Grafton's Steps onto the Blues Trail - Paramount Records

Paramount Plaza in Grafton WI
Paramount Plaza in Grafton WI
Paramount Plaza in Grafton Wisconsin was built to recognize the important part of music history that Grafton was once host to. In 1922 the old chair factory near the Falls Road bridge began to make record cabinets and also opened a recording studio at the plant. Failing to make any profit off traditional recordings, the new record company, Paramount Records, turned to recording race music (Jazz and Blues) and marketed the records to the growing black communities in Chicago.

This business strategy worked well, and incidentally resulted in the generation of a popular blues music culture which became the foundation of rock-n-roll music. Many now famous blues musicians recorded in Grafton up until the Great Depression and the demise of the first incarnation of Paramount Records.





Milwaukee River Site of Paramount Records Recording Studio
Milwaukee River Site of Paramount Records Recording Studio


Growing up in Grafton, I  never thought anything cool would ever happen here. It turns out it already had.

My mother was a member of the Junior Women's Club in Grafton while I was young. She and her friends put together a brochure of Grafton's history. It was a pamphlet that amused me for many hours. To think, this small sleepy town on the edge of the Milwaukee suburbs was so rich in history. If only we could have been living in those heydays of Grafton - when it was the county seat, and had mills and and great big factories, and when people cut ice out of the millpond where I ice skated in winter and managed to keep it from melting long into the summer.

Because of that pamphlet, I was well aware of Grafton's recording history. But, the rest of Grafton wasn't. The village slept and commuted to work, never realizing that their home was actually cool. Not untill History Detectives made a 20 minute episode about Grafton's cool did the Village finally wake up.

Milwaukee River Site of Paramount Records Recording Studio
Milwaukee River Site of Paramount Records Recording Studio

Since the airing of the History Detectives show on PBS, Grafton has turned it's main plaza into a center recognizing the achievement of mostly black musicians ... and this in one of the whitest towns in America! Not ones to turn down an opportunity to self promote, Grafton also established an annual blues music festival. All I can say is bravo! About time.

Music is always something worthy of celebration. Every town has a memorial celebrating the heroic sacrifices of war veterans, but how many towns have the opportunity to celebrate something so far from war - something as creative and generative as a music that literally set people free.

This is the foundation of the blues and in turn rock-n-roll  .... freedom. The call and response haunting hymns of the slaves were a means, a code, for communicating information about the underground railroad, and an inspiration to believe in the possibility and promise of freedom.

Paramount Plaza - Grafton WI
Paramount Plaza - Grafton WI

Even if the businessmen who ran Paramount Records were only profiteers, they were able to close their eyes to race and to listen and hear a value in the music of  black performers. This was a key step towards the recognition of equality, a process that continues to play out today.

Now there are a billion web sites dedicated to the history of Paramount Records, so I will not try to retell what is already written at Wikipedia. It is a fascinating history, and if you spend more time investigating this topic you will not be disappointed. But, before you leave this site for another, make sure to listen to some tunes by artists recorded in Grafton WI. Just press the orange play button in the upper left corner of the images below. The History Detective Videos are also here in the Video section below.







Directions and Map




Address for your GPS: 1846 Green Bay Road, Grafton WI
| coordinates: N43.309706, W087.951898 |

From Milwaukee25 Minutes
From Madison1.5 Hours
From Green Bay1.5 Hours
From Wausau3 Hours
From Minneapolis5.5 Hours
From Chicago2 Hours


Photos



Paramount Plaza - Grafton WI
Paramount Plaza - Grafton WI

Paramount Plaza - Grafton WI
Paramount Plaza - Grafton WI

Paramount Plaza - Grafton WI
Paramount Plaza - Grafton WI

Paramount Plaza - Grafton WI
Paramount Plaza - Grafton WI

Paramount Plaza - Grafton WI
Paramount Plaza - Grafton WI


Video














2 comments:

  1. OK..this place is now on my bucket list! I do love the old blues music and wasn't aware of Grafton's place in its history.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ozaukee Talent offers Paramount Walking Tours. Contact angie@ozaukeetalent.com to schedule a guided tour

    ReplyDelete