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Mississippi Blues Trail Stretches to Wisconsin September 24, 2010

Posted by David W. King in Mississippi Blues Trail.
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On Saturday, September 18 at 3:30pm, the 112th Mississippi Blues Trail marker was dedicated in Lime Kiln Park in Grafton, Wisconsin, near the former site of Paramount Records.

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Paramont Records label recorded many pioneering artists from Mississippi, including Charley Patton, Son House, Tommy Johnson, Skip James, Gus Cannon, Henry Townsend, the Mississippi Sheiks, Willie Brown, the Graves Brothers and others. This is the seventh marker dedicated outside of the state, and like the others, it demonstrates the wide reach and influence of Mississippi blues music.

“Paramount Records was instrumental in bringing Mississippi blues to the world,” Gov. Haley Barbour said. “Some of our state’s greatest musical legends traveled to Wisconsin to get their start in the music industry. Mississippi may be the birthplace of America’s music, however, partners in states across this country have been invaluable in spreading the sound.”

The marker is being placed in tandem with the Fifth Annual Paramount Blues Festival. During the weekend, Tommy Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy will be honored on Grafton’s Paramount Walk of Fame. Also on Saturday, Johnson’s legacy will be celebrated with the Fifth Annual Tommy Johnson Blues Festival at the Cooper’s Down Racetrack in Terry, Miss.

Paramount Records was launched in 1917 by its parent company, the Wisconsin Chair Company, which also produced phonographs and phonograph cabinets. The label began recording blues artists in 1922, initially concentrating on female stars of the vaudeville circuit including Ma Rainey. By the mid-1920s, it was the home of leading male artists including Texas’ Blind Lemon Jefferson. In the late 1920s, Paramount began utilizing field agents, including Jackson, Miss., furniture and music store owner H.C. Speir, to locate talent across the South.

Among the artists that Speir located in Mississippi was Charley Patton, one of the founders of the Delta Blues, who recorded over forty songs for Paramount. Other Mississippi-born artists who recorded for the label include: Tommy Johnson, the most influential artist in the Greater Jackson area; Memphis jug band pioneer Gus Cannon; Henry Townsend, a leading bluesman in St. Louis; Bentonia’s Skip James, one of the most distinctive stylists of early blues; and Son House, who was the mentor of both Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters.

Many of these recordings were made between 1929, when Paramount opened a studio in Grafton, and 1932, when low record sales resulting from the Depression forced Paramount to close its doors. Over the ensuing decades, however, historians and record collectors would hold the Paramount’s recordings in the highest esteem.

For more information about the weekend’s activities, visit graftonblues.org

The Mississippi Blues Trail is a museum without walls taking visitors on a musical history journey through Mississippi. The trail started with the first official marker in Holly Ridge, the resting place of the blues guitarist Charley Patton. The trail winds its way to sites honoring B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Son House and more.

For more information about the Mississippi Blues Trail, visit http://www.msbluestrail.org

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