Category Archives: Music Advocacy

First Chairperson for Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame

Names in the Paramount Walk of Fame through 2008

Grafton, WI

Chairperson of International Committee:   Angie Mack Reilly

(Patriarch of St. Louis Blues) Henry “The Mule” Townsend
(Father of the Delta Blues) Charlie Patton
(Mother of the Blues) “Ma” Rainey
(First Country Blues Star) Blind Lemon Jefferson
(Mississippi Blues Legend) “Skip” James
(Father of Gospel Music) Thomas A. Dorsey
(America’s Jazz Ambassador) Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong
(Preeminent Mississippi Bluesman) Eddie James “Son” House Jr.
(American Jazz Pioneer) Joe “King” Oliver
(King of Ragtime Guitar) Arthur “Blind” Blake

Follow Angie’s Paramount Records Educational Facebook Page

 

 

 

Campaign for Grafton Record Factory Site: Americana

Originally published on https://ozaukeetalent.com 10.11.17

Photo by Angie Mack Reilly

Save Americana! Save Grafton WI Record Factory Site #GoFundMe

A·mer·i·ca·na

əˌmerəˈkänə,əˌmerəˈkanə/

noun

  1. things associated with the culture and history of America, especially the United States.

“This fundraiser is a long shot. Maybe. Maybe not.

I drive past the former record factory/recording studio site several times a day.

The home was built on the property in 1961 after the record plant was demolished. I heard that it was bought and renovated by an architect who owns several Milwaukee River properties. In fact, I do believe that this same architect developed the million dollar home across the river from this one. I know his name. I have spoken with him about the importance of the music history in this area. I also believe that I gave him a Paramount Walking Tour Booklet. This was several years ago. Apparently, he is not interested in preserving the history of this property to my knowledge.

Of course, someone who works in any type of real estate is going to want to profit off of this property. And guess what? In all reality, it will probably sell quite soon.

You see, I own a home as well as a music business (Ozaukee Talent) within a few blocks of this location. I have lived in Grafton for almost 22 years now. So I understand a lot of the “inside scoop”.

Within recent years, Grafton has embraced some large scale development projects including Aurora hospital. The population of Grafton is becoming more diverse and homes are selling quite quickly with all of the new physicians and hospital staff moving in.

For many years, I tried to get a Paramount Museum in Grafton. I was part of the Grafton Historic Preservation Commission and Downtown Development Ad Hoc Committee to name a few. I worked closely with the Village President, Village Administrator, Village developers and more.

Some of the Early Articles About Our Efforts

At one point, we had a list of “museum artifacts” so that we could keep track of our inventory. We considered several destinations for a museum in Grafton, including this one. But, at the time, it was owned by a single property owner who, I assume, just wanted to live peacefully along the river without any bother of tourists. There wasn’t anything that we could do with it being owned.

So the tourists would come to Grafton. International tourists. They would go to the Grafton Chamber of Commerce to try to find out where the museum was in Grafton. The Chamber would send people TO MY HOUSE. I kid you not. Why? Because for many years, I have been known as the local historian on the matter. So I would volunteer my time and spend half of the day with visitors from Russia, Germany, France, Japan, New York, California, New Orleans, the UK and more. I have even given “the tour” to school groups which has proven to be very educational.

Anyhow. Long story short.

No Paramount museum in Grafton. LOTS of meetings and thousands of volunteer time and years on my part. Plans. Emails. You know. But in the end? Not a lot of action. So I pretty much gave up on the idea of trying to preserve the music history of Grafton.

2000-2008 Leaving Legacies

Apparently, Port Washington WI is in the process of getting “The Blues Factory” which would include a museum. It seems to me that is another project with a lot of talk and very little action. Nobody has approached me from that development project to help get involved……which, to me, is a bit…..odd. It would also supposedly house a theater. I work in theater for a living.

LINK TO #GOFUNDME CAMPAIGN

Ever since the house on the former pressing plant went up for sale, I have thought to myself, “Gosh…I wish I had the money to buy that property and actually DO SOMETHING that commemorates the history.

