History OKEH Record Label

 

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Chicago, home of the OKEH Label

ImageIn 1920, Ralph Peer's recordings by African-Americanblues singer Mamie Smith were a surprise smash hit for Okeh. The company perceived the significant little tapped market for blues and jazz by African American artists. In 1922 Okeh hired Clarence Williams to act as director of "Race" (African American) recordings for Okeh's New York studios, in addition to making recordings under his own name. Okeh then opened a recording studio in Chicago, Illinois, the center of jazz in the 1920s, where Richard M. Jones served as "Race" recordings director. Many classic jazz performances by the likes of King Oliver, Sidney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong were recorded by Okeh. As part of the Carl Lindstrom Company, Okeh recordings were distributed by other Lindstrom labels including Parlophone in the United Kingdom.

Okeh Records pioneered the practice of "location recording" in 1922. Starting in 1924 Okeh also sent mobile recording trucks to tour other parts of the country to record performers not heard in New York or Chicago. Regular return trips were made once or twice a year to New Orleans, Louisiana, Atlanta, Georgia, San Antonio, Texas, St. Louis, Missouri, Kansas City, Missouri, and Detroit, Michigan, recording a Imagewealth of jazz and early country music artists.In 1926 Okeh switched to the electric microphone system of audio recording. On November 11 of that year, controlling interest in Okeh was purchased by Columbia Records. The Okeh label was continued until 1935. Columbia again revived the label in 1940 after they lost the rights to the Vocalion name (by dropping the Brunswick label) and pressed it until 1946. It was revived once again in the 1950s and used sporadically through the 1990s. Epic Records took over management of Okeh in 1965. Among the artists during Okeh's "pop" phase of the 50s and 60s were Johnnie Ray, Little Joe & The Thrillers, and Little Richard. With Northern Soul music coming to the forefront in the 60s, Okeh signed Major Lance, who gave the label two big successes with The Monkey Time and Um Um Um Um Um Um.Sony BMG Music Entertainment today owns the Okeh catalogue with Epic continuing to manage the Okeh material. Blues musician and singer Keb' Mo' records for the Epic group of Sony BMG under the Okeh and Red Ink labels. 

 


 

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