by Michael “Hawkeye” Herman Dec. 5, 2020
As an internationally recognized/touring blues musician/composer/educator/historian I can assure you that blues historians, blues aficionados, and blues music fans around the world are aware of the great importance that Paramount Records and Grafton, WI holds in the history of blues music recording and the influence on US music and world cultures.
Sadly, that information was lost to the people of Wisconsin, and especially in the immediate Grafton area for over 75 years, until Grafton resident musician/educator Angie Reilly started digging into the Paramount history in hopes of elevating the awareness of Grafton and Wisconsin area residents.
Angie Reilly and I initially connected via an online blues related forum back about 16/17 years ago. She informed me of her very proactive efforts in raising awareness in Grafton and WI, in general, of the importance of Paramount Records. The history, influence and ONGOING impact and legacy of Paramount Records was lost to the people of the Grafton area.
Ms. Reilly is very much responsible for the raising of the awareness of the people of the Grafton area regarding the world renown influence and legacy of Paramount Records, as well as her initiating and influencing the Village of Grafton administration/city council in the creation of the Paramount Walk of Fame that is the now centerpiece of downtown Grafton.
In her efforts to raise awareness of the ‘city fathers’ and the citizens, young and old, regarding Paramount’s worldwide fame amongst blues music fans she arranged to bring me to Grafton to meet with the city council and inform them, as an ‘outsider’, of the important culturally legacy and esteem that Grafton’s Paramount Records is held by the international blues community.
At that time, Ms. Reilly also arranged for me to present blues music and Grafton/Paramount history presentations/programs to in the schools to ALL of the public school students in Grafton. I was happy to oblige her request to come to Grafton and help her with her most worthwhile efforts in honoring Paramount Records, Grafton, and the many iconic blues musicians who recorded in Grafton.
The positive and enduring results of her/our efforts are quite obvious: Grafton honors its Paramount blues music legacy with a permanent Paramount Walk of Fame as the featured aspect of the Grafton City Center, and an annual blues music, The Paramount Blues Festival, festival grew out of the ‘rediscovered’ legacy of Paramount Records in Grafton, WI.
You will find my personal article documenting our efforts to raise the citizens of the Grafton area’s awareness about the important and eternal legacy of Paramount Records in Grafton … as well as a link to my article documenting our mutual work in bringing the Paramount Walk of Fame into reality:
“Embracing The Legacy Of The Blues / From the South To The North – Part 2. Grafton, WI and Paramount Records”By Michael “Hawkeye” Herman
http://www.hawkeyeherman.com/pdf/14_EmbracingTheLegacy_Pt.2.pdf to raise the citizens of the Grafton area’s awareness about the important and eternal legacy of Paramount Records in Grafton.
Photo Slide Show Images Provided by Michael “Hawkeye” Herman’s Large Collection of Photos
by Angie Mack Reilly 2020
I feel invisible
Do you feel invisible
We feel invisible
I feel invisible
Do you feel invisible
We feel invisible
Photo also by Angie Mack Reilly
The Music of Milwaukee Radio Host Ben Merens
by Angie Mack Reilly 3.9.20
New Release! Listen to “Babylon” by Ben Merens on Hot Seat Records
A Master of Improv
Have you ever seen the show, “Who’s Line is it Anyway?”
It’s an improvisational comedy television show. One feature is that the actors are asked to make up comedic lyrics and a melody on the spot while a band plays music that they’ve never heard before. NOT an easy task!
I have always marveled at the show’s actors’ ability to do this. Decades of teaching music and drama has taught me that improvisation requires a heightened sensitivity and a rapid mind. Improvisation is done without any preparation. It requires having a wealth of knowledge to pull from as well as a bravado of spirit.
This is why I like to listen to jazz. In my opinion, jazz is one of the most difficult and advanced musical art foms to master. Why? Because of the improvisation. Likewise, stand-up comedy. It requires a high skill level of improvisation that is extremely difficult.
Like I was saying. Very few people have this high level of skill that entails composing music, creating lyrics and creating a melody on the spot.
Ben Merens has this skill.
Having been in journalism for over 30 years, Ben is somewhat of a celebrity in the Milwaukee area. Most people know him as the longtime radio host for Wisconsin Public Radio’s At Issue With Ben Merens on the Ideas Network.