As a business owner, music teacher, musical producer, etc…..I am quite busy. But yesterday, as I was driving around doing some errands, I thought,

“I HAVE TO AT LEAST TRY.”

There is a window of opportunity for this home to be some sort of destination that would be educational.

I can’t really claim outright what it will become. I am sure that there are zoning rules. That is why, at minimum, I think that it’s safe to say that this home could remain residential yet house a recording studio or some other type of educational facility. In all honesty, I don’t know what the Village of Grafton rules are about making the home a business.

I just know that the world of music should preserve this property to commemorate the artists who recorded here and had their records mass produced and shipped from here.

It’s Americana.

Like I said, someone with money will probably purchase the home. And the history and story of this important American landmark will be pushed into the background and eventually forgotten about. And I will still have to drive past this property on a daily basis.

1802 South Green Bay Road

People. We have an opportunity.

Yes. It’s a “long-shot”. They are asking a lot for this home. Why? Because it’s been renovated to sell big and make a nice profit.

This is the same location that PBS History Detectives filmed “Lost Musical Treasure“. You can search for the 2 episodes on YouTube. I pitched the show idea to the show producers and corresponded with and educated them for at least a year before the show was even filmed. I also worked with playwright Kevin Ramsey to ensure the historical accuracy of his musical “Grafton City Blues” which has since been renamed “Chasin’ Dem Blues”.

I am an educator. I also teach music for a living. Right now, I have about 40 private students per week. I am also producing Disney’s The Lion King for the North Shore Academy of the Arts at the Cedarburg Performing Arts Center.

Music is my life. I have been teaching and performing for at least 18 years now.

As an educator and musician, I would be a fool not to at least TRY to preserve this property.

I admit, it’s a tough time in America to give right now. With the new administration, hurricanes, threat of nuclear war, shootings and racial conflicts going on, people have more things to think about than giving to projects like this. If you can’t give, it’s OK. No judgement.

But with my connections (and your connections), maybe there are some people out there with some means who care about preserving this vital cultural history that has literally shaped popular culture around the globe.

As I used to pen, “They made history when the needle hit the wax.” (Some of the early recordings were etched into wax!) That’s why Jack White made his Grammy-award winning Paramount “box sets”…. to preserve the music history. Oh yes. I have tried talking to him as well. Not an easy guy to get a hold of. And I was told that their recent purchases and developments as a business have been quite substantial. (They created their own “record factory” for making vinyl.)

At the end of the day, I just want to say that I tried one last time. –Angie”

Grafton WI Record Factory Courtesy of Paramountshome.org

Update:  The house was purchased shortly after this writing and appears to be solely residential.  Zero dollars were given to this GoFundMe campaign.

Angie’s Early Pioneering Activism for Obscure Local Blues History (2004-07)

Contact:  angie@ozaukeetalent.com for speaking engagments and interviews

December 2004
Angela got in touch with Alex van der Tuuk and began corresponding with him on a regular basis and reading his book

January 2005
ParamountsHome goes online, collects data, and begins networking locally and worldwide

April 2005
Kris of the Grafton Jaycees begins to tackle the project of putting on a blues festival in Grafton after Angie proposed the idea to the group.

May 2005
Angela gets in touch with Michael “Hawkeye” Herman and he begins encouraging her and mentoring her toward her goals.

September 2005
Joe Krupski approaches the Grafton Planning Commission to open a Paramount Restaurant

September 2005
Michael “Hawkeye” Herman does Blues in the Schools for all 3 Grafton Elementary Schools (Thanks to principal Scott Oftedahl, area music teachers and Kennedy P.A.C.E.)

