Black Swan Records

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Black Swan Records

February 12, 2018- Today's Harlem Topic: Black Swan Records

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The Black Swan Record Company is the record label of the Harlem Renaissance.

In 1921 Harry Pace left the Pace-Handy Publishing Company and started Black Swan Records, the first African American owned Record Company in the United States.
He designed the logo himself and decided to name it after Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield the 19th century opera singer known as “The Black Swan”
He hired Fletcher Henderson as the Recording Manager and William Grant Still as Musical Director.

Henderson was just starting in the music business at the time and the job with Black Swan was beneficial to both parties.   He had actually come to New York to go to graduate school at Columbia but ended up working as a demonstration pianist for the Pace-Handy Company.   When Pace left Handy, he took Fletcher with him and put him in charge of finding new talent.

The company encountered difficulties getting off the ground because several other record labels created obstacles to try to keep him from succeeding.   He was able to solve most of the problems but wasn’t able to find a local pressing plant and had to send his masters to Port Washington Wisconsin to be pressed.

The early releases were mostly straight songs and novelties but things changed once Ethel Waters came into the picture.  Her recording of Down Home Blues helped get the label established.  Fletcher Henderson organized a number of sessions and played piano on most.  He also toured with Ethel Waters as the Black Swan Troubadours in 1921 and 1922.  In 1924 he formed his own orchestra and would be thought of as the father of big band jazz.

After minimal success Harry Pace sold Black Swan to Paramount Records in 1924.  Even though the label was short lived it played a major role in convincing white owned record companies that there was a market for African American artists.

Other artists that recorded for Black Swan included  Alberta Hunter, Trixie Smith, Eva Taylor and Katie Crippen.
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