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date: 08 April 2020

Black Swanlocked

  • David Suisman


Record label. It was launched in Harlem in 1921 by the Pace Phonograph Corp. (later renamed the Black Swan Phonograph Co.), whose principal Harry H. Pace (1884–1943) sought to make a phonograph record company a vehicle for social, political, and economic uplift for African Americans. The company aimed to issue high-quality records by African Americans in all styles of music—not just blues and popular genres, but also opera, concert music, and religious works. This catholicity, Pace believed, would undermine racial and cultural stereotypes about African Americans, on the one hand, and promote African Americans’ own cultural development, on the other. At the same time, the company sought to be an archetype of economic development, both a model and symbol of African American capital accumulation and economic self-determination. The venture grew out of Pace’s diverse background in music, business, and political activism: he was a former songwriting partner of W.C. Handy, with whom he established the Pace and Handy Music Publishing Co.; he had worked for important black-owned banking and insurance companies; and he had been a protégé of W.E.B. Du Bois, whom Pace recruited to sit on Black Swan’s board of directors. The name of the label was inspired by the 19th-century African American concert singer Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, whose sobriquet was “the Black Swan.” (Although Black Swan is often cited as the first black-owned record company, this distinction apparently belongs to Broome Records, established in Boston in ...

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