Indiana University Bloomington

Home Outreach Podcasts Starr-Gennett Collection comes to the Archives of Traditional Music

Starr-Gennett Collection comes to the Archives of Traditional Music

In the small midwestern town of Richmond, Indiana, an incredible diversity of recordings were made by the Starr Gennett company in the first part of the 20th century. Recording the most important artists of the day as well as a host of musicians from a wide spectrum of American vernacular musics, Gennett records left a legacy that is a priceless documentation of American popular and regional musics. This podcast produced by Nate Gibson introduces the history of Gennett records, its impact, and the move of a large collection of Gennett 78 rpm records from the Starr Gennett Foundation to the stewardship of the Archives of Traditional Music. The podcast is 16:23 long and you can follow along with the transcript below.


Music: “Chimes Blues” – King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (with Louis Armstrong) – Gennett 5135

Narrator: That’s “Chimes Blues,” 1923, from the first recording session of the legendary Louis Armstrong, playing 2nd trumpet with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. It’s the sound of New Orleans. It’s also the sound of Chicago in the early ‘20s. And it’s also the sound of Richmond, Indiana. This recording, along with thousands of other important recordings made for the independent Gennett label, comprise some of America’s earliest and most important jazz, blues, old-time, and popular music contributions.

Music: “Chimes Blues” – King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (with Louis Armstrong) – Gennett 5135

Narrator: The Archives of Traditional Music, a sound archive located on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, recently added to its holdings more than 600 recordings produced for Gennett Records of Richmond, Indiana. My name is Betsy Shepard and this segment highlights both the significance and impact of Gennett Records, as well as the recent partnership between the Starr-Gennett Foundation and the Archives of Traditional Music. Former Starr-Gennett Foundation President and acting Treasurer, David Fulton, explains…

David Fulton: Henry Gennett created the Gennett Records company and was president of Starr Piano Company. This company was, I like to refer to it as, one of the first businesses in home entertainment systems. They were originally a piano company back in the 19th century when the entertainment system in anybody’s home was the piano. They didn’t have much else. So people learned how to play the piano. But as technology changed, people realized that you could create a piano that played its own music, that’s the player piano. And then when they developed the phonograph, Gennett started making the casework for phonographs. Well the Gennetts said, ‘Why don’t we just get the machinery to put inside as well?’ And so they began producing the whole package, not just the cabinetry. And, then at one point they decided, again, the home entertainment business, ‘We can actually record our own records here if we got the equipment, and so they acquired the recording equipment and started recording the music. And this was all happening in the 1910s.

Music: “Chimes Blues” – King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (with Louis Armstrong) – Gennett 5135

Music: ”Julian” – Angel Romero – Gennett 3190

David Fulton: They were not interested in just recording a certain kind of music. They were wanting to record any kind of music that people might be interested in purchasing in the form of a record. And so they would encourage people to come to Richmond to record. They had an outlet in Chicago, and one of the Gennetts, Fred Gennett, was responsible for that operation. He was very interested in the music scene in Chicago and became familiar with the jazz groups that were starting to perform in the ‘20s there. And so, one way or another he was able to get those folks to come down, to take the train and come to Richmond and record here and so that’s where folks like King Oliver and Louis Armstrong made their first recordings. Hoagy Carmichael is another one. He’s an Indiana guy, from Bloomington, and he made his first recordings. He’d come to Richmond and record in the studio and the rest is history.

Gennett Electrobeam label


Music: “Star Dust” – Hoagy Carmichael & His Pals – Gennett 6311

Narrator: Alan Burdette, Director of the Archives of Traditional Music, discusses some of the further connections between Richmond and Bloomington, Indiana…

Alan Burdette: Hoagy is one of several connections between the artists that recorded on Starr-Gennett and other collections we have here at the Archives of Traditional Music. We are the home of the Hoagy Carmichael collection, the largest collection of Hoagy Carmichael material in any institution in the world. Hoagy is, of course, one of the most important jazz and pop songwriters of the 1920s through the 1950s. First recordings he ever made were at the Gennett studios there in Richmond and we have recordings of interviews with Hoagy where he talks about his experience recording at Gennett. Another connection between Gennett artists and the Archives of Traditional Music is Scrapper Blackwell, the great blues guitarist who lived for much of his life in Indianapolis. He made his first recordings at the Gennett studios.

