Between 1922 and 1928, a ragtag recording studio in rural Richmond, Indiana, became a focal
point for a hot jazz revolution. The Gennett studio was little more than a single story shed in
back of a piano factory. Old rugs hung from the ceiling. Walls were stuffed with straw to dampen
the racket made by passing locomotives. These were the humble beginnings of the first
recorded jazz music in the country.
Gennett records was founded in Richmond, Indiana by the Starr Piano Company, and released
its first records in October 1917. The company took its name from its top managers: Harry,
Fred and Clarence Gennett. Earlier, the company had produced recordings under the Starr
Records label. The early issues were vertically cut in the gramophone record grooves, using
the hill-and-dale method of a U-shaped groove and sapphire ball stylus, but they switched to
the more popular lateral cut method in April 1919.
|The Gennett Records Building in Richmond, Indiana. Photos by Mark S. Orr
|Gennett Records - History of Jazz
Gennett is best remembered for the wealth of early jazz talent recorded on the label, including
sessions by Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Beiderbecke, The New Orleans Rhythm Kings, "King" Joe
Oliver's band with the young Louis Armstrong, Lois Deppe's Serenaders with the young Earl
Hines, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, The Red Onion Jazz Babies,The State Street
Ramblers, Zach Whyte and his Chocolate Beau Brummels, Alphonse Trent and his Orchestra
and many others. Gennett also recorded early blues artists such as Thomas A. Dorsey, Sam
Collins, Jaybird Coleman, and Big Boy Cleveland and early "hillbilly" or country music performers
such as Vernon Dalhart, Bradley Kincaid, Ernest Stoneman, Fiddlin' Doc Roberts, and Gene
Autry. Many early religious recordings were made by Homer Rodeheaver, early shape note
singers and others.
From 1925 to 1934, Gennett released recordings by hundreds of "old-time music" artists,
precursors to country music, including such artists as Doc Roberts and Gene Autry. By the late
1920s, Gennett was pressing records for more than 25 labels worldwide, including budget disks
for Sears, Roebuck's catalog. In 1926, Fred Gennett created Champion Records as a budget
label for tunes previously released on Gennett.
The Gennett Company was hit severely by the Great Depression in 1930, and massively cut
back on record recording and production until it was halted altogether in 1934. At this time the
only product Gennett Records produced under its own name was a series of recorded sound
effects for use by radio stations. In 1935 the Starr Piano Company sold some Gennett masters,
and the Gennett and Champion trademarks to Decca Records. Jack Kapp of Decca was
primarily interested in some jazz, blues and old time music items in the Gennett catalog which he
thought would add depth to the selections offered by the newly organized Decca company. Kapp
also attempted to revive the Gennett and Champion labels between 1935 and 1937 as
specialists in bargain pressings of race and old-time music with but little success.
|Bix Beiderbeck and the Rhythm Jugglers
|Gennett Recording Laboratory Truck
Brunswick acquired the old Gennett pressing plant for Decca. After Decca opened a new
pressing plant in Pinckneyville, Illinois in 1956, the old Gennett plant in Richmond, Indiana was
sold to Mercury Records in 1958. Mercury operated the historic plant until 1969 when it moved
to a nearby modern plant later operated by Cinram. Located at 1600 Rich Road, Cinram
closed the plant in 2009.
The Gennett company produced the Gennett, Starr, Champion, Superior, and Van Speaking
labels, and also produced some Supertone, Silvertone, and Challenge records under contract.
The firm pressed most Autograph, Rainbow, Hitch, KKK, Our Song, and Vaughn records under
|Gennett Walk of Fame
Honoring Gennett's firsts: Gene Autry, Lawrence Welk, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbeck, Fred
Gennett and Lil Hardin - Armstrong.
In September 2007, the Starr-Gennett Foundation began to recognize the most important
Gennett artists on a Walk of Fame near the site of Gennett's Richmond, Indiana recording
The Gennett Walk of Fame is located along South 1st Street in Richmond at the site of the Starr
Piano Company and embedded in the Whitewater Gorge Trail, which connects to the longer
Cardinal Greenway Trail. Both trails are part of the American Discovery Trail, the only
coast-to-coast, non-motorized recreational trail.
The markers are three-dimensional, cast bronze and colored tile mosaic emblems in the form of
78 rpm phonograph records. Each marker features the classic Gennett label design and an
artistic mosaic rendering of the represented musician. A smaller bronze plaque is installed next
to each record to recognize the accomplishments of the inductee. The Foundation estimates
that the Walk of Fame eventually will contain up to 80 markers.
The Foundation convened its National Advisory Board for the first time in January, 2006, to
select the first 10 inductees for the Gennett Records Walk of Fame. The Advisory Board selects
inductees from these categories: classic jazz, old-time country, blues, gospel (African-American
and Southern), American popular song, ethnic, historic/spoken, and classical, giving preference
to classic jazz, old-time country, blues, gospel, and American popular song.
The Advisory Board's consensus selection for the first inductee in the Gennett Walk of Fame
was Louis Armstrong. The following is a list of the first ten inductees:
Jelly Roll Morton
Big Bill Broonzy
Joe "King" Oliver
A second set of ten nominees was inducted in 2008:
Uncle Dave Macon
Blind Lemon Jefferson
See Wikipedia for more inductees including the New Orleans Rhythm Kings and Jelly Roll
|Hoagy Carmichael with Hitch's Happy Harmonists
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|Bailey's Lucky Seven at the Gennett Recording Studio
|The Starr Piano Company - Richmond, Indiana
|Davenport Blues by Bix Bedierbecke & His Rhythm Jugglers
Gennett Label 5654-B - Fox Trot
Division of The Starr Piano Co. - Richnond, Indiana
|Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong - Gennett Records Walk of Fame
|Paddy's Reel - R. Murchie 4660-A
Piccola with Orchestra
Richmond, Indiana - Gennett
Only 85 Cents!
| Gene Autry
The American performer who gained fame as a ‘Singing
Cowboy’ in the movies got his early start in Richmond.
Gene Autry completed 93 movies and starred in 91
television productions, but it was his early recording
sessions at the Gennett Recording Studios in Richmond
that launched him to stardom.
Young Autry was working at a small-time radio station in
rural Oklahoma when he wrote Gennett in 1929 and got
a recording date.
This future entertainment legend arrived in Richmond
nervous and insecure, with a portfolio of ballads and
yodeling cowboy songs. But he gave it his best.
He recorded several numbers for Gennett and gained
the small following of a much-needed national audience.
This singing cowboy immortalized in films got his early
start in Richmond and the image stuck.
|Duke Ellington and his band, c 1920
|King Oliver And His Creole Jazz Band - The Gennett Sessions
October 5, 1923
Gennett Recording Studio, Richmond, IN.
|Retail Warerooms of the Starr Piano Company. Tenth and Main Streets, Richmond, Indiana.
|This is the famous photograph taken on February 18, 1924 during the first recording session of
the Wolverine Orchestra at the Gennett Recording Studios in Richmond, Indiana. From left to right:
Min Leibrook, Jimmy Hartwell, George Johnson, Bob Gillette, Vic Moore, Dick Voynow, Bix
Beiderbecke and Al Gandee.