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Blues Research music history Paramount Records public speaker

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

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Historical and Cultural Consultant and Project Planner

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Angie Mack Reilly

Contact: angie@ozaukeetalent.com

Historical consultant, researcher and educator with a strong background in arts leadership, marketing strategy, public art and cultural projects.

Highlights of Qualifications:

  • Wisconsin Historical Society website award recipient for paramountshome.org. The website was one of the first historical websites to digitally archive and find materials about Paramount Records.
  • Served as Historic Preservation Commission member under Chairman Ralph Zaun. Served as a Village of Grafton Ad Hoc Committee for downtown development under Administrator Darrell Hofland.
  • Chairperson for the Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame in Grafton, WI for an international board of researchers. Planner for various Walk of Fame ceremony events.
  • Historical Consultant for Kevin Ramsey’s musicals Grafton City Blues and Chasin’ Dem Blues which have premiered at The Milwaukee Rep Theater and other theaters across the nation.
  • Co-created a Paramount Walking Tour booklet. Led countless tours for writers, filmmakers and school groups to name a few.
  • Arranged for the first Blues in the Schools program for the entire Grafton School District.
  • Researched and found the unmarked grave of the Father of Ragtime Guitar, Arthur Blind Blake with an international team of researchers. Raised funds for and arranged for the musician to have a headstone.
  • Pitched the idea of a Paramount Blues Festival to the Cedarburg Cultural Center, Grafton Area Live Arts and the Grafton Jaycees. Provided initial groundwork, education, networking, planning and marketing for the festival. Co-managed the historical tent in the first year.
  • Pitched the idea of a segment about Grafton to the producers of the show PBS History Detectives. Worked with the producers for over a year as an historical educator about Paramount Records and Grafton, WI.
  • Scholarly contributor to both of Jack White’s Grammy Award winning Paramount box sets.
  • Co-founder of historical nonprofit Paramount G.I.G. (Grooves in Grafton). Event planner to raise funds for the Paramount Walk of Fame. Archive collector and manager for a mobile museum.
  • Named one of the top people in Ozaukee County by the News Graphic.
  • Received public acknowledgement from political representatives Mark Gottlieb, Jessica and Jim Doyle.
  • Created the Paramount Records: Recording the Delta Blues since 2011
  • Lifetime music educator, director and performer.

Angie has been interviewed by many podcast, radio, publication, web and video outlets. Her work has been recognized and recorded in books, magazines, websites and social media outlets around the globe.

Links coming soon….. Contact angie@ozaukeetalent.com
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Blues Research Female Entrepreneur Paramount Records

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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female vocalist female writer keynote speaker on creativity Musicians and Mental Health

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

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It’s Good to Be Home (from the archives)

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It’s Good to Be Home by Angela Mack

Peformed at Spirit Life Church in Mequon, WI

Keys/Lead Vocals:  Angela Mack

Background Vocals:  Lori Wilke,  Tracy Martin, Beth Hammond

Drums:  Tom Wilke

Percussion:  Chris Musbach

Guitar:  Jay Walls, Karen unknown

Bass:  Ron Bush

Tin Whistle:  Monica Radzin

43.2159232-88.0314174
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female writer

A Place of Inspiration: Harlem

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A Place of Inspiration: Harlem

Written by Angela Mack (c) 2004

The time period between 1918 and 1929 contained an explosion of African American immigration, literary and artistic expression in Harlem, NY.

The Harlem Renaissance, also known as “The Negro Movement” was the time period between 1918 and 1929 in which there was an explosion of African American immigration, literary and artistic expression in Harlem. As Langston Hughes wrote in his manifesto for the Harlem Renaissance, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”, it was a time of “present vogue in things Negro”.

During this time, African Americans were excelling in blues, jazz, theatre, clubs, musicals, intellectual dialogue, literary works, visual arts and an overall sense of unity and community. Duke Ellington, Louise Armstrong, and Billie Holiday are famous names associated with the music of that era. A new pride swelled in the hearts of many African Americans and Aaron Douglas was an artist who portrayed the beauty of being black through his African-inspired themes. Zora Neale Hurston, a friend of Langston Hughes, was a famous female writer of the day who flaunted her unique fashions as well as her literary works such as the play, “Color Struck” and the novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God”. There were many more African American artists of all types as well as intellectual thinkers who were caught in the momentum of the new black culture.

