Commodification of Black Music Through Labels

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Record Row culminated independent record companies into one, especially black music labels, and resided on South Michigan Avenue. Custom Records, Brunswick, Vee-Jay, and Chess all played a role in creating a new era of popular music for black artists throughout the 1950s up until the 1980s. 


Record Row Companies

Curtom Records 

Curtom Records was founded in 1968 by Curtis Mayfield and Eddie Thomas, hence the combined name. This was also the first recording label owned by an African American artist and its headquarters were in Chicago. It closed in 1980 due to a decline of mainstream soul music. The artists under this label were: 
Curtis Mayfield 
Donny Hathaway 
Holly Maxwell 
the Staple Singers 
The Impressions 
Leroy Hutson 


This dynamic label was created in 1916 on Michigan Avenue and its legacy lives on through contemporary artists sampled Brunswick bass lines and drum beats. The artists under this company were: 
Jackie Wilson 
The Mills Brothers 
The Chi-Lites 
Eugene Record 
Lavere Baker 
Barbara Acklin 
Gene Chandler 


This label was founded in 1953 and specialized in Blues, Jazz, and R&B. The blueprint of the Chicago music company was cultivated by Vivian Carter and James C. Bracken, a husband-wife partnership. The artists under this company were: 

The Pips – Gladys Knight & The Pips (before Fury Records contract)

Jimmy Reed 

John Lee Hooker

Jerry Butler 

Dee Clark 

The Dells 

El Dorados 


Chess Records was founded in 1950, a successor to Aristocrat Records. Poland, Leonard, and Phil Chess were Jewish brothers focused on building one of the best blues label of all time, which they may have done. Cadillac Records is a 2008 film that illustrates the powerful legacy of the Chicago label. The artists under this label were: 

Muddy Waters 

Chuck Berry 

Bo Diddley 

Etta James 

The Moonglows 

Willie Dixon 

Howlin’ Wolf 


Stax Records vs. Motown Records

Stax Records was a label  founded in 1957 in Memphis. This music company distributed sales of the most renowned soul music in history. The musical style and artistry between Stax and Record Row differed despite similarities in soul music. The Staple Singers, Dee Clark, and Jerry Butler molded RR soul into gospel music and vice versa. Stax records’ soul sound was heavily influenced by gospel, especially through artists like The Marion Gaines singers. Stax’s subsidiary, Gospel Truth Records, focused on creating a place for a new contemporary sound of gospel. Record Row differed in aspects of the commodified, upbeat sounds usually heard from Stax. 

Motown was created by Berry Gordy in 1959 within the city of Detroit, Michigan This soul music label produced a net worth more than $61 million during the 1960s and 1970s, which would be quadruple the amount in the modern music industry. Motown Records, produced in 1960, had relationships with artists such as: the Supremes, Four Tops, and Mary Wells. The development invested into artists and their work was special at Motown, in which was seen at Record Row as well. At Vee-Jay, the married duo produced magic for the label as did Ashford and Simpson at Motown: a wife-husband songwriting-production team. 

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