Music: “Second Hand Woman Blues” – Georgia Tom (with Scrapper Blackwell) – Gennett 7130

Alan Burdette: Blackwell was also recorded some years later in Indianapolis by Art Rosenbaum and those field recordings are also here at the Archives of Traditional Music.

David Fulton: Back in the early 1920s, they were making, uh, pressing up to three million records a year and distributing them all around the country. They also were placing those records under various labels in other stores and through Sears catalogs and all the outlets you might want to think about. So, the Gennett records and Starr piano were very significant industries here in Richmond, Indiana at that time.

Narrator: Current Starr-Gennett Foundation President, Bob Jacobsen…

Bob Jakobson: Many of the people that they recorded were quite young and became very famous like Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke. We also were the first ones to record Charlie Patton. We recorded the last songs of Blind Lemon Jefferson. Um, let’s see, we also did some gospel.

Music: “I Know I Got Religion” – Rev. J.M. Gates and his Congregation, Gennett 6034

David Fulton: They were not interested in just recording a certain kind of music. They were wanting to record any type of music that people might be interested in purchasing in the form of a record.

Gennett record label Bob Jakobson: You know, it’d be the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, uh Jelly Roll Morton’s first solos. Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Star Dust.’ The first songs by the Wolverines with Bix Biederbecke. We got songs by Big Bill Broonzy, blues man out of Chicago. Uncle Dave Macon. We’ve got some recordings by the Stonemans. And there’s quite a few wonderful fiddler players too. Doc Roberts is one of them. Asa Martin played along with him. A lot of wonderful performers.

Music: “Sweet Lovin’ Man” - New Orleans Rhythm Kings, Gennett 5104

David Fulton: They recorded not only jazz back then, but they also recorded country. They recorded some of the original blues artists like Scrapper Blackwell and Lonnie Johnson. And country [music] is Dave Macon, so they recorded people from all over the central United States so to speak, and that’s the mark of the Gennett Records, that’s the reason it’s historically significant in American music.

Music: “Sweet Lovin’ Man” – New Orleans Rhythm Kings, Gennett 5104

David Fulton: Over the years we have acquired a large number of Gennett Records, but we do not have the capacity to store or preserve them.

Bob Jakobson: There are folks around that, that donate things to us. We’ve had, uh, records at the local library. They held ‘em for us. We had some in a bank for a while. Also at Indiana University East, held some. But what we wanted to do was of course get them digitized so that they can be more accessible to a broader range of people and last longer. ‘Cause it’s the music itself that’s important and not necessarily the 78 records.

Music: “Adam and Eve” – Otto Gray’s Oklahoma Cowboy Band – Gennett 6376

David Fulton: Well, we had established a relationship with Indiana University libraries to talk to them about ways and means of doing this and that’s what led us to the Archive of Traditional Music which is a place that not only has the capacity but also the expertise and the mission to preserve these kinds of things.

Gennett Record label Alan Burdette: While the Archives of Traditional Music is primarily an ethnographic sound archive, we hold more than 2,700 field collections from all over the world, we also have a large number of commercial recordings that include collections in early jazz and blues and American vernacular musics of all different kinds. Documenting the cultural and musical history of Indiana is also important to what we do, so the Starr-Gennett collection fits very nicely into our mission and our other holdings. The Starr-Gennett story is such an interesting story both as a way to understand the growth of middle-class musical entertainment and home entertainment in the late 19th and early 20th century, but also to try and understand the early recording industry. When you think about it, it boggles the mind to consider that Louis Armstrong, Charley Patton, Gene Autry, and Hoagy Carmichael, and so many others all made their first recordings in this small Indiana town.

David Fulton: The other thing is, it’s a nice thing that it’s in Indiana. And so, this is an Indiana company with major historical significance to American music and so it should be kept in Indiana.