Why did the Harlem Renaissance occur? First, during World War I, many African Americans moved north with the hopes of finding jobs and escaping inequality in the south. Harlem was a newly developed city that desperately needed tenants in its new townhouses and apartments. Eager to occupy the new buildings, landlords rented to blacks. By 1914, Harlem was considered a “black city”. This move north is also known as being the “Great Migration”. With this great amount of blacks in one place including many from the West Indies and other countries, it was a prime location to hold discussions. Many of these discussions led toward greater artistic expression and literary works.

Magazines from era added fuel to the movement. The well known W.E.B. Dubois was the editor of the NAACP’s magazine, The Crisis. Charles Johnson was the editor of the Urban League’s magazine, Opportunity. There was also the socialist magazine called The Messenger. The NAACP, the Black YMCA, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and the Urban League Office were all located in Harlem which helped unify the interests of the African Americans who longed for an ending of segregation and a redefining of what being black meant. This led to the popular thought of nationalism. Marcus Garvey, through the United Negro Improvement Association, preached a message of racial redemption. He also cast a vision for an independent black Africa and provided “The Black Star Line” to transport people.

The effects that the Harlem Renaissance had upon the African American culture were numerous. It taught future African American generations that there is power in black unity and pride. It lifted their self image as a race and showed America that blacks are beautiful and very capable of expressing themselves intellectually and emotionally through the arts and literature. Blacks had a newer prominence in American culture and a strong civil rights presence which aided in latter 50’s and 60’s civil rights movement. It was foundational in laying the groundwork for African American expression and thought in America. The Harlem Renaissance gave America as a whole many great artists of all types to learn from. In addition, the jazz erected from the era has become a vital part in American musical history and lifestyles. Many whites took interest in the art produced by their black “neighbors”.

The Harlem Renaissance has had a direct impact on me. My home of Grafton which is just north of Milwaukee, WI recorded at least 1/ 4 of the blues music in this time period of the Harlem Renaissance. Charles Patton began with recording over 28 of his songs just down the road from me in the Old Chair Factory building by the Milwaukee River. “Son House”, Ida Cox, Skip James, Louise Johnson, and many more rode the train north to record in the New York Recording Laboratories subsidiary, Paramount Records. These “race records” are extremely valuable and I have been in contact with various officials in Grafton and around the around the world over bringing this part of Grafton’s history alive. I am working on developing a web site toward its resurrection and hope to get a non-profit organization set up to raise funds for a permanent exhibit and yearly blues festival in Grafton in honor of its Delta Blues artists and Paramount Records.

The Harlem Renaissance embraced the talents of male and female artists alike who were primarily from the working class (although many were in Harlem to earn their education). It taught us what can cause inspiration in a community and among a people: unity, freedom of expression, openness to discussion, the merging of the arts with social issues of the day and intellectual thought. The Harlem Renaissance was a time of great momentum and hope. I hope that the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance comes to life in my home village, Grafton, WI.

https://web.archive.org/web/20130507133154/http://www.creativeconnectionarts.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14&Itemid=43

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female writer keynote speaker on creativity

Langston Hughes: The Weary Blues from the Eyes of a Musician

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A Harlem Renaissance Poet
Harlem Renaissance writer, Langston Hughes
“The Weary Blues” From the Eyes of a Musician
(c) Angela K. Mack 2/05

Langston Hughes is a fascinating African American writer who has written many poetry books such as The Weary Blues, Fire Clothes to the Jew, Shakespeare in Harlem, Montage of a Dream Deferred, and Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz. His autobiography is titled, The Big Sea. He has also written children’s books, musicals, and the Manifesto for the Harlem Renaissance titled, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” and so much more!

Many of his poems contain jazz and blues rhythms. Langston Hughes got swallowed up in the jazz scene in Harlem during its Renaissance and his passion came out in many of his poems. His poem, “The Weary Blues” is a great example of such a poem. Yet other than the musical fingerprints found in this poem, incredible symbolism involving what was going on historically during the Harlem Renaissance can be found as well.

Contrary to what the title suggests, this song is not solely set up to a blues rhythm. It is primarily structured around jazz rhythms. These rhythms combined with the words make for fascinating interpretation.

First of all, “The Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes is dripping with clever words of onomatopoeia. Not only do many of the words sound like their meanings, but they sound identical to jazz specifically. The type of jazz that is expressed in this poem through onomatopoeia and specific imagery is the sort of jazz that one would listen to in a club late at night close to “bar time”. It’s that “droning drowsy syncopated” blues played by the “Negro” “by the pale dull pallor of one bulb light” that is described in his poem. When I read this poem, I envision a dimly lit smoke-filled room with a few people left to linger over their final drinks.

