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Recorded Music in American LifeThe Phonograph and Popular Memory, 1890-1945$
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William Howland Kenney

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780195171778

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195171778.001.0001

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African American Blues and the Phonograph

African American Blues and the Phonograph

From Race Records to Rhythm and Blues

(p.109) 6 African American Blues and the Phonograph
Recorded Music in American Life

William Howland Kenney

Oxford University Press

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

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