Black History Month & Music: Part 7 of 12

Can you imagine using a label such as “race records” to differentiate music? In the 1920, ’30s and part of the ’40s, that was commonplace, and really not even meant as negative in most cases.

According to the Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World: Media Industry and Society,

“The introduction of the term ‘Race music’ for blues and related African-American musical forms is usually credited to Harry H. Pace of OKeh. An isue of the Chicago Defender published in March 1922 carried an invitation to its readers to ‘ask your neighborhood dealer for a complete list of OKeh race records.’ Such segregated lists were to be known as ‘Race catalogs,’ and some of these became much sought after. They included the Paramount catalog of 1924 and the Victor catalog of 1930; the former was illustrated with line drawings, and the latter (which listed ‘Vocal Blues, Religious, Spirituals, Red Hot Dance Tunes, Sermons, Novelties’) had vignette photographs of singers and preachers. Portrait photographs were used on the art deco-style covers of the 1938 and 1940 Decca Race records catalogs….After World War II, the segregated ‘Race’ or ‘sepia’ catalog all but disappeared – for example, the newly formed Capitol Records had a single roster containing both black and white acts.”

The following are examples of images, mostly from OKeh and Paramount, that show “Race” being used as a selling point for music.


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