The opening line, “droning a drowsy syncopated tune” suggests a song that has a depressing tone and is repetitive”. As I read it out loud, I hear the words “droning” “drowsy” and “tune” as jazz chords that are held for a longer duration than the rapid word “syncopated”. The words “rocking back and forth to a mellow croon” give the poem an almost melancholy or whining feel. It is here that the rhythm of the jazz tune is established. The repetitive phrase, “He did a lazy sway” ends the first musical phrase and makes for a nice hook. It is here that the reader of the poem or listener of the jazz tune becomes engaged.

“To the tune o’ those Weary Blues” is the beginning of the musical refrain. This refrain ends with “Coming from a black man’s soul. O Blues!” The exclamation point suggests that the music in this poem is emphasized here. This chosen punctuation on “O Blues!” “Sweet Blues!” and then “Oh Blues!” again indicate a slight musical climax or place in which the song is lifted out of its depressed state. This adoration and celebration of the blues is exemplified as being the source of hope. These phrases with exclamations are louder than the rest. They are accented musically.

I love how Hughes uses words of onomatopoeia in the refrain that sound musical. Words such as “moan”, “swaying”, “rickety”, and “raggy” explain the diversity that exists in jazz. Some instruments play repetitively while others improvise in syncopation. In other words, some instruments “sway” and “moan” as if depressed. Yet, in jazz, there is always that overcoming joy that exists as notes hop and dance against the laws of musical gravity. This defiance of gravity is visually expressed in the rickety stool which I imagine lifting off of the ground slightly with each sway.

This dichotomy in jazz, I believe, can be taken as being symbolic for the time in which this poem was written. Langston Hughes once wrote about the Harlem Renaissance, “It was the period when the Negro was in vogue.” During World War I, many African Americans moved north with the hopes of finding jobs and escaping inequality in the south. Harlem was a newly developed city that desperately needed tenants in its new townhouses and apartments. Eager to occupy the new buildings, landlords rented to blacks. By 1914, Harlem was considered a “black city”. This move north is also known as being the “Great Migration”.

Harlem, in its day, was symbolically a series of syncopated rhythms that overcame and defied the moaning gravity of suppression. During this time, African Americans were excelling in blues, jazz, theatre, clubs, musicals, intellectual dialogue, literary works, visual arts and an overall sense of unity and community. There was a NAACP office in Harlem as well as the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and the Urban League office. The Harlem Renaissance was a time of extreme momentum much like the music of Duke Ellington who was a famous pianist during the era. Also carrying much momentum in this time period were the railroads which were popular and aided in expansion overall in America. The jazz loved by all at that time was as fast sounding as a train! Likewise, the Harlem Renaissance was a fast explosion of creativity that burst out of many depressing years of segregation and inequality for the blacks.

This syncopation of the Harlem Renaissance was sandwiched in between 1919 in which the race riots of Chicago contributed to 76 African Americans being lynched and 1929 when the stock market crashed. The Harlem Renaissance was an amazing and legendary time in history. It was definitely something to shout about with an exclamation point! It appeared to be a type of new beginning in the lives of African Americans.

“The Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes refers to new beginnings as the jazz pianist sings, “I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’ And put ma troubles on the shelf.” Again, there is a sense of hope. The word “shelf” most likely ends on the musical tonic denoting a feeling of finality and a sense of “home”.

Harlem was a home to Langston Hughes. He moved there in 1921 after graduation and after spending time with his father in Mexico who was non-existent for most of young Langston’s life. Originally, he went there to attend Columbia University to study mining engineering. His lawyer father urged him to go to school for that and he also provided the money to do so. However, Langston dropped out after two semesters. It wasn’t his passion. The music, dance, and literary discussions of Harlem had captivated his interests.

Langston Hughes traveled a lot throughout his lifetime. However, he always managed to return to Harlem. At age 21, he joined a crew ship that sailed for Africa and also landed in Holland, Spain, Italy, and France. Hughes also traveled to Haiti and the Soviet Union in his lifetime. But Harlem was his home. He knew it so well that he wrote the Manifesto for the Renaissance titled, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”.

