The Gennett Record Company was significant to the music careers of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Earl Hines, who were all signed to the label. The first commercially released recordings of a white jazz band with a black featured soloist happened at Gennett Records: Jelly Roll Morton with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. Gennett was under the Starr Piano company and founded in 1917. It was under the leadership of Harry, Fred and Clarence Gennett, but was kept afloat by the Ku Klux Klan.

Gennett Records had a studio in southern Indiana (Richmond) and New York. Incidentally, the Klan had a huge presence in Indiana.  Some artists could pay for private services, recording and pressing their records, regardless of a contract, if they had the money.

Among these groups was the KKK.

The KKK took advantage of the undocumented side business allowed by Gennett, recording music for their membership. The number of Klan records reached the thousands.  While they used the studio for recording sessions, the same studios were used for artists like Bix Beiderbecke, Hoagy Carmichael, The Red Onion Jazz Babies and The State Street Ramblers. They also signed blues artists Thomas A. Dorsey, Sam Collins and Jaybird Coleman. The company was booming in the 1920’s, even recording budget disks for Sears & Roebuck’s catalog.

As the Great Depression hit the economy and interest in radio increased, Gennett Records began to fold. Not to mention, attention had been drawn to the KKK with the murder of its leader. With the decline of the Klan’s recording funds, the company folded shortly after the death of the Indiana state Klan.

Artists that recorded under Gennett Records have since been honored by the Starr-Gennett Walk of Fame in Richmond, Indiana.

3 thoughts on “Little Known Black History Fact: Gennett Records and the KKK

  1. Nicolas on said:

    Bill is right. Key facts in this account are wrong. That’s not opinion or ideology, it is fact. The mistaken reference to a murdered Klan leader shows how poorly this article was researched. As Bill said, the Klan leader raped a woman and she killed herself. His conviction was key to the downfall of the 1920s Klan. Does anyone on this site care about accuracy?

  2. Very little in ths is true. Richmond is not in southern Indiana, the KKK did not keep the company afloat, The Sears contract provided serveral hundred times more income than the KKK recordings. The KKK leader was not murdered, He was tried and convicted and put in jail for kidnapping and rape. Maybe some research should be done. Most libraries have state maps and old newspapers about the KKK in Indiana. The writer may wish to find one and do some research.

  3. Eric Scheirer Stott on said:

    So you’re trying to say that without the money afforded by Klan record sales the Gennett Co. was forced to close? Total crap. Do you really think that those records represented a substantial proportion of Gennett’s sales? They probably made more money pressing Hawaiian waltzes, country fiddlers & evangelist Homer Rodeheaver’s popular hymns.

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