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February 2001

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Phonograph Record, "Oh Daddy/Down Home Blues"
Performed by Ethel Waters
Recorded on Bla
ck Swan Records, 1921

* Listen to "Oh, Daddy"
415K, RealAudio
* Listen to "Down Home Blues"
410K, RealAudio

Black Swan Records
In 1921, 37-year-old Harry Pace founded Black Swan Records, the first recording company to be owned and operated by African Americans. He named his company "Black Swan" after the 19th century African American soprano Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield. Pace intended to record a cross section of musical styles, including classical music, performed by Black artists for a middle-class African American audience

The company's best selling recording was Ethel Waters', "Oh, Daddy" backed by "Down Home Blues." Recorded in May 1921, it sold about 500,000 copies in six months.

Black Swan's success was short lived, however. The introduction of radio broadcasting in 1922-23 had an enormous impact on the entire recording industry as audiences began listening to music on the radio rather than buying records. Pace also encountered insurmountable difficulties with record production and distribution. As a result, Pace's fledgling Black Swan record company was quickly toppled. The company declared bankruptcy in December 1923 and was purchased in April 1924 by Paramount Records.

Ethel Waters, a performer on the vaudeville circuit in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York at the time she made this recording, went on to achieve success as an accomplished singer and actress. Fletcher Henderson, who provided the accompaniment, became of the leading pianists and bandleaders of the 1920s and 1930s.

--Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life, Leisure & Entertainment


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