Alan Burdette: I think it is important to keep the collection in Indiana. There’s a feeling of wanting to keep the collection connected to the place where this history took place. Unfortunately very little is left of the old Starr-Gennett factory and nothing is left of the studios there in Richmond, but the foundation has done a great job of trying to memorialize that place through the Walk of Fame. When it comes to the recordings, the reality is that taking care of recordings requires a certain infrastructure and it’s an expensive infrastructure to maintain so partnering with us here at the Archives of Traditional Music, where that infrastructure and that expertise already exists, makes a lot of sense. And of course, that keeps the collection in Indiana and part of the Indiana University system of which IU East and Richmond is a part.

Music: “San” – Husk O’Hare’s Super Orchestra of Chicago – Gennett 5009

David Fulton: Bloomington has, I believe, has the only collection that is now digitized and there’s something in the neighborhood of 1,200 recordings down there that people can access if they go to Bloomington or if they come here to IU East. IU East has the capacity to access the software in Bloomington.

Alan Burdette: We’re already making a large number of the recordings available online through the Variations system within Indiana University. Now neither us nor the Starr-Gennett Foundation own the copyrights on any of these recordings, so there are constraints as to what we can make broadly available, but we can make them available for educational use and for research use here at the Archives of Traditional Music and we’ve been doing that kind of thing for over 60 years. And of course, we can provide reference help to anybody who is interested in the collection and wants to know more about certain sections of this, it’s just a matter of talking to our librarian or archivist and just contact us here at the Archives and we can help you out.

David Fulton: I think it’s a good relationship between us, the Starr-Gennett Foundation, and the archive because we have a huge mutual interest and a broad capacity given the resources of the archive.

Bob Jakobson: We’re indebted to Indiana University for helping preserve this American history that we’ve helped record.

Alan Burdette: And we are cooperating with the Starr-Gennett Foundation for whatever uses they want to have for the recordings for events or promotions or educational activities. In many ways it’s not simply a matter of the foundation giving the recordings to the Archives, but rather a partnership where we’re providing support for the collection long-term but are working with the foundation to promote this very special legacy of Richmond and the Starr-Gennett company. We’re working now to digitize the recordings that haven’t already been digitized and that will improve their accessibility to users of all kinds.

Music: “Caroline” – Fess Williams and his Royal Flush Orchestra – Gennett 3210

Narrator: This segment was produced by Nathan D. Gibson on behalf of the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University. More information can be obtained by visiting the Archives in Morrison Hall on the Bloomington campus, or by visiting on the web at www.indiana.edu/~libarchm

Music: “Caroline” – Fess Williams and his Royal Flush Orchestra – Gennett 3210



Music Used:

“Chimes Blues” – King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (with Louis Armstrong) – Gennett 5135
Shelf #: CD919
Accession #: 02-028-C

“Julian” – Angel Romero, Gennett 3190
Shelf #: EC10” 4750
Accession #: 03-044.205-C
ATL 18408

“Star Dust” – Hoagy Carmichael & His Pals – Gennett 6311
Shelf #: EC10” 4265
Accession #: 86-234-C
ATL 15301

“Second Hand Woman Blues” – Georgia Tom (with Scrapper Blackwell) – Gennett 7130

“I Know I Got Religion” – Rev. J.M. Gates and his Congregation, Gennett 6034
Shelf #: EC10” 4679
Accession #: 72-148.352-C
ATL 18271

“Sweet Lovin’ Man” – New Orleans Rhythm Kings, Gennett 5104
Shelf #: EC10” 4687
Accession #: 73-103.2533-C
ATL 18275

“Adam and Eve” – Otto Gray’s Oklahoma Cowboy Band, Gennett 6376
Shelf #: EC10” 4679
Accession #: 72-148.354-C
ATL 18271

“San” – Husk O’Hare’s Super Orchestra of Chicago – Gennett 5009
Shelf #: EC10” 4688
Accession #: 73-103.2539-C
ATL 18275

“Caroline” – Fess Williams and his Royal Flush Orchestra – Gennett 3210
Shelf #: EC10” 4691
Accession #: 95-447.0703-C
ATL 18277