Fall 2005
“Embrace the Legacy” concert series designed to educate adults about Paramount at the Timothy Wooden Building/North Shore Academy of the Arts (Thanks to Barbara Krause and Grafton Area Live Arts)

October 2005
Angie pitches the “Paramount Blues Festival” to the Cedarburg Cultural Center.  Angie helped plan the event featuring Ann Rabson, Fruitland Jackson, and a Paramount panel discussion

October 2005
Ad Hoc Committee forms to discuss the possibilities of incorporating the Paramount theme into the downtown redevelopment and Grafton’s identity. Ad Hoc Committee Members Present: Jim Brunnquell, Jim Grant, Angela Mack, Tom Sweet, Melissa Schmitz, Darrell Hofland, and Michael Rambousek. Discussion begins about creating a Paramount music society of sorts

December 2005
Paramount GIG (Grooves in Grafton) begins to form and later brings “the mobile museum” to area banks, businesses, and the library to educate the community. (Thanks to Missy Schmitz)

January 2006
Grafton Blues Association begins to form out of members from the Grafton Jaycees

July 2006
Paramount GIG presents “A Dance With Early Jazz” to raise funds for the etching of artists into the Walk of Fame

July 2006 ParamountsHome wins the annual Wisconsin Historical Society website award

July 2006
PBS History Detectives films in Grafton upon Angie’s written request and story pitch

August 2006
“Lost Musical Treasure” by PBS History Detectives airs nationwide

August 2006
The Grafton Hotel is purchased by Rob Ruvin

September 2006
Angie presents “Passionate about Paramount and the Blues” at the Grafton children’s library

September 2006
First annual Paramount Blues Festival presented by the Grafton Blues Association and attended by first lady Jessica Doyle

September 2006
Representative Mark Gottlieb issues a legislative citation to the Village of Grafton acknowledging the importance of the history and praising the Village, individuals, and groups who have embraced the history

September 2006
The Village of Grafton holds the first annual Walk of Fame ceremony to honor Henry Towsend as the first inductee into the new Walk of Fame.  Angie provides a team of youth singers to accompany the event.

September 2006
North Shore Academy of the Arts (Angie) presents a second annual “Embrace the Legacy” concert featuring the Paul Curtis Band

October 2006
ParamountsHome (Angie) lectures at the Wisconsin State Historical Museum

October 2006
Henry Townsend Memorial Benefit Concert presented by the GBA- American Legion, Grafton

November 2006 Grafton Blues Association becomes organization of the year – Grafton Chamber of Commerce

November 2006 Paramount Plaza tree lighting ceremony – Grafton Chamber of Commerce

December 2006 Paramount Restaurant opens and begins to provide a venue for musicians to play (Thanks to Joe Krupski)

December 2006 North Shore Academy of the Arts (Angie) finishes its recording studio and does some makeshift recording projects with Scout Groups, classes and birthday parties

December 2006 Paramount GIG begins to merge into the Village of Grafton Historical Preservation Commission

The News Graphic lists Angie as one of the most influential leaders in Ozaukee County. (2006)

June 2007 Playwrite Kevin Ramsey announces his new musical, “Grafton City Blues” to be performed at the Milwaukee Rep Theatre Jan-March 2008.  Angie’s interview of Kevin is published in the playbills.

June 2007 Paramount Walking Tour is completed

Summer 2007 Many of the components of the Paramount Plaza are completed

September 2007 2nd annual Paramount Blues Festival

September 22, 2007 Walk of Fame ceremony inducting Louis Armstrong and Son House. Dick Waterman came for the ceremony and gave the Grafton Historic Preservation Commission a photo of Son House and Skip James that hasn’t ever been published before.

October 18, 2007 Village of Grafton and Grafton State Bank formally dedicate the sculpture by Norm Christensen

world music foundation

Listen to Podcast Paramount Records:  the Rise, Fall and Resurrection featuring Alex van der Tuuk and Angie Mack Reilly presented by The World Music Foundation

2007: In Tune with Grafton

In tune with Grafton

Play based on the village’s blues

and gospel history headed for stage

By TIM CARPENTER – GM Today Staff

April 27, 2007

Some of the most influential blues and gospel songs ever made were recorded at Grafton’s Wisconsin Chair Company, shown below, in the 1920s and early 1930s under the Paramount Records label. A play featuring the music of Paramount artists such as Thomas A. Dorsey, right, will run at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater early next year. 

