UW-Madison
Craig Eley, ACLS Public Fellow, To the Best of Our Knowledge
Dean Blackwood, Owner, Revenant Records; Executive Producer, The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records
Amanda Petrusich, Author, Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78 RPM Records (2014)

With Paramount as the starting point, this panel will examine how capture and playback of sound has evolved from early analog and electrical recording technologies to new digital formats, and how this affects the value of the recording as cultural artifact.

Music in a Box: The Containment and Commodification of Paramount Records
Thursday, April 23 at 5:30 pm Room
L140 Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, 800 University Ave.
Free and Open to the Public. Directions and Parking Information here.

Ann Smart Martin, Stanley and Polly Stone Professor of Art History and Director, Material Culture Program, UW-Madison
Craig Werner, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Afro-American Studies, UW-Madison
Dean Blackwood, Owner, Revenant Records; Executive Producer,The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records
Amanda Petrusich, Author, Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78 RPM Records (2014)
Moderated by Steve Paulson, Executive Producer,To the Best of Our Knowledge

This moderated conversation will “unbox” the Paramount Records story, discussing notable songs, addressing issues of commodification, the creation of artificial barriers between “black” and “white” music, the early history of the phonograph and record cabinet, and the subsequent physical containment of music.

The Other Sides of Paramount Records
Friday, April 24, 2015 at Noon
Wisconsin Historical Museum, 30 N. Carroll Street
Free and Open to the Public. Directions and Parking Information here.

Tom Caw, Music Public Services Librarian, Mills Music Library, UW-Madison
Dean Blackwood, Owner, Revenant Records; Executive Producer, The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records

Though best known for its blues recordings, Paramount released hundreds of records in dozens of genres, including work by a number of local Wisconsin artists recording Old Time (or Hillbilly) music, polka, and dance orchestra, including Stoughton’s own Jack Penewell, playing Hawaiian steel guitar. Come hear the music and tales of the musicians who made it.

Music and Media: Live Sounds, Silk Screens, and the Story of Paramount Records
Saturday, April 25 – 9:30am to 1:00pm
Bubbler Room, Madison Public Library, 201 W. Mifflin Street
Free and Open to the Public. Directions and Parking Information here

Matthew Bindert, Printmaker and Artist-Mentor at Artworking
Simon Balto, Musician and PhD Candidate in History and Afro-American Studies, UW-Madison
Jeffrey Kollath, Public Humanities Program Manager, UW-Madison Center for the Humanities

Join us for a music-filled, hands-on, all-ages Saturday morning workshop featuring a live performance by local musician Simon Balto, a record album silk screening workshop with graphic artist Matthew Bindert, free art projects, and a listening lab with record players, reel-to-reel tape decks, and more, all while learning about Wisconsin’s very own Paramount Records, a record label based in Grafton, WI that released some of the most influential blues, jazz, and folk records of the 20th century. Art supplies donated by Mad City Music Exchange. More information here, from our co-hosts at the Madison Public Library.

Related posts:

  1. History of Paramount Records
  2. The Story of Paramount Records
  3. Records Store Day 2012
  4. “And they sure as hell would kill your mother, and you."
  5. Early Music Performances

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