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‘Detectives’ show has eye on Grafton November 3, 2005

‘Detectives’ Show Has Eye On Grafton – 11/03/2005
‘Detectives’ show has eye on Grafton
November 3, 2005Popular PBS series takes close look at community’s Paramount Records legacy

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.

Updated  Tuesday, November 15, 2005    Written by Steve Ostermann    226  reads>>> Browse archive for this topic

This article was published online at with permission.  Thanks to the Ozaukee Press, Steve Ostermann and!

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Saturday Panel Discussion to Focus on Paramount Records, Steve Ostermann 2005, Ozaukee Press


This article was originally published in the Ozaukee Press and then on with permission.  Thank you to for saving a copy!

More links of interest……

Historical Consultant

Embracing the Legacy of the Blues

Detectives Show Has Eyes on Grafton


Saturday Panel Discussion to focus on Paramount Records – 11/29/2005
Saturday panel discussion to focus on Paramount Records

Ozaukee Press staff

Five experts on Grafton’s Wisconsin Chair Co. music studio, which during the 1920s and early ’30s produced more than one quarter of the blues recordings in the United States, will participate in a panel discussion Saturday, Oct. 1, at the Cedarburg Cultural Center.

The event, from 3 to 4:30 p.m., is part of the center’s “Paramount Studios Blues Strut” and will precede an evening concert by nationally known blues artists Fruteland Jackson and Ann Rabson.

Members of the panel will be Mike Hatfield, one of the first researchers into Paramount Records’ rise as an offshoot of the chair company; Alex van der Tuuk, author of the critically acclaimed book “Paramount’s Rise and Fall: A History of the Wisconsin Chair Company and its Recording Activities”; Jim Van Drisse of the Wisconsin Blues Society, a blues historian who has interviewed people associated with the Grafton studio; Angela Mack, a musician and teacher with North Shore Academy of the Arts in Grafton who has initiated efforts to educate people about the studio; and Michael “Hawkeye” Herman, an internationally known blues musician and educator.

Herman will also perform in a 7:30 p.m. concert Friday, Sept. 30, at the North Shore Academy, 1111 Broad St. The concert will be the first of three shows in the “Embrace the Legacy” series presented by Grafton Area Live Arts.

The panel discussion is free and open to the public.

As part of the center’s “Blues in the ‘Burg” concert series, Jackson and Rabson will perform classic blues music as it was recorded at the Grafton studio.

Jackson is an award-winning acoustic guitarist and oral historian who has performed at blues festivals and in concerts throughout the United States.

Rabson is considered one of the world’s finest barrelhouse blues pianists and has released three acclaimed solo albums that showcase her instrumental work and keyboard prowess.

Tickets for the Saturday concert are $20 in advance, $22 at the door and $5 for students.

The center is at W62 N546 Ave. For more information, call 375-3676.

The “Embrace the Legacy” concert series will also include 7:30 p.m. Friday shows by the Greg Wessel Band on Oct. 14 and Norrie Cox on Oct. 28.

Advance tickets are $25 for the series or $10 per show. Admission at the door will be $16.

For more information, visit the Web site or call 377-5308.

Updated  Tuesday, November 15, 2005    Written by Steve Ostermann    223  reads>>> Browse archive for this topic

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Embracing Grafton’s Blue Legacy by Steve Ostermann 2005, Ozaukee Press


This article was originally published in the Ozaukee Press on August 4, 2005 then posted with permission on

More Links of Interest…..

Early discussion at the Cedarburg Cultural Center

Embracing the Legacy of the Blues

Grafton Wisconsin History


Embracing Grafton’s blue legacy – 08-04-2005
Music teacher’s quest to acknowledge village’s role in music history leads to concert series, programs
Photo by Vern Arendt

Ozaukee Press staff

(Reprinted with the permission of Steve Ostermann and the Ozaukee Press)

When Angela Mack moved to her Falls Road residence in Grafton eight years ago, she had no idea her home was just up the road from a landmark site in American music history.

