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Music legends chosen for Walk of Fame 2006 Article

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Music legends chosen for Walk of Fame
Landmark artists selected for Paramount Plaza honors include only living bluesman who recorded in Grafton

STEVE OSTERMANN
Ozaukee Press staff
Posted 6-8-06

Six of the most important figures in early 20th-century American music have been chosen as the first inductees for the Walk of Fame in Grafton’s soon-to-be-built downtown Paramount Plaza.

The honorees — Charley Patton, Ma Rainey, Blind Lemon Jefferson, SkipJames, Thomas Dorsey and Henry Townsend — were announced this week by Paramount Grooves in Grafton.

The GIG group was formed last fall to promote awareness and preservation of music recorded and pressed in Grafton by the New York Recording Laboratories, the music division of the former Wisconsin Chair Co. The firm’s Grafton factory, which stood at the northeast corner of what is now Falls Road and 12th Avenue, manufactured records from 1917 to 1932 and operated a recording studio during its final four years.

Among the many artists who came to Grafton to record music or had their records pressed at the local factory were legends in blues, jazz and gospel genres.

“There are many giant musical figures who have connections to Paramount, but these six were chosen as the first inductees because of their tremendous influence,” said Angela Mack, chairman of a nine-member nominating committee that considered hundreds of artists before forwarding its selections to the GIG board for final approval.

“It was a difficult task, but there are many other musicians who will be recognized in the future.”

Construction is expected to begin in July on the Paramount-themed plaza at the intersection of Wisconsin and 12th avenues and Bridge Street that will help commemorate Grafton’s musical legacy. The 14,190-square-foot area will have a performance stage, fountain, information kiosk, benches and other amenities, including a keyboard-styled walkway containing stone etchings for Walk of Fame inductees.

The plaza area is bordered by several historic buildings, including the Grafton Hotel and former Bienlein Hotel, which is being converted into the Paramount Restaurant.

An induction ceremony is expected to be held in late summer, following completion of the plaza.

Each of the six honorees is recognized as a landmark musical figure, and all but Rainey and Jefferson recorded in Grafton.

Townsend, 96, is the only living blues musician who recorded in Grafton. Known as the Patriarch of St. Louis Blues, the Shelby, Miss., native is one of the few artists who has recorded in every decade for the past 80 years.

The Grafton Blues Association is negotiating with Townsend to perform at the Paramount Blues Festival that will debut Saturday, Sept. 23, in the village’s Lime Kiln Park.

Patton, known as the Father of Delta Blues, recorded many of his most popular songs in Grafton. He was a 1999 Grammy Hall of Fame recipient for his song “Pony Blues.”

Gertrude Rainey, known as Mother of the Blues, recorded more than 100 songs for Paramount and was the label’s biggest-selling artist during her peak years.

Jefferson, the founder of Texas blues, was Paramount’s top-selling male artist. His classic compositions included “See That My Grave is Kept Clean” and “Matchbox Blues,” the latter of which was recorded by dozens of artists including Carl Perkins and the Beatles.

Nehemiah James, one of the most original and influential of blues musicians, wrote and recorded his most famous songs in Grafton. He is best remembered for works such as “Devil Got My Woman” and “I’m So Glad,” which was later recorded by the rock group Cream.

Dorsey, also known as Georgia Tom, is acknowledged as the Father of Gospel Music. His work combined Christian praise with the rhythms of jazz and blues.

Dorsey’s best-known composition is “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” which has been recorded by Mahalia Jackson and scores of other gospel singers.

Mack said each committee member chose five artists based on criteria such as recognition and acclaim by music aficionados, importance to music history and development, musical virtuosity and number of recordings for NYRL labels. In addition to the top five vote-getters who became automatic inductees, Townsend was unanimously chosen by GIG members for his unique place in Paramount history, Mack said.

Several other famous musicians received votes, including Louis Armstrong, Son House, King Joe Oliver and Blind Blake.

