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Three Giants Who Recorded in Grafton, WI


Three legends who recorded for Paramount Records.

Yes.  This is a big deal.


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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


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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

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Thank you Dustin Pickering and Mutiu Olawuyi for listening.  Hence caring.  We need more like you in this world of ours.

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


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 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

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