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.