“The Weary Blues” takes a turn as did the Harlem Renaissance. Eventually, the Great Depression, the invasion and commercialism of whites in the area, poverty, gang violence, and more inequality came crashing down on the burst of creativity. The poem reads, “Thump, thump, thump went his foot on the floor.” Musically, these thumps are a series of notes that could be played in rhythmic unison among the instrumentalists. They are simple and quick. They break the momentum of the poem and transition it back into a depressed state. The singer continues in a typical I, IV, V chord blues pattern, “I got the Weary Blues And I can’t be satisfied. Got the Weary Blues And can’t be satisfied— I ain’t happy no mo’ And I wish that I had died.” Ah yes, the droning, drowsy, swaying and moaning continues. The song returns to the familiar and ends with “While the Weary Blues echoed through his head. He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.” The song ends on the tonic of its scale.

Finally, after studying and analyzing the life and works of Langston Hughes, I see the “The Weary Blues” as being intensely symbolic. In it, Hughes expresses well the dichotomies in jazz by using carefully crafted and opposing onomatopoeia. These poles explain, ultimately, the plight of the African-American artist. They also explain the intensity, hope, and community that he so loved about Harlem music and nightlife. This poem has been interpreted on a literal and musical level. I have also attempted to interpret this poem from the eyes of African Americans as well as from the eyes of Langston Hughes.

However, being one of the greatest writers ever, he is able to explain in a few words what I have been attempting to say all along,

“But jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America; the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul–the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile”.

– from “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” written by Langston Hughes (1926)

Syncopation and improvisation are the two main aspects of jazz. I now understand why Langston Hughes insisted on combining syncopation and words of onomatopoeia in “The Weary Blues” as well as many other poems. Jazz is overcoming music. It is one of the most advanced forms of music. It defies gravity and is full of joy. It contains elements of surprise and momentum in the midst of familiar and repetitive beats. Perhaps, in my own words, this is his subtle message in combining jazz with his poetry:

EVEN WHEN THINGS DO NOT CHANGE, IMPROVISE ANYHOW! CREATE SOMETHING UNIQUE. PLAY YOUR OWN TUNE PROUDLY! RISE ABOVE THE GRAVITY OF DEPRESSING AND REPETITIVE CIRCUMSTANCES AND OVERCOME!

The Weary Blues

by Langston Hughes

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,

Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,

I heard a Negro play.

Down on Lenox Avenue the other night

By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light

He did a lazy sway . . .

He did a lazy sway . . .

To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.

With his ebony hands on each ivory key

He made that poor piano moan with melody.

O Blues!

Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool

He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.

Sweet Blues!

Coming from a black man’s soul.

O Blues!

In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone

I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan–

“Ain’t got nobody in all this world,

Ain’t got nobody but ma self.

I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’

And put ma troubles on the shelf.”

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.

He played a few chords then he sang some more–

“I got the Weary Blues

And I can’t be satisfied.

Got the Weary Blues

And can’t be satisfied–

I ain’t happy no mo’

And I wish that I had died.”

And far into the night he crooned that tune.

The stars went out and so did the moon.

The singer stopped playing and went to bed

While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.

He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.

http://www.themediadrome.com/content/poetry/hughes_weary_blues.htm

Works Cited

Feather, Leonard. “Weary Blues Langston Hughes”. Audio recordings of poems with music.

http://www.geocities.com/xxxjorgexxx/wb.htm

Hughes, Langston. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”. (1926). The Nation.

http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/g_l/hughes/mountain.htm

Hughes, Langston “Langston Hughes 1902-1967.” (with poems written by Langston Hughes). The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. (2004). 1288-1338.

National Endowment for the Humanities Seminar of Kenyon College. (1998)
http://northbysouth.kenyon.edu/1998/music/harlem-page/harlem-page.htm

Nichols, K. Pittsburg State University. “Jazz age culture”. (2003).
http://faculty.pittstate.edu/~knichols/jazzage3.html#harlem

PBS. “Langston Hughes: A Biography.” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/americancollection/cora/ei_hughesbiography.htm

Article rescued from https://web.archive.org/web/20130507081715/http://www.creativeconnectionarts.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12&Itemid=43

Photos taken from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/446630488016755716/?lp=true

 

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Blues Research music history Paramount Records

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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Paramount Records

Campaign for Grafton Record Factory Site: Americana

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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.

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”

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

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music history

Angie in Book by Award-Winning Music Journalist and Author Jas Obrecht

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