In the early 20th century American music market, African American music and its consumers were not considered valuable as much as today. It wasn’t until a hundred years ago that there was a record label owned by African Americans, and most record labels refused to issue records by African American musicians. Despite the situation, Black Swan Records, the first black owned label, had shown the possibilities that African American music could be a main “genre” of the U.S. music industry. In this paper I aim to explore the roles of Black Swan in popularization of African American music in the 1920s.
Attempts to cultural achievement
Once founded in 1921, Black Swan had its aim to issue not only blues, ragtime and comic records, but also opera, spiritual, and classical music (Suisman 218). Harry H. Pace, the founder of Black Swan, believed he could develop African American culture while refuting the prejudice that limited African Americans to recording such musical styles as coon songs. For instance, Carroll Clark, one of the few African Americans to have their music recorded, was allowed to sing only sentimental songs about the Old South although he was a conservatory-trained baritone (Brooks 3). However, Black Swan issued recordings across a variety of genres such as light classical music, Blues, Spirituals, Christmas carols, and instrumental solos. All recordings were oriented toward middle-class standards of dignity and refinement (Suisman 222).
Black Swan persuaded its consumers to buy their records with its identity as a black owned company. One of the Black Swan’s marketing for classical music records is to explain how the consumer can contribute to better music. This advertisement shows connection of Market relation and its agenda:
“If you - the person reading this advertisement - earnestly want to do something for Negro music, go to our record dealer and ask for the better class of records by colored artists. If there is a demand, he will keep them. Try this list of the better class. (Suisman 228)”
Black Swan had also influenced the commercial expansion of Blues. In 1921, Ethel Waters recorded “Down Home Blues” and “Oh Daddy” with Black Swan, and two songs became Black Swan’s first big sellers. This big hit changed Black Swan’s initial agenda to focus on the taste of the market for more urbane black music. Also, as the company achieved a great success with African American artists and its consumers, other white-owned labels determined to increase their market share in this new profitable market. As a result, the quality and the quantity of blues and jazz records increased since 1922 (Suisman 231). Record stores began to sell so called “race music” records. “Race music” records were targeting black consumers, and the sales of race music records reached five million copies during the 1920s (Jaynes). And by the end of 1930s, blues music was not only shared by black consumers, but also by a great number of white...