GRAFTON – Playwright Kevin Ramsey has never set foot in Grafton. Yet, the story of Grafton’s role in shaping blues and gospel music resonates deep feelings inside him of a place similar to his cajun hometown.

“Grafton is like New Orleans,” Ramsey said. “It helped shape music that’s a part of American culture that could have gone unknown if people … had not taken the initiative to expose this historical gem.”

The story of how musicians such as “Ma” Rainey and Thomas A. Dorsey would travel to Grafton in the 1920s and early 1930s to record some of the most influential blues and gospel albums for the Paramount Records label was something Ramsey discovered last summer while working on production of his musical play on soul legend Sam Coat at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

“Somebody just kind of dropped this gem on me that there was this record studio called Paramount Records where all these blues artists would come to record,” said Ramsey, who, by chance, stumbled across the “History Detectives” episode later that week featuring the segment on Paramount Records. “I am attracted to history in everything I write, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out the Milwaukee region played such an integral part in the development of blues, folk and religious music. I thought there has to be a story in there.”

Out of Ramsey’s discovery, the play “Grafton City Blues” was born. The production is slated to run next year from Jan. 11 through March 9 at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. The play will consist of a multi-ethnic cast of two men and two women who will sing and recount the story of Paramount Records and the artists who made the music, many of whom recorded their albums at the Grafton-based Wisconsin Chair Company.

“We were very interested in it for obvious reasons,” said MRT Associate Artistic Director Sandy Ernst. “Anything that’s local in nature frankly is interesting to people. But above and beyond that, we’re talking about some really wonderful music.”

The multi-talented Ramsey has been involved in a number of projects for both the stage and screen, with several theater, film and television projects in development. His credits include directing and writing the award-winning short film “Tap Rap” and directing and co-choreographing the off-Broadway musical “My Hometown.”

Ramsey’s Broadway credits include “Five Guys Named Moe” and “Black and Blue.” He has also appeared in such television shows as “Judging Amy” and “Charmed.”

While development of the script is still in its research stage, Ramsey plans to use Paramount’s diverse catalogue of blues, spiritual and folk recordings to flesh out the musical aspects of the play.

A more concrete version of the script is expected to be ready in June before Ramsey travels to Milwaukee in July to conduct auditions and begin production. A trip to Grafton also is in the plans for Ramsey when he comes to Milwaukee this summer.

“The interesting thing about Paramount Records is that they recorded so many different types of music, so (the play) just can’t be a bunch of blues songs,” Ramsey said, adding he intends to incorporate music from Paramount greats such as Alberta Hunter and Skip James into the production.

Local Paramount historian Angela Mack said seeing Grafton’s musical heritage adapted for the stage reaffirms that all the time and effort spent promoting the village’s role in shaping American culture was worth it. 

“Since 2004, I’ve spent numerous hours contacting almost anyone I could about this Paramount history, knowing that once this story got out it would have nationwide appeal,” Mack said. “Now that this musical is being written by a guy from Broadway, it just further legitimatizes what went on here in Grafton.” 

Reporter Tim Carpenter can be reached at tcarpenter@conleynet.com

This story appeared in the Ozaukee News Graphic on April 26, 2007.

Staked Upon History it Didn’t Understand

used with permission from Tim Carpenter

“Grafton’s blossoming retro blues business staked upon history it didn’t understand”

By TIM CARPENTER – GM Today Staff

April 25, 2006

GRAFTON – When Grafton found out that it was home to some of music’s most influential and earliest recordings of jazz, blues and gospel, it could hardly contain itself. After all, it had spent years trying to break away from the shadows of neighboring towns, Cedarburg and Port Washington, but never seemed able to do so. But there was another reason for their giddiness, as they unearthed an economic diamond in the rough with enough appeal to potentially make Grafton not only the top tourist destination in the region, but also a travel hot spot for music enthusiasts all over the world.