As a live radio host, Ben has had to improvise on every program. He has literally spoken on thousands of shows without a full script. Again, not many people can do this.
I find it fascinating that Ben has taken this strongly exercised skill of improvisation and has applied it to music.
Ben came over to record some music recently and met my son Joshua for the first time. Within minutes of meeting Joshua, Ben created a comedic song complete with lyrics, melody and music. The song played on the ironic fact that Joshua is a baker who cannot eat gluten. Check it out.
“Yes. God must have a sense of humor you see. When a baker cannot eat gluten. I think that’s God’s stand-up comedy.” – Ben Merens
Ben explained to me that all of his experience in radio has taught him amazing focus and mindfulness. He is a keen listener which can be a rare commodity in today’s self-centered and busy world. In fact, Ben has written a book called People Are Dying to Be Heard. He is an experienced keynote speaker on the topic of communication. He conducts workshops that help people and organizations find their unique story or voice. His ability to understand people also fuels his ability to create on-the-spot songs.
“And the only constant in life is change. And we all must be willing to rearrange” – Ben Merens lyric from One Hundred Voices
People who have the ability to improvise are highly adaptable. They quickly adjust. They are keenly sensitive. Aware. Flexible toward change. Adaptability knows how to feed an audience while feeding off of the audience. Because no two audiences are the same, you will find that no two versions of Ben’s songs are the same. He adjusts the song to fit the environment.
Forget buying mood lighting at a party. Hire Ben to come and entertain your guests in a way that they won’t ever forget! I’m serious! Hire him to speak or sing at your place of worship, school, workplace or event. Ben has a long track record of connecting with audiences of all demographics.
The Background and the Vision
Ben and I recently started connecting after a music event that we both attended in Cedarburg. The more I have gotten to know him, the more I have appreciated what a gem of a human being he is. Ben loves people. Pure and simple. And he uses his talents to help others in a variety of creative ways. We have a similiar intuitive, improvisational and heartfelt manner in which we share our talents with others. We both understand adaptability or, as I like to call it, fluidity. Ben recently invited me talk with him about creativity on his Riverwest Radio show called Just Talking. You can listen to the link below.
Because of how creatively compatible we are, I thought that it would be great to work on a creative project with Ben. Since we both love networking, I thought that we should invite others who want to join us. It’s a bit improvisational. The musicians and singers will have to be adaptable. But we want to communicate a message as a performance public art piece. Not perfect. But heartfelt. Because a lot of people need a glimmer of light right now. Please join us.
100 Voices: Public Performance Art
Event has been cancelled and will hopefully be rescheduled due to Covid-19 crisis
We Need the Theater
by Angie Mack Reilly 2019
We need to get raw and real
and express our emotions.
We need the theater to make us cry
and laugh and love again.
Humanity is threatened and compromised
by artificial intelligence.
We are at a pivot
and must preserve.
Most photos below were taken by Angie Mack Reilly. Otherwise used with permission.
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
Digital Art by Angie Mack Reilly 9.9.19
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org for speaking engagments and interviews
Angela got in touch with Alex van der Tuuk and began corresponding with him on a regular basis and reading his book
ParamountsHome goes online, collects data, and begins networking locally and worldwide
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.
Angela gets in touch with Michael “Hawkeye” Herman and he begins encouraging her and mentoring her toward her goals.
Joe Krupski approaches the Grafton Planning Commission to open a Paramount Restaurant
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.)
“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)
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
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
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)
Grafton Blues Association begins to form out of members from the Grafton Jaycees
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
PBS History Detectives films in Grafton upon Angie’s written request and story pitch
“Lost Musical Treasure” by PBS History Detectives airs nationwide
The Grafton Hotel is purchased by Rob Ruvin
Angie presents “Passionate about Paramount and the Blues” at the Grafton children’s library
First annual Paramount Blues Festival presented by the Grafton Blues Association and attended by first lady Jessica Doyle
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
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.
North Shore Academy of the Arts (Angie) presents a second annual “Embrace the Legacy” concert featuring the Paul Curtis Band
ParamountsHome (Angie) lectures at the Wisconsin State Historical Museum
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
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