More than 70 years ago, blues artists from the deep South journeyed to Grafton to record tunes at a studio in the Wisconsin Chair Co. factory near the northeast corner of what is now Falls Road and 12th Avenue.

The studio years didn’t last long — from 1929 to 1932 — but the sessions for Paramount Records yielded dozens of classic performances by blues legends such as Charley Patton, Son House, Skip James, Blind Blake, Willie Brown, Louise Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy.

In addition to blues music, the studio recorded hundreds of artists in other genres ranging from ethnic folk to dance band music.

“I was astounded at what I found out,” said Mack, a composer and music teacher with the North Shore Academy of the Arts in Grafton. “It was amazing to think this happened in our town, and that so many people are not even aware of it.”

Mack, who first heard of Grafton’s Paramount connection from a record collector hunting for rare 78-rpms three years ago, has learned much about the chair company’s role in early recorded blues. The knowledge was not only intriguing, but it inspired her to spread the word.

“At first I was just mad that this wasn’t being acknowledged,” Mack said. “I was bound and determined to find out as much as I could and get something done.”

Mack talked to village officials, business people and civic leaders and eventually struck a chord with Barb Krause, one of the founders of Grafton Area Live Arts. The group, established in 2001 to bring music and other live performances to the community, has presented a variety of concerts, including a popular summer series at Veterans Memorial Park.

It didn’t take long for Krause to buy into Mack’s idea of creating a musical tribute to Grafton’s record-making role.

The result is “Embrace the Legacy,” a concert series featuring popular blues, jazz and rock artists that will debut this fall at the North Shore Academy, 1111 Broad St.

“I thought it would be a great way for people to learn about the history of Grafton through music,” Krause said. “I’m hoping we can make it an annual event.”

The series, presented by GALA in cooperation with the academy, will include three concerts in the Timothy Wooden Building, which is only a few blocks from where the chair company factory once stood.

The Sept. 30 opener features Michael “Hawkeye” Herman, a nationally known blues performer and educator who will also talk about Grafton’s often-overlooked role in the recording industry and the musicians who came here.

The series, sponsored by Grafton State Bank, continues Oct. 14 with the Greg Wessel Band, which will perform blues, rock and jazz, and concludes Oct. 21 with New Orleans jazz musician Norrie Cox and his band.

The day of his concert, Herman will also present a program on local blues history to students at Grafton’s three public elementary schools.

Although the focal point of the “Legacy” series is blues, the shows will present a variety of music, Mack said, to underscore the influence blues has had on other forms of expression.

“Hawkeye has a song that says, ‘Blues had a baby, and they called it rock ’n’ roll,’” she said.

“American blues has it roots in the Mississippi Delta, but it has influenced so many other types of music. That’s something everyone can appreciate.”

Mack’s effort to share the village’s blues legacy extends to other venues, as well. She will teach a three-class workshop, “Grafton’s Paramount History,” at the academy from 6 to 7 p.m. Fridays, Sept. 9, 16 and 23.

Designed for students ages 10 and older, the workshop will give participants a chance to hear and learn about blues legends in Grafton, write and play blues songs and take a field trip to the site of the chair company factory, which was razed in the late 1930s. The fee is $40.

On Oct. 1, Mack will be part of a panel discussion of Paramount studios at 3 p.m. at the Cedarburg Cultural Center.

The program, which includes a slide show, will precede a 7:30 p.m. blues concert at the center featuring Fruteland Jackson and Ann Rabson. The musicians will perform 1920s and ’30s blues as it was recorded in Grafton.

Since Mack began exploring Grafton’s music history, she has talked with and met a number of musicians and authorities, including Dutch author Alex van der Tuuk, whose award-winning book “Paramount’s Rise and Fall” was published in 2003.

She and van der Tuuk have created the Web site

“When I first started learning about the blues in Grafton, it amazed me that it took someone to come here from Holland and write a book about our history,” Mack said.

“Hopefully, what we’re doing here now will make a difference by letting people know what we had.”

Updated  Thursday, August 04, 2005    Written by Steve Ostermann    293  reads