“The artists that recorded for Paramount were etched into American culture the moment the needle hit the wax,” said local music historian Angela Mack,

noting that musicians such as Thomas A. Dorsey, the godfather of gospel; and legendary blues songstress “Ma” Rainey were just two of several artists who came to Grafton in the 1920s and early 1930s to record albums at The New York Recording Laboratories for the Paramount Record label.

A subsidiary of the Grafton-based Wisconsin Chair Company, Paramount released a wide variety of music but is best known for its recordings of African-American jazz and blues, controlling 25 percent of the black music market at its peak. However, like many of businesses of that era, the original incarnation of Paramount folded in 1935 due to the Great Depression.

While Paramount’s legacy was known by music aficionados around the world, the label’s association with Grafton remained unknown to its hometown until a few years ago when a vinyl collector looking for records manufactured by Paramount sent inquiries out via mass mail to several Grafton residents. After that, it wasn’t long before interest in the record label’s connection with Grafton ignited like wildfire throughout the village.

“Embracing this history also embraces the arts, which in turn embraces tourism and business,” Mack said in regard to the domino effect Paramount’s legacy has had on the village. “When you tap into the history and arts of a community and get the people involved, the businesses will then get involved to draw tourists to come here.”

Using the past to sell the future

Village President Jim Brunnquell originally learned about Paramount Records’ connection with Grafton in spring 2004 when Mack approached him about starting the Paramount Blues Festival, which will debut on Sept. 23 at Lime Kiln Park. Although the idea intrigued him, Brunnquell wasn’t able to grasp Paramount’s importance in American music history until coming across a considerable amount of material that had been published about the label, including a book by Scandinavian author Alex van der Tuuk.

“It appears that everyone knew about the history of Paramount and Grafton except for the village of Grafton,” said Brunnquell. “It involved a matter of somebody opening my eyes to it. Once that happened, it was like ‘Holy cow, this is amazing. We played an amazing part of Americana here.’”

The revelation couldn’t have come at a better time, as the village was in the early stages of creating a redevelopment plan for the downtown area. At the same time, resident/chef Joe Krupski had just bought the old Bienlein Hotel on 12th Avenue. After learning of Paramount’s connection with the village and the likelihood that many of the label’s musicians stayed at the Bienlein while recording, he decided to call the place The Paramount Restaurant.

“What we’re trying to do is tell the story of the artists and what they did in Grafton,” said Krupski of the theme of his restaurant, which will feature various items of Paramount memorabilia. “I think Grafton’s always been searching for some kind of identity, and now they’ve found it. So we’re just celebrating that history.”

With plans already in motion to add a plaza downtown and community interest in Paramount on the rise, the village decided to team up with Krupski and the organizers of the blues festival in paying homage to its musical roots.

“Whenever you’re trying to bring in a mix of businesses into a community, it’s all about identity and having a selling point,” said Brunnquell of the Paramount Plaza, which once complete will resemble a record disk and will feature among other things a gazebo with a stage and seating area, a timeline of the label’s history and a large flat metal medallion of the Paramount eagle. “This is a great idea to wrap around because it’s unique to us and is a vital part of music history.”

The plaza will also feature a piano design walkway complete with ivories and a Paramount Recording Artists’ Walk of Fame. Paramount Grooves in Grafton, a group headed by Mack to educate and inform the public about Grafton’s musical heritage, has been put in charge by the village board to select the first five inductees for the fame walk, which is expected to cost somewhere around $2,000 per artist.

The first Paramount Blues Festival is scheduled for Sept. 23 at Lime Kiln Park, with a daylong slate of music and workshops, including an appearance by van der Tuuk.

While the village has fully embraced its rich musical heritage, it is unknown whether the rest of the world will react to Grafton’s legacy in a similar fashion. However, the chances look good that it will. After all, Grafton was the last one to find itself.

“Economically, I think it’s a great tool,” Brunnquell said of the village’s long-lost musical heritage. “It’s something that’s uniquely Grafton and the great thing about it is that it’s truly legitimate.”

This story appeared in the Ozaukee County News Graphic on April 25, 2006.