Record Row Questions

By: Kassandra Grullon

Question : What is Record Row?

In the 1950s, Chicago was home to over 800,000 African Americans. In search of new opportunities, Blacks migrated from the south to Chicago and found a community for themselves. As Black nightclubs grew in popularity within Chicago neighborhoods, individuals saw a need for record labels to showcase and produce Black artists and music. Black music grew, and so did the demand for it. As the demand for Black music grew, dozens of independent record companies emerged to cash in on a new opportunity. Chicago was buzzing with record sales, and South Michigan avenue became the hotbed of famous Black musicians and records labels. South Michigan Avenue had dozens of record labels that settled there, signing and producing some of the most popular Black musicians of the time. It soon became known as Record Row. Record Row became a rare place where black entrepreneurs could grab a piece of the American Dream despite the segregation and discrimination of the times. There were many new opportunities for Black professionals because of Record Row. Artists, accountants, and musicians were some of the few that emerged out of this opportunity. Record Row was influential to the making of Black music and the community as well. Record Row provided the Black community with a sense of hope and role models. It helped young children strive towards careers in music. Record Row was also a dramatic turning point for Black music as it crossed over to White Radio and became more mainstream.

Record Row was home to 17 record distributors and over half a dozen record labels. The street was hot, making regular people into stars overnight. Some of the names of these companies were : 

  • One-derful 
  • Chance 
  • King 
  • Constellation 
  • Brunswick
  • Dee-Jay
  • Okeh
  • Marvelous 
  • Mercury 
  • ABC Paramount 

Question: What were the artist of each record label?

Some of the most popular Black musicians from Chicago came out of the record labels located on Record Row. Record labels like Chess Records and Vee-Jay Records were among the most popular of the times with some of the most famous music artists. Chess Records had artists like Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Etta James, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Rodgers, and Willie Dixson. It’s Rival, Black-owned Dee-Jay Records signed artists like The Staple Singers, The Beetles, Betty Everett, Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler, and Lefty Bates. Some of the other record labels like Brunswick Records, Constellation Records, and One-derful had prominent musical artists. These labels had artists like Jackie Wilson, The Boswell Sisters, and the Chi-Lites.

The music that drove Record Row was Black music, composed and performed by a Black artist. The record labels found on Record Row were known for producing certain types of music. Chess Records, founded in 1950, captured a vibrant new style of American music with roots in the American South that influenced and inspired rock and roll pioneers from Chuck Berry to the Rolling Stones. It has become synonymous with American rhythm and blues. Vee-Jay Records quickly became a top indie label that regularly turned out great R&B, urban blues, (and later) jazz, folk, and gospel recordings.

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

The creation and influence of Record Row were one of a kind. Record Row inspired many record companies in American cities that helped promote Black music and musicians. Like Record Row, Motown Records was created and produced by numerous Black musicians. Motown had a massive influence in the music industry in being that it was a thriving black-owned record label during the height of racial inequality. Music from Motown broke down racial barriers in the black & white communities in America and ignited cultural change in the music industry. Motown was the main label for mainstream R&B/soul music (and, today, hip-hop music), and it was all possible with the Inspiration of Record Row.

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