Electrically Recorded 1917-1932
Welcome to Paramount Plaza, a monument that recognizes the tremendous musical legacy that was recorded and produced in the Village of Grafton between 1917 and 1932!
The Paramount recordings etched their way into American history at a time when the 78 rpm record was the standard in musical entertainment. In 1917, Grafton's own Wisconsin Chair Company - located at what is now 12th Avenue and Falls Road - began mass-producing and selling records as part of a sales promotion to sell their phonographs. Under a subsidiary called the New York Recording Laboratories (NYRL), the Chair Company launched four record labels: Puritan, Famous, Broadway, and the legendary Paramount.
At first, only the pressing of records occurred in Grafton from wax masters produced at off-site studios. By 1929, the board of directors decided it would be more cost effective to set up a recording studio within the factory itself. In this make-shift studio, artists sang into large acoustic horns that were soon replaced by "state-of-the-art" microphones. Sound vibrations were transferred onto a needle that etched grooves into spinning wax to make a master recording. Molds for the records were made of materials such as clay, shellac, and even bits of limestone.
Paramount signed some of the brightest stars in gospel, jazz and blues. Artists traveled from the Deep South to record here: Thomas A. Dorsey, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Papa Charlie Jackson, Blind Blake, Alberta Hunter, Ida Cox, Charlie Patton, Hattie McDaniels, Mead Lux Lewis, Joe "King" Oliver and Louis Armstrong. From 1929-1932, more than 1,600 titles were recorded in Grafton including one-fourth of the country's gospel, jazz, and blues records. Additionally NYRL artists recorded jazz, gospel, Wisconsin dance bands, religious sermons, as well as local musicians and choirs.
The Milwaukee River provided part of the power for the pressing plant, which employed hundreds of people. The Paramount label and associated labels are unique in that they contain such a variety of early blues, jazz, gospel, dance, and country music: music that has gone on to inspire generations and provides the basis for rock and roll and many other musical genres that we enjoy today. A musical legacy started right here in Grafton!