The old architecture that housed Chess Records’ studios at 2120 S. Michigan Ave. is still standing, proudly marked, and still affiliated to the dejection — it’s now Willie Dixon’s Dejection Heaven Foundation. But you’re beneath acceptable to admit accession nearby landmark angry to Chicago’s music history: The Columbia College Chicago architecture at 623 S. Wabash Ave., congenital by Solon S. Berman in 1895, already the home of Brunswick Records.
Walk by it today, and you’ll see an old architecture that wears its crumbling history on its walls. A corrupt advertisement on its arctic side: “STUDEBAKER,” in ample basic letters, a trace of the building’s aboriginal owner, the Studebaker auto aggregation (then accepted for carriages and wheels). On its south side, aloof aloft the accepted Columbia College Chicago sign, is a achromatic “B.” The letter already adumbrated the home of the Brunswick Corporation, a architect of assorted appurtenances that additionally happened to actualize the aboriginal Chicago-based almanac characterization of any significance. Previously, almanac companies in the burghal had been baby and short-lived, and they awash few absolute annal — or artlessly advertisement those of added companies. But Brunswick was different.
Formerly alleged the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company, the affiliation was — and still is — accepted abundantly for bearing recreational equipment, like basin tables and bowling paraphernalia. It bought 623 S. Wabash from Studebaker in 1913 and confused in its capital offices. Around that time, Brunswick-Balke-Collender absitively to access the music business and began affairs phonographs and board cabinets. By 1920, it had angled into authoritative and distributing its own records, and the aggregation carved out amplitude in its abode for a new division, Brunswick Records.
This was a aeon of important changes in the music industry. Victor Talking Machine Company, founded in 1901, had approved to abuse ambitious challengers, including Brunswick, with lawsuits claiming abandoned patents; by the aboriginal 1920s, however, these lawsuits failed. (The courts absolved them, or abroad begin that patents weren’t abandoned upon, or alike that Victor’s patents were invalid.) A huge cardinal of independent record companies, ample and small, sprouted, arch to a cogent access in the bulk and array of music that was recorded and released. They provided the soundtrack for the Roaring Twenties, and Brunswick emerged as the best acknowledged of these newcomers. By the average of the decade, it rivaled Victor for best annal awash in the industry, abnormally afterwards Brunswick’s acquirement of the Vocalion characterization in 1924.
Over the advance of the decade, Brunswick accumulated an absorbing agenda of artists alive in a array of genres, from classical (including the aboriginal recordings by the artisan and aqueduct Richard Strauss) to old-time music (what after became accepted as country) to applesauce (including affecting artists like Duke Ellington and King Oliver). A cardinal of Brunswick’s applesauce and dejection releases — like King Oliver’s sessions with his Dixie Syncopators, or Clarence “Pine Top” Smith’s accepted “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie” — had a aloft aftereffect on the advance of consecutive music. (Everyone from Tommy Dorsey to Ray Charles quoted the contrarily abstruse Smith’s song.)
While abounding who recorded for Brunswick additionally formed with added labels, the company’s better sellers were the pop stars it active to absolute contracts. Among them: Marion Harris, one of the arch choir of the era; Al Jolson, already a brilliant for a decade back he started recording for Brunswick in 1924; and Chicago-based Isham Jones, one of the best accepted bandleaders throughout the 1920s. Jones composed several of his own hits, best conspicuously the accepted “It Had To Be You.” Jolson, meanwhile, fabricated a alternation of acclaimed recordings for Brunswick: “California, Actuality I Come,” the fast-selling “Sonny Boy,” and “My Mammy” — which he infamously performed in blackface in the groundbreaking talking picture The Applesauce Singer.
Initially, recordings for the aggregation were all produced in New York City. But in the summer of 1921, Brunswick opened its own recording flat (then generally alleged a “laboratory”) on the sixth attic of the 623 S. Wabash building. Its mission, as the barter annual Talking Machine World put it, was “to almanac the assignment of Isham Jones and added Western talent, as able-bodied as for beginning and analysis work.” The music barter affidavit (or at atomic the Brunswick columnist absolution they copied) hailed the new flat as the aboriginal abiding one in the burghal of Chicago.
But the studio, for some reason, wasn’t acclimated for authoritative bartering records. It was belted to beginning assignment — that is, developing new recording technologies. (That November, its engineers created the aboriginal recording of a alive achievement of an opera, La Bohème, through a wireless transmission from a amphitheater four blocks away.) Rather than break at home, Chicago-based artists catholic to New York Burghal to almanac for Brunswick and added aloft labels, none of which maintained abiding recording accessories in the burghal for abundant of the ’20s. Back Jelly Roll Morton recorded the aboriginal of his battleground Red Hot Pepper sessions in Chicago in 1926 for Victor Records, again the arch aggregation in the field, he did so in the amphitheater of a auberge — the Webster Auberge at 2150 N. Lincoln Park West, now the abode of Webster House Apartments.
In 1924, Brunswick went into the radio business, partnering with the Radio Affiliation of America to accommodate radios in their phonograph cabinets; that December, Brunswick began broadcasting the “Brunswick Hour of Music” from its New York studios. While Brunswick wasn’t the aboriginal almanac aggregation to enter radio, its affiliation with RCA had an actual impact: Within a ages of the aboriginal “Brunswick Hour of Music,” its capital adversary Victor started bearing its own broadcasts. Three years later, Brunswick became the home of WCFL, Chicago’s “Voice of Labor” — a groundbreaking affiliation with the Chicago Federation of Activity that claimed to be the nation’s sole “labor radio advertisement station.” In accession to activity programming, the base additionally played music performed by abounding of Brunswick’s artists (and some religious services).
By the afterward year, Brunswick assuredly accustomed abiding studios in 623 S. Wabash for authoritative records. But these didn’t operate for long. In 1929, the studios confused to a new facility: A massive bartering architecture at 666 Lake Shore Drive accepted as the American Appliance Mart. The affiliation was accustomed for Brunswick, as phonograph cabinets were a accepted appliance item, and actuality on the top attic of a 21-story architecture bargain accordance and added artery babble that afflicted the recording process.
There is irony to Brunswick’s added efforts to authorize abiding recording accessories in Chicago in the backward 1920s. This was the time back best of Chicago’s arch applesauce musicians (including Oliver, Morton, and Louis Armstrong) were all abrogation for New York, which was bound acceptable the centermost of jazz. But applesauce artists represented alone a baby allotment of Brunswick’s sales. What had a more significant appulse on business was the Depression. The absolute recording industry was hit adamantine as almanac sales plummeted, and for a aggregation like Brunswick-Balke-Collender, annal were aloof a subsidiary. In 1930, it awash the almanac aggregation to Warner Bros. As Brunswick’s broker told one of the barter papers, the aggregation “was animated to be out of radio, annal and phonographs.”
The Brunswick Affiliation awash the architecture in 1964, and it served as appointment and barn amplitude until Columbia College Chicago purchased it in 1983. Today, there’s little trace of Brunswick’s present. The autogenous has been adapted abounding times; the recording studios are continued gone. Although a actual brand put up by the Illinois State Actual Society on the building’s facade indicates its accomplished role as the abode of the Brunswick Corporation, it makes no acknowledgment of the almanac company.
But on the arctic ancillary of the building, aloft the ample “STUDEBAKER” sign, is a hard-to-make-out, partially preserved angel of what looks like a attack disc and the end of the chat “Records.” Given the corporation’s own admiration to balloon its captivation in the recording industry, it’s applicable that the alone credible trace larboard actuality of the celebrated almanac aggregation is a apparition sign.
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