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Historic Black-Owned Record Labels: A Black History Month Radio Special

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

TONIGHT (Feb 11) KMHD is broadcasting Part 1 of my Black History Month special spotlighting groundbreaking BLACK-owned record labels of the 1950s & 1960s!

Portland Vintage Vinyl DJ, Portland Soul DJ
Historic Black Owned Record Labels , A Black History Month Radio Special, Travlin' the Tracks with DJ Action Slacks on KMHD

7 to 9 pm (Pacific Time)

89.1 fm in #Portland

STREAM it live at (9 pm Central, 10 pm Eastern)

I love Motown! However, when it comes to the celebration of Black entrepreneurship in the early days of the record business, Motown tends to receive the lion's share of the attention. Tonight (and next week) I'm highlighting the efforts of a handful of OTHER Black innovators in the record business. Please tune in and take a listen!

Below are some mini profiles of some of the record labels covered on this episode.

Dootsie Williams: Dootone & Dooto - Los Angeles

Dootsie Williams, Dootone Records, Dooto Records, Black Owned Record Label

Dootsie, who started in the industry leading a band called the Harlem Dukes, was a true trailblazer in the record industry having launched his first label way back in 1949, making it not only one of the earliest Black-owned record labels, but one of the first Black MUSICIAN-owned labels.

As you likely know, musicians were commonly exploited by the record industry back in the day (& I suppose you could argue, to THIS day), & that led to a movement for musicians to own & operate their own labels.

Redd Foxx & Hattie Noel on Dooto Records, Los Angeles Black Comedians of the 1950s, Black Party Records
Redd Foxx & Hattie Noel on Dooto Records

Dootsie's most celebrated achievement as a label owner was the enormous hit "Earth Angel" by the Penguins (which remains one of the best-known records of the Doo Wop era). However, the Dooto label was also fundamental in elevating the careers of Black comedians like Redd Foxx & Hattie Noel (in whom they invested a lot of advertising $$).

The mid-century Black music scene of Los Angeles (and many other non-southern cities) was hugely shaped by the Great Migrations (1st & 2nd). For better context at the very least, be sure to read about the Second Great Migration

Vivian Carter Braken, James Braken, & Ewart Abner: Vee Jay Records - Chicago & Gary

Vivian Carter Braken, WGRT, Black Women in Vintage Radio,
Vivian Carter thrived in an industry dominated by white men

Let's talk about Vivian Carter! She entered the music biz as a radio host & DJ in Indiana, which led to her opening her own record store. Soon she realized the demand for Black records was much greater than the supply, so she went to her husband (who I believe was a shoe salesman at the time) and suggested they start a record label.

Their label Vee Jay went on to be the most successful Black-owned label before Motown came along.

Vee Jay was based in Gary, Indiana as well as Chicago, and its success in genres of Blues, jazz, doo wop, R&B, early soul, and pop was due in part to Vivian's ability to spot an opportunity and hire the right people (Ewart Abner and Vivian's brother Calvin Carter etc) to handle the music.

Vivian Carter, James Bracken, Ewart Abner, Vee Jay Records
From Ebony Magazine

And yet, when looking into publications of the era (Billboard and Jet to name two) she was referred to as "the wife of Vee Jay's owner" more than once. So, that's how that went for women in those days. Booo!

Today we acknowledge Vivian as the force she truly was! A trailblazer and a pioneer in the music industry!

John Dolphin: Cash Records / Money Records : Los Angeles

John Dolphin, Dolphins of Hollywood, Cash Records, Historic Black Owned Record Labels, 1950s Los Angeles Black Music Community

Today John Dolphin would be labeled a cultural INFLUENCER, but back in the day he likely saw himself as shrewd at marketing, and indeed he was. The record store owner came up with the brilliant idea to buy air time on a white radio station that regularly broadcasted records by white artists that were originally recorded by Black artists.

He used his purchased airtime to broadcast a radio program directly from his South Central L.A. record store, Dolphins of Hollywood, boosting exposure to the ORIGINAL "Black versions" of the white covers, fostering a following for rhythm 'n' blues within mainstream Los Angeles. His efforts were critical in establishing L.A. as THE West Coast hub of R&B.

Dolphins of Hollywood

Besides being an innovative marketer, his business strategies would often qualify as civil rights activism, right down to the name of his store (his race was a barrier for him to open a store in Hollywood, so he put "Hollywood" in the name of his store as a statement)

Then there was the music. Between 1950 & 1956 John Dolphin established 4 record labels: Recorded in Hollywood, Lucky, Cash, & Money. He cut records on Jesse Belvin, The Hollywood Flames, Percy Mayfield, The Robins (aka the Coasters), & many other legends of West Coast r&b.

