cover image The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records: A Great Migration Story, 1917–1932

The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records: A Great Migration Story, 1917–1932

Scott Blackwood. LSU, $34.95 (216p) ISBN 978-0-8071-7914-7

This spirited chronicle by novelist Blackwood (See How Small) charts the history of the influential Paramount Records. The label started out producing records by pop crooners and dance bands, but in 1923 Paramount hired J. Mayo Williams, the first Black executive at a white record company, whose connections in Chicago’s jazz and blues scenes led him to sign such legendary artists as Ma Rainey and Jelly Roll Morton. Williams set up an office in Chicago, hired songwriter Thomas Dorsey (who would later become known as the “father of gospel”), and produced records by jazz artists Freddie Keppard and King Oliver. By 1927, business was flourishing and Williams set his sights on expanding the label’s roster, hiring music scouts to search the Mississippi Delta and backwoods juke joints for blues talent, leading to the signing of Son House, Skip James, and Charley Patton. The Depression, Blackwood relates, cut into the label’s fortunes and amid declining sales, Paramount closed its doors in 1932. Abrupt shifts from present tense accounts of the label’s major figures to past tense reflections on their legacies disrupt the otherwise immersive storytelling, but blues and jazz aficionados will relish the stories about some the greatest musicians of the era. This brisk primer is worth a spin. Photos. (Mar.)