Race Records and the Recording Industry: What was at Stake?

Record guy

The South in the early 20th Century had successfully transformed from a slavery driven economy to a persecution social structure. Those of color were the unabashed targets of the new form of slavery,  sharecropping. There was also a justice system in place, that willfully provided people of color to the entrenched prison system. For a black man in the south running a-foul of the law was as easy as saying “good morning” to the wrong person.

Music would be a release from the daily misery of trying to survive in the deep south. Mississippi and Louisiana were two of the states most egregious in their treatment of blacks. Coming in to compliance with the idea of freedom for the negro, had  no meaning in the south. Playing music, singing and strumming a diddly-bow offered temporary release from drudgery of day to day existence. The delta was ripe with some of the most talented singers and blues players the world would ever come to know. Many were discovered and recording on portable disc cutters, a new technology in the 1920s. Others made the journey north after the floods of 1926, practically ruined the farm land along the Mississippi River. Otherwise known as the delta. Those who made the journey out of the South along Highway 61, or by train, soon came to realize that work in the North wasn’t much better than that in the South. Again music would provide some comfort.

Jewish businessmen, have a sense of business, and saw an opportunity in the music of these Blues performers. They operated a lot of retail businesses among those was furniture stores. Technology had given them a new piece of furniture to sell, a Victrola record player… this gave birth to several new industries. These business men needed records to sell, and the word had spread North that there were some mighty fine musicians in the South. Agents were sent down to find these musicians, and encourage them to come North to be recorded. Musical contests were often held, the winner often received a free trip North to record their music. Businessmen being businessmen, were not very forthright, about their intentions. When contracts were offered they rarely benefited the performer much. Part of the problem was literacy on the part of the minorities. Education was not easy to come by in the deep south, if you were black. These unscrupulous business people in the North were all to aware of their advantage over a black guitar player, who couldn’t read. Few black Blues performers, between 1925 and 1970, received their fair share of what they were musically producing. Things would get better, but it was a tired old familiar struggle for black performers, up to this point.

Fortunately for us Blues lovers, the music has survived. More and more artists are picking up the Blues music torch and running with it. The trail was blazed by so many, and the whole point of my blog and my podcasts are to raise that awareness. The Best music isn’t coming form pop 40 radio stations, or from an insensitive rap, hip-hop culture. It is coming from a Blues community, that understands what music should be. It should shake your soul, rattle your cage and roll you away to a better place. That’s my passion and that’s how I see it.



Been a lover of Blues music since picking up on it from the British bands I adored. Cream, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Eric Burden and so many others.

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