“There are so many important artists, we won’t have any trouble finding more to choose each year,” Mack said.

In addition to Mack, the nomination committee included Paramount author Alex van der Tuuk, blues performer and educator Michael “Hawkeye” Herman, award-winning jazz musician Norrie Cox, Milwaukee artist Mutope Johnson, Paramount Restaurant owner and blues collector Joe Krupski, educator and musician Robert Perry, educator and blues fan Marlene Pechura, and music producer and blues/jazz enthusiast Jeff Domann.

Mack said GIG is developing fund-raising plans to pay for the Walk of Fame etchings, each of which will cost about $2,500. Individual, group and corporate donations are encouraged.

Donors who cover the full cost of an etching will be recognized as a sponsor of that artist.

Updated  Sunday, February 18, 2007    Written by Admin    187  reads

Links of Interest

Staked Upon a History it Didn’t Understand

Embracing the Legacy

 

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Angie on TMJ4 Segment, “Paramount Records’ history in Ozaukee County”

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Michael “Hawkeye” Herman Recounts Music Advocacy Efforts in Grafton, WI

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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.

Michael “Hawkeye” Herman doing his famous “Blues in the Schools” program in Grafton, WI

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.

Ozaukee Press article 

Photo Slide Show Images Provided by Michael “Hawkeye” Herman’s Large Collection of Photos

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Angie Featured in Delta Download Mississippi Blues Blog

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A Note from Blues Writer Denise Leisz

“Angie Mack Reilly lives on the Mississippi Blues Trail—in Grafton, Wisconsin—home to legendary Paramount Records. The Paramount label introduced such blues greats as Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Charley Patton, Son House, Skip James, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Tommy Johnson, Ishmon Bracey and Henry Townsend, who today are among the most important figures in early 20th-century American music. More about Angie and her work at https://deltadownload.com/f/pieces-of-paramount

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Angie Featured in Milwaukee Arts and Entertainment Journal

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The Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Chasin’ Dem Blues Examines Forgotten History

by Livia Peterson, Cream City Arts (January 17, 2020)

Grafton City Blues initially premiered at the Rep in 2008. Musician Angela M. Reilly collaborated with the playwright Kevin Ramsey. “Kevin reached out to me as he was doing research for the musical,” she says. “He had found out about the record label around the time that PBS History Detectives aired a nationally televised segment about the rare record label based out of southeastern Wisconsin.”

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TR Rongstad Interviews Angie for Grave Stories Feature on Blind Blake

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We Both Built This Nation

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by Angie Mack Reilly 5.27.20

What is the antonym for dishonor?

Honor.

Murder a life?

Value a life.

Your cultural contributions matter.

By that, I am saying that YOU matter.

You built this nation as did I.

Ignoring, dismissing and burying

your pioneering work

is evil.

Ignoring, dismissing and burying

anyone’s pioneering work

is piracy and theft.

We both built this nation.

That is our common bond.

It is time for the authors to receive

their due respect.

Rock and roll began with the blues.

You are just as much American

as am I.

I see the injustice of your history

being denied.

Please forgive me.

But they never taught me

about your writers and inventors.

Huge chunks of history were ignored.

Perhaps we need to back up.

Begin educating our children

about the diverse contributions

and experiences and songs.

As an educator, I am committed

to telling your story.

As a believer, I am committed

to honoring your life.

As your sister, I am committed

to stand with you against injustice.

I will continue to be an advocate

because it is the right thing to do.