Sadly, in 1958 he lost his life during a dispute with a disgruntled musician, killed while working at his record store. Such a tragic loss of a giant force in the L.A. Black community, the L.A. music scene, & the rhythm 'n' blues community.

His legacy lives on through the example he set in innovation & determination, and of course, in the music.

Tune in to #KMHD this Thursday (2/11/21) to hear some of my favorite tracks recorded by #JohnDolphin & other Black record label owners who broke through racial barriers in the music industry of the 1950s & 1960s.

*btw* there is a record store based on Dolphins of Hollywood in the recent Eddie Murphy film about Rudy Ray Moore.

Set List for this Episode:

The Medallions - 1954 - Buick 59 DooTone (Los Angeles) Eddie Silvers Orchestra - 1962 - Party Rocker

Chuck Higgins - 1955 - Tonky Honk

Redd Foxx - 1957 - The Crazy House Dooto (Dootone Sub) (Los Angeles)

Helen Humes - 1955 - Woojamacooja

Claude McLin 1963 Jambo - Dooto (Dootone Sub) (Los Angeles)

The Penguins - 1954 - Hey Senorita - DooTone (Los Angeles)

Zion Travelers - 1962 - I Got to Move

Ernie Fields - 1960 - Workin' Out - Rendezvous (Los Angeles)

Bobby Day - 1957 Over & Over -

the Hollywood Chicks - 1962 - Tossin An Ice Cube

Bob & Jerry - 1958 - Ghost Satellite - Rendezvous (Los Angeles)

Johnny Guitar Watson (1959) The Bear

Betty (Willis) & Ray - 1962 - You're Too Much - Rendezvous (Los Angeles)

Sammy Franklin Orchestra - Chicken Scratch

Linda Hayes - 1953 - Atomic Baby

Joe Houston 1955 Troubles & Worries - Cash (Los Angeles) 45

Little Margie - Yes Its You

Jimmy Wright - 1955 - Lets Go Crazy Crazy Baby

Geneva Vallier - 1955 - You Said You Had A Woman - Cash

Johnny Heartsman -1957 - Johnny's House Party Pt 2 - Music City

The Four Deuces - 1955 - W.P.L.J. - Music City

Little Lynn & The 4 Rivers - 1963 - Send My Records C O D - Music City

3 Honeydrops - 1957 - Rockin Satellite

Memphis Slim & His House Rockers - 1958 - Guitar Cha Cha Cha - Vee Jay

Dee Clark - 1961 - Raindrops - Vee Jay (Chicago)

The El Dorados - 1955 - At My Front Door Vee Jay (Chicago)

Jimmy Reed - 1954 - Boogie In The Dark

Christine Kittrell - 1962 - I'm A Woman * Vee Jay

Betty Everett - 1963 - Hound Dog Greatest Hits

John Lee Hooker 1961 Boom Boom - Vee Jay

The Original Blind Boys [ of Alabama ]-1965 -People Don't Sing Like They Used To Sing - Vee Jay

Junior Wells -1958 - Cha Cha Cha In Blue

Terri Anders - 1961 - All in My Mind

Lillian Offitt - 1960 - The Man Won't Work - Chief (Chicago)

Magic Sam - 1960 - Blue Light Boogie

Noblemen - Dirty Robber

Earl Hooker &The Earlettes - 1962 - Win the Dance Age (Chicago)

Cliff Driver & The Drivers - 1962 - Changing Times

Baby Washington - 1958 - Been a Long Time Baby Chess - J & S

Johnnie & Joe - 1968 - Let Your Mind Do the Walking - J & S Records (NYC)

Clarence Ashe & the Hearts - 1964 - Dancing In A Dream World

Shirley Finney - Will It Be - J & S Records (Zelma Sanders) (NYC)

The Jaynetts - Who Stole the Cookies From the Cookie Jar

King Curtis - 1962 - Mr. Crow

Tarheel Slim & Little Ann - 1960 - I Can't Stay Away - Fire (NYC)

Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - 1962 - Dig Myself a Hole Fire (NYC)

Mary Ann Fisher - 1959 - Wild As You Can Be Fire (NYC)

Titus Turner - 1962 - People Sure Act Funny (When They Get A Lotta' Money)

Linda Martell & The Anglos - 1962 - A Little Tear (Was Falling From My Eyes) - Fire

Gladys Knight & The Pips - 1963 - Come See About Me - Fury (NYC)

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