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Pianist Jelly Roll Morton, 1890-1941
Ferdinand Joseph La Menthe, aka "Jelly Roll" Morton (1890-1941)

Richmond: Birthplace of Recorded Jazz

Hoagy Carmichael recorded "Star Dust" in 1923 at the old Starr Piano building known as the Gennett Recording Studios, once located on the bands of the Whitewater River Gorge. He, along with jazz greats like Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Beiderbecke and Tommy Dorsey, recognized Richmond as "the birth place of recorded jazz." The Starr Piano Company opened in 1872, and grew steadily. By 1912, the company was believed to be the largest piano manufacturer in the world. In 1915, Star entered the recording field with obsolete recording equipment and old master discs gotten from a bankrupt firm in Boston, and Star's recording studio was born.

Star named the record company Gennett to avoid confusion with the piano business. It differed from other recording companies because it recorded both white and black musicians, sometimes together. This liberal policy helped struggling jazz players who pioneered the music. The King Oliver Creole Jazz Band, which featured a young trumpet player named Louis Armstrong, recorded several discs in 1923 at the Richmond studio, including Armstrong's first solo. Pianist Jelly Roll Morton, whose compositions and playing style helped bridge the gap between ragtime and jazz forms, recorded 13 compositions in Richmond during 1923 and 1924.

Located at the southern end of the Starr complex, recording activity frequently had to cease as boxcars would rumble by the studio. During the period from 1916 to 1934, the Richmond studio made thousands of acoustic and electric recordings, featuring blues, jazz, and other musical styles, including ethnic, and the spoken word. During the Depression, the company's recording division went out of business. Decca bought the rights to Gennett's "Champion" label in 1935, and in the 1940s, Joe Davis briefly revived the Gennett label for jazz aficionados. In 1997, Richmond began to commemorate its jazz heritage with the completion of several murals on various buildings throughout the community.

Documentation includes information on Whitewater Gorge Park, where the Starr Piano Company was located; historical information about the Starr Piano Company and Gennett Record Company; tourism information about the area; and slides.

Originally submitted by: David M. McIntosh, Representative (2nd District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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