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Angie Gets Interviewed by Poet Z.M. Wise: Co-Editor of Transcendent Zero Press

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About Z.M. Wise

​Long version: Z.M. Wise is a proud Illinois native from Chicago, poet, essayist, occasional playwright, seldom screenwriter, co-editor and arts activist, writing since his first steps as a child. He was selected to be a performer in the Word Around Town Tour in 2013, a Houston citywide tour. He is co-owner and co-editor of Transcendent Zero Press, an independent publishing house for poetry that produces an international quarterly journal known as Harbinger Asylum. The journal was nominated Best Poetry Journal in 2013 at the National Poetry Awards. He has five books of published poetry, including: Take Me Back, Kingswood Clock! (MavLit Press, 2013), The Wandering Poet (Transcendent Zero Press, 2014), Wolf: An Epic & Other Poems (Weasel Press, 2015), Cuentos de Amor (Red Ferret Press, 2015), and Kosmish and the Horned Ones (Weasel Press, 2018). His debut play, Bottles of Emerald for the Demon Queen (Transcendent Zero Press, 2019), was published in late December of 2019. His sixth book of poetry, Illinois Infinitarium (Cherry House Press, 2020), will be published in the summer months of 2020. Other than these books, his poems, lyrics, essays, and book reviews have been published in various journals, magazines, and anthologies. The motto that keeps him going: POETRY LIVES AND LONG LIVE THE ARTS! Mr. Wise will make sure to spread that message and the love of the arts, making sure it remains vibrant for the rest of his days and beyond. Besides poetry and other forms of writing, his other passions/interests include professional voice acting, singing/lyricism/songwriting, playing a few instruments, fitness, and reading.  Besides poetry and other forms of writing, his other passions/interests include professional voice acting, singing/lyricism/songwriting, playing a few instruments, fitness, and reading.

Order Z.M. Wise Poetry Books on Amazon

Additional resources talked about in the interview:

Contact:  angie@ozaukeetalent.com

 

 

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First Chairperson for Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame

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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

 

 

 

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Peonage: Why it Thrived and How Some Escaped

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Peonage: Why it Thrived and How Some Escaped

(C) 05/2005 Angela K. Mack

Many people currently and ignorantly believe that the African American was set free with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Yet, the truth is that the lives of many African Americans in the south were trapped in a system of peonage or debt servitude which was just as bad if not worse than slavery. So why didn’t they just run away and head north the moment they heard of their so-called “freedom”? Why on earth did they stay in the south? Why did so many remain on their plantations, on the very land that they were slaves on? At a first glance, it doesn’t seem logical. These questions can be answered as I expand upon the conditions of and reasons for peonage in the south as well as give examples of how some African Americans were able to escape this system of bondage in the post Civil War era.

Peonage is defined by the Encarta Dictionary: English (North America) as “a former system used in Latin America and the southern United States under which a debtor was forced to work for a creditor until a debt was paid”. It actually evolved during the Civil War as the systems of sharecropping and crop-lien began. (August Meier and Elliot Rudwick 166). Sharecropping meant that a landowner would give the laborer a “share” of the crop in exchange for labor of the land. After the Civil War, it seemed like a reasonable idea at the time for both parties. Labor was needed to restore a war torn south and there was a lack of cash. Immediately after the war, landowners tried to operate the farms with hired laborers, but they did not have enough cash to pay the workers. So sharecropping seemed like the perfect system to have the new freedmen work for. “The system not only overcame the disruption of the labor supply but it also helped solve problems resulting from a lack of cash…” (Monroe Lee Billington 228).

Many ex-slaves did not choose to be a part of this system, however. After the Emancipation Proclamation, General Nathaniel P. Banks issued regulations that required freedmen to return to their plantations and work. They could not leave without a pass and received low wages. “The absence of ‘perfect subordination’ could result in freedmen losing pay or food rations”. Furthermore, in 1865 and 1866 southern lawmakers enacted the Black Codes. This system of social control kept the Negro in a subordinate place within society. They were required to provide cheap labor. An unemployed black man without a permanent residence was considered a vagrant. (August Meier and Elliot Rudwick 168, 170).

