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Students from Milwaukee Interview Angie for School Project on Paramount Records


The students titled their video project,

Paramount Records:  The Key to Understanding Black History and the Foundation of American Music

Contact music educator

Students from Milwaukee Interview Angie for School Project on Paramount Records

More links of interest:

Embracing the Legacy of the Blues

Angie is a lifetime arts advocate and leader with proven and documented success who is looking for benefactors to help her keep launching forward.  Contact

Some of the podcasts, television appearances, radio interviews, articles and videos that feature Angie and her work:


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Music legends chosen for Walk of Fame 2006 Article

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

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


Blues Research music history Paramount Records public speaker

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

Blues Research Female Entrepreneur Paramount Records

Angie Featured in Delta Download Mississippi Blues Blog


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

Blues Research music history

Angie Featured in Milwaukee Arts and Entertainment Journal


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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Angie on Sessions with Sandy through Milwaukee’s Riverwest Radio 7.26.20

Blues Research Paramount Records

TR Rongstad Interviews Angie for Grave Stories Feature on Blind Blake


Blues Research

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



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:




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Interviewing the Interviewer


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.

An Example

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.


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“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

Communication Expert

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

WHO:  Calling 100 Musicians and Singers for “One Hundred Voices Jiant Jam” (a Flash Mob type performance)  Don’t worry.  Nobody’s making anyone dance. (lol)
WHAT:  We will be performing “One Hundred Voices” written by radio personality Ben Merens (listen to the track above….lyrics are in the comments).  This song was inspired by the book 100 Voices:  Americans Talk About Change by Mary M. Clare.  Mary traveled the nation asking diverse people what change meant to them.  Ben wrote the song upon meeting the author.

Event has been cancelled and will hopefully be rescheduled due to Covid-19 crisis

WHEN:  Sunday March 22nd, arrive no later than noon.  Performance will be videotaped/recorded at 12:30pm.  By participating, you are agreeing to be on film, audio recording, social media, television, etc….Rain date of Sunday March 29, same times.  Try to gather in the cul de sac just south of the giant piano Walk of Fame when you arrive.
WHERE:  Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame in downtown Grafton (outside of Atlas BBQ)
HOW:  We will rehearse the song at noon under the musical direction of Angie Mack Reilly.  Looking for acoustic instruments such as acoustic guitars, hand drums, voices, violins, saxophones, etc….Please have the song memorized and rehearsed before arriving
WHY:  We want to raise awareness about the ripple effect that “one voice” has and how music continues to be a unifying, meaningful and valuable tool to bring people together.  This is an attempt to raise awareness about the musicians who recorded for the Paramount record label.

RSVP:  send your firm email commitment to or No last minute cancellations please.

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“Just Talking: A Chat With Angie Mack Reilly 2.29.20” Ben Merens and Riverwest Radio