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Scott Blackwood

The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records

Published by LSU Press

Aug 07, 2023 Bookmark and Share

Scott Blackwood’s The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, subtitled A Great Migration Story 1917-1932, chronicles the history of Paramount Records, the first major record company to explode in the United States, focusing on largely blues, jazz, and folk music. Begun in the early 1900s as a subsidiary of a Wisconsin chair-making company after the explosion of interest in records, and whose famous demise featured the story of factory workers hurling their company’s product into the Milwaukee River after being fired in December of 1933, Paramount Records is infamous for bringing to the world such luminaries as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ma Rainey, Son House, Charley Patton, and Ethel Waters.

Blackwood’s history is not exactly what you might think. It does not follow a linear path, instead telling the the Paramount’s story through a series of chapters which take on specific topics or artists. For example, “A Brief History of the Phonograph” and “A Brief History of Black Minstrelsy” sit alongside chapters of Blind Blake, label man Mayo Williams, and Clarence Williams and his jazz piano. As such, it sometimes feels like the reader is piecing the label’s story together themself. In addition, at fewer than 200 pages, The Rise and Fall seems unusually brief for what it purports to do in recounting the tale of one of America’s first and premier record labels, which came from inauspicious beginnings, is lush with history, is complicated with issues of race, and which fell in most awesome fashion at the time of the Great Depression.

That all said, The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records is essential reading for anyone who wants to dig into the history of American music. [The previous tome, Alex van der Tuuk’s Paramount’s Rise and Rall: The Roots and History of Paramount Records, from which much of Blackwood’s information is taken, has been long out of print.] Just understand the limitations herein and take from it what is valuable rather than bemoaning what it may lack.


Author rating: 6.5/10

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