This system was able to thrive in the south despite Amendment XIII of the U.S. Constitution Section 1 which states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, nor any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (Robert A. Divine..et al. Appendix A-15). Yet it contained unjust components which kept African Americans in an even greater bondage than slavery. The term “involuntary servitude” was not clearly defined for a very long time after Amendment XIII. “It was not until United States v. Kozminski (1988) that slavery, in its derivative form, involuntary servitude, was formally outlawed.” (Gale Group Bailey v. Alabama).

But even still, “Negroes preferred to be renters rather than hired laborers. Renting was desirable, even under a sharecropping rather than a cash arrangement, because tenants could organize their own time and be more independent than a hired laborer. Moreover, they could raise their own food.” (August Meier and Elliot Rudwick 172). The fact that they had strong family, friendship, and community ties was incentive enough for them to remain stagnant in the south as well.

However, it did not take long for the African American sharecroppers to realize that they were being taken advantage of and controlled. They needed to purchase items from the store to survive on such as food and clothing. Having no money, they had to purchase things on credit. The crop was the lien. But because of the heavy racism that still existed in the south, merchants charged them unfair and outrageous prices for such items. High interest rates were tagged onto the charges and they didn’t have control or knowledge of the accounts. When the harvest came and the crop was sold, they found themselves in debt to the landowner and merchant. (August Meier and Elliot Rudwick 173)

Because they were in debt, they were forced to stay on the plantation another year to work off their debt. They could not leave. If they did, they could possibly be lynched. The system of peonage offered little, if any, hope.

Founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Carter G. Woodson, describes in 1918 a lack of ambition as being another reason why African Americans remained in bondage to the system of peonage:

“Generally speaking, the Negroes are still dependent on the white people for food and shelter. Although not exactly slaves, they are yet attached to the white people as tenants, servants, or dependents. Accepting this as their lot, they have been content to wear their lord’s cast-off clothing, and live in his ramshackled barn or cellar. In this unhappy state so many have settled down, losing all ambition to attain a higher station. The world has gone on but in their sequestered sphere progress has passed them by.” (Carter G. Woodson 468).

But some were ambitious and did rise above. Former vice-chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Fannie Lou Hamer, was able to escape the sharecropping system despite the hopelessness she felt about it in her childhood. She longed for change yet it seemed impossible. “The weight of the system was too great”. (David Rubel 29). It was her faith in God that carried her through the hopeless times. (13).

Fanny Lou Hamer tells the story about her landowner:

“I can remember very well the landowner telling me one day that if I would pick thirty pounds (of cotton), he would give me something out of the commissionary: some Crackerjacks, Daddy-Wide-Legs (a gingerbread cookie), and some sardines. These were things that I knew I loved and never had a chance to have. So I picked thirty pounds that day. Well, the next week I had to pick sixty and by the time I was thirteen, I was picking two and three hundred pounds.” (14). This “bait and switch” tactic was typical. Landowners and merchants alike took advantage of the sharecroppers by making false promises, and preying upon the uneducated ness of the freedmen. Sharecropping was an awful way for the freed slaves to live. However, because they lacked education and desperately needed work, it left them with little or no options. (David Rubel 14). Fannie Lou Hamer was a fighter, though. She watched James Meredith become the first African American student at the University of Mississippi which inspired her to remain strong. (David Rubel 63). When she tried to register to vote, she was kicked off her plantation but a new life awaited her. Although harassed and beaten in prison, she still fought. She became a worker and, later, a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She began to organize townspeople politically and became an effective fundraiser even though she was making just $10 a week. Finally, she worked her way up to being the vice-chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. (David Rubel 6, 67-68).

WWII provided an escape for other sharecroppers. As American men went off to war, laborers were needed to fill jobs primarily in the northern, industrial and urban parts of the United States. “One place these laborers were found was in the kitchen, as many housewives went to work. Another place they were found was down on the plantation.” “Many southern blacks were happy to move and leave the plantation behind.” (David Rubel 27-28). PBS used excerpts from The Journal of Negro History by Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia in their documentary film, “Goin’ To Chicago”. There is an account of a letter written by a southern black from Marcel, Mississippi writing to the Chicago Defender on October 4, 1917.

