The Cradle of Rhythm and Blues

by Kayla Ary

1. What, Where, and why was “Record Row”?

Record Row was a large part of African American music during the 1950s, especially as it related to R&B, soul, blues, and rock and roll. During the 1950s, South Michigan Avenue in Chicago was called Record Row. On this street, many independent black-owned record companies were formed, including Veejay Records. Veejay was started by Vivian Carter and Jimmy Bracken and was the first record company to move in to Record Row. Their company was the catalyst for the formation and success of Record Row. As more record labels were formed, South Michigan Avenue became a busy street in Chicago, with black people – both artists and commonfolk – as well as producers and others in the record music industry frequenting the street. Eventually, Record Row contained record companies that signed white artists as well – causing the street to be even more busy. 

2. Name the companies on Record Row.

  • Chess Records
  • Veejay Records
  • One-derful Records
  • Chance Records
  • Constellation Records
  • Brunswick Records
  • United Records

3. Were certain labels known for certain types of music?

Chess Records was known for their urban blues sound due to their invention of amplified harmonica and guitar. Later, Chess became the number 1 blues label and, eventually, they added pop influences and recorded doowop, a new R&B sound. Veejay Records was known for their success in multiple genres: blues, jazz, gospel, R&B, and rock and roll. Eventually, they were made into a full-line label, recording jazz, blues, spiritual, country, Western, and pop. Lastly, Brunswick Records was known for their soul music. 

4. Name the artists and on what label?

Muddy Waters was one of the first artists to make Chess Records popular. He was known for his influence in blues and rock and roll. Howlin Wolfe, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Jimmy Roger were a few other artists on Chess Records. As the era of Chess Records continued, Chess began to take on a different sounds. Groups and artists like the Dells and Fontella Bass.

Veejay Records signed the Beatles, Jimmy Read, Dee Clark, Gene Chandler, Eddie Harris, The Four Seasons, Frank Ifield, The Spaniards, and the Impressions. 


Brunswick Records signed artists like the Chi-Lites and other soul artists and groups that fell in line with the increasingly popular soul music genre. 

5. Compare Record Row to other record company creations in American cities.

When Motown Records first became popular, they were known for their new look, sound, and performance. Artists under Motown were taught how to be – they had choreographed performances and had certain ways of dressing and acting. Motown overtook Chess Records in being the top record label of the century. Eventually, though, Chess adapted to begin to be more like Motown. They moved away from blues to create a more danceable R&B sound. 

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