|‘Detectives’ show has eye on Grafton
November 3, 2005Popular PBS series takes close look at community’s Paramount Records legacy
By STEVE OSTERMANN
Reprinted with the permission of the Ozaukee Press and Steve Ostermann
Ozaukee Press staff
A burgeoning interest in Grafton’s role as a centerpiece in blues music history could land the community on television screens across the country next year.
A spokeswoman for the “History Detectives,” a popular Public Broadcasting Service series, confirmed that program
producers are seriously considering doing a show on Paramount Records and the musicians who recorded for the label in Grafton in the 1920s and ’30s.
“We’re definitely looking at it. We’re working on ideas on how it can be developed,” said Courtney Engelstein, associate producer of “History Detectives.”
“Part of what makes this story so interesting is that it wasn’t widely reported for so long. If we do a program on it, we would look at starting with someone or something in Grafton and work our way through the history of Paramount .”
“History Detectives,” a weekly show that recently completed its third season on PBS, explores historical mysteries; throughout the United States. In each episode, the show’s history experts research folklore, family legends and artifacts to separate facts from myths and tell a more complete and accurate story.
Engelstein said she was first contacted in spring by Grafton resident Angela Mack, who asked her to consider Paramount Records for the program.
Mack, a music teacher at the North Shore Academy of the Arts in Grafton, is trying to generate interest in the village’s often-overlooked musical legacy, with a focus on blues. In recent months, she has helped organize concerts, school programs and other events that pay tribute to the Paramount years.
Arguably, the most important of those years were 1929 to 1932, when legendary blues artists such as Charley Patton, Blind Blake, Son House, Skip James and Willie Brown journeyed to Grafton to be recorded at the Wisconsin Chair Co.’s factory studio near the northeast comer of what is now Falls Road and 12th Avenue .
In addition to blues musicians from the Mississippi Delta and other regions in the South, the studio recorded hundreds of artists in genres ranging from ethnic folk to dance band music. The company discontinued its music division in 1932, and the factory was eventually razed.
How the musicians traveled to Grafton, where they stayed locally and what happened to many of their rare 78-rpm records now sought by collectors around the world are among the questions surrounding the Paramount story. One of those 78s — a Son House record not seen since the 1930s — reportedly surfaced this fall.
“I wrote to them in March but actually forgot all about it for awhile,” Mack said of her first correspondence with “History Detectives.”
“It was like Fishing because I was throwing ideas out for anyone who might be interested and didn’t know what I might hear back.”
Mack said she was encouraged by the early response from the show’s producers. Like other Paramount enthusiasts, she’s
anxiously awaiting their decision, which she said would help give Grafton’s musical legacy national exposure.
“It would be great for the community,” Mack said. “People are finally beginning to learn about what Grafton has here, and there are a lot of people that would be reached by the show.”
If Grafton’s Paramount story is chosen, Engelstein said, the story would be researched and filmed between December and June 2006.
The fourth season of “History Detectives” is scheduled to air next summer.