“….I wants to come to Chicago to live. I am a man of a family wife and 1 child I can do just any kind of work in the line of common labor & I have for the present sufficient means to support us till I can obtain a position…..” (George King).

I conducted an interview with Mr. Greg Eskridge who is an Economic Support Specialist for the State of Wisconsin in Milwaukee County. He shared with me some stories of his parents who were sharecroppers. His dad did not have any formal schooling. His mother went to school up until 6th grade. They married when he was 19 and she was 14. His parents worked for Mr. Morgeson in Grenada, Mississippi. Mr. Morgeson gave half of the crop to Mr. Eskridge and kept a half for himself that Mr. Eskridge and his family had to raise chickens on as well as grow potatoes, leafy vegetables, wheat, and cotton. When Mr. Eskridge’s brother was lynched with no explanation, he decided to look for work in the north. He found work in 1946 as a truck mechanic at the Ford Motor Company. He went back to get his wife and spoke with Mr. Morgeson about leaving. Mr. Eskridge called him a “fair man”; an “O.K. boy”. Their ancestors had known each other and acted cordially in the past, therefore, Mr. and Mrs. Eskridge were able to leave on a handshake without any harassment. Mr. Eskridge raised six sons in the inner city of Chicago and later received an assembly line position at the Ford Motor Company. (Greg Eskridge)

Escape from the plantation oddly came through music as well. One of the great founders of the blues, Charley Patton, came off of his Dockery Plantation in Mississippi, and came to Grafton, WI (just a few blocks from my home) to record his legendary blues at Paramount Recording Studios. His music opened the doors for him to escape life in the south. He became a local celebrity and then his fame grew. He eventually ended up in New York to record shortly before he died.

“Patton would be called up to play at plantation dances, juke joints, and the like. He’d pack them in like sardines everywhere he went, and the emotional sway he held over his audiences caused him to be tossed off of more than one plantation by the ownership, simply because workers would leave crops unattended to listen to him play any time he picked up a guitar.” (Cub Koda).

Peonage was able to thrive even after the Emancipation Proclamation because it seemed to be a good solution to the economic setbacks of the Civil War. The law also enabled it to thrive through Banks regulations, the Black Codes, and the unclear definition of “involuntary servitude”. Some African Americans preferred to stay sharecroppers because of strong family ties in the south. Others accepted peonage as a way of life unable to overcome. Fannie Lou Hamer and Charley Patton were kicked off of their plantations and became famous. Others found jobs that were left vacant due to war. The fact remains; the Emancipation Proclamation did not guarantee freedom. Slavery took upon the new name, “peonage”. Thankfully, some were fortunate enough to escape.

Works Cited

“Bailey v. Alabama.” Great American Court Cases. 4 vols. Gale Group, 1999. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group. <galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/HistRC/>.

Billington, Monroe Lee. The American South. NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1971

Divine, Robert A…..(et al.), America, Past and Present. NY…(et al.). Pearson Longman. 2005.

Eskridge, Greg. Interview by author. Grafton, WI, 3 May 2005. Koda, Cub.

King, George. “Letters From Mississippians, 1916-1918”. Goin’ To Chicago. PBS Online. < http://www.pbs.org/gointochicago/migrations/index.html>.

Koda, Cub. “Charley Patton Devil Sent the Rain Blues”. (Audio CD insert): La Spezia, Italy: Comet Records. 2004.

Meier, August and Elliot Rudwick. From Plantation to Ghetto, Third Edition. NY: American Century Series. 1976.

Rubel, David. Fannie Lou Hamer From Sharecropping to Politics. Englewood Cliffs, NJ. Silver Burdett Press, Inc. 1990

Woodson, Carter G. “From a Century of Negro Migration (1918)”. From Bondage to Liberation. New York: Faith Berry. 2001.

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