Okeh Records

Okeh Records

From Wikipedia
Okeh Records
Parent company Sony Music Entertainment
Founded 1916
Founder Otto Heinemann
Genre various
Country of origin United States
A lateral recording of Billy Murray, from 1919

A lateral recording of Billy Murray, from 1919 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lateral recording of Billy Murray, from 1919

Okeh Records began as an independent record label based in the United States of America in 1918. From 1926 on, it was a subsidiary of Columbia Records.

Okeh (pronounced ‘
okay‘) was founded by Otto K. E. Heinemann (1877–1965), a German-American manager for the U.S. branch ofGerman-owned Odeon Records. As World War I raged in Europe, Heinemann thought it best to have an American based company. He incorporated the Otto Heinemann Phonograph Corporation in 1916, set up his own recording studio and gramophone record pressing plant in New York City, and introduced the company’s line of records for public sale in September 1918. Heinemann formed the name of the record label “Okeh”, from his initials; early disc labels rendered the name as OkeH. The first discs were vertical cut. In 1919 Okeh switched to the lateral cut method of sound recording, more usual for disc records. That same year the name of the label’s owning company was changed to the General Phonograph Corporation. The name on the labels was changed to OKeh. The common 10-inch discs retailed for 75 cents each; the 12-inch discs for $1.25. The company’s musical director was Fred Hager, who also appeared under the pseudonym of “Milo Rega” (Hager’s middle name and his surname reversed)


Okeh began by issuing popular songs, dance numbers, and vaudeville skits similar to the fare of other labels, but Heineman also wished to experiment with music for audiences neglected by the larger record companies. Okeh produced lines of recordings in German, Czech, Polish, Swedish, and Yiddish for the USA’s immigrant communities. Some were pressed from masters leased from European labels, others were recorded by Okeh in New York.

In 1920, Ralph Peer‘s recordings by African-American blues 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 hiredClarence 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 OliverLucille BoganSidney BechetHattie McDanielLouis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington were recorded by Okeh. As part of the Carl Lindstrom Company, Okeh recordings were distributed by other Lindstrom labels including Parlophone in theUnited Kingdom.

Race records

The original Mamie Smith recording was in 1920, of “Crazy Blues.” General Phonograph Corp, OKeH’s manufacturer used Smith’s success as the press to cultivate the new market. Portraits of Smith and lists of her records were used as the advertisements in newspapers including the Chicago Defender, the Atlanta Independent, New York Colored News, and others popular with the African-American community (even though Smith’s records were part of OKeh’s regular 4000 series). Okeh had further prominence in the demographic, as African-American artists such as Sara MartinEva TaylorShelton BrooksEsther Bigeou, and Handy’s Orchestra recorded exclusively for the label. OKeh started a special 8000 series devoted exclusively to “Race” artists. The success of this series led OKeh to start recording where the music was actually being performed, known as “remote” or “location” recording.[1]

The 8000 series, which began in 1921 lasted until late 1934, the final number being 8966.

Location recording

1927 Okeh 78, 40916, “In a Mist”.

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, LouisianaAtlanta, GeorgiaSan Antonio, TexasSt. Louis, MissouriKansas City, Missouri, and Detroit, Michigan, recording a wealth 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. Beside the legendary OKeh Race 8000 Series (which featured some of the great blues and black jazz of the era), OKeh recorded a series of legendary “chamber” hot jazz sessions with Joe Venuti and Eddie LangFrank Trumbauer‘s studio groups featuring Bix BeiderbeckeMiff Mole‘s studio groups, among others. These are considered among the best of the 1920s hot small-group white jazz sessions.


2 Responses to “Okeh Records”

  1. hi…i have okeh 40268 by elkoins-payne jubilee singers on a deep maroon label. I saw another red label okeh with the same songs but a 4 digit cat. #

    please inform me as to what pressing i have?

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