Black Swan Records

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This article is about the 1920s US record label. For the 1960s UK label, see Black Swan Records (UK).
Black Swan Records
Black Swan Records Logo.gif
Founded 1921
Founder Harry Pace
Country of origin U.S.
Location Harlem, New York, New York

Black Swan Records was a United States record label founded in 1921 in Harlem, New York. It was the first widely distributed label to be owned and operated by, and marketed to, African Americans. (Broome Special Phonograph Records was the first to be owned and operated by African Americans).[1] The label name was revived in the 1990s for compact disc reissues of historic jazz and blues recordings.


Label of a 1921 "Black Swan" record by Alberta Hunter.

Black Swan's parent company, Pace Phonograph Corporation, was founded in March 1921 by Harry Pace and was based in Harlem.[2] The new production company was formed after Pace's music publishing partnership with W.C. Handy, Pace & Handy, had dissolved. (Some historians have thought W.C. Handy had a stake in Pace's new business, but Handy's own words contradict this: " ...He [Harry Pace] simply chose this time to sever connection with our firm in order that he might organized Pace Phonograph Company, issuing Black Swan Records and making a serious bid for the Negro market. ... With Pace went a large number of our employees. ... Still more confusion and anguish grew out of the fact that people did not generally know that I had no stake in the Black Swan Record Company.")[2]

Popular entertainer and pioneering black recording artist Bert Williams was an early investor in Pace Phonograph. Williams also promised to record for the company once his exclusive contract with Columbia Records ended, but he died before that could occur.[3]

Pace Phonograph Corporation was renamed Black Swan Phonograph Company in the fall of 1922. Both the record label and production company were named after 19th century opera star Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, who was known as the Black Swan.[4][5]

Noted author, activist, and academic W.E.B. Du Bois was a stockholder and member of the Board of Directors of Black Swan. Ads for Black Swan often ran in The Crisis, the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which Du Bois edited.[6] [7] [8]

Notable employees[edit]

Former employees of Pace & Handy staffed the new company: Fletcher Henderson, the recording manager, provided piano accompaniment for singers and led a small band for recording sessions. William Grant Still was named arranger and later musical director.[4]

Notable artists recorded[edit]

[2] [9] [10] [11] [12]

Purchase by Paramount[edit]

The production company declared bankruptcy in December 1923; and in March 1924 Paramount Records bought the Black Swan label. The Chicago Defender reported the event by noting important accomplishments of Black Swan in a short career span, including: pointed out—to the major, all white-owned, record companies—the significant market demand for black artists; prompted several major companies to begin publishing music by these performers. In addition, the Defender credited Pace with showing the majors how to target black audiences and to advertise in black newspapers. Paramount discontinued the Black Swan label a short time later.

Later incarnation of the Black Swan label[edit]

The Black Swan label was revived in the 1990s for a series of reissue compact discs of historic jazz and blues recordings originally issued on Black Swan and Paramount. These CDs were issued by George H. Buck's Jazzology/GHB Record group, which gained rights to the Paramount back-catalogue, but not the Paramount brand name. Rights to the name "Black Swan Records" were also transferred to GHB.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sutton and Nauck, p. 21, 27
  2. ^ a b c d Weusi, Jitu K. (1996). "The Rise and Fall of Black Swan Records". A History of Jazz Before 1930. The Red Hot Jazz Archive. Retrieved February 2, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Bert Williams (advertisement)". The Crisis (New York) 23 (6): 284. April 1922. ISSN 0011-1422. Retrieved February 2, 2010. [dead link]
  4. ^ a b Brooks 2004, p. 168.
  5. ^ "The Black Swan". The Crisis (New York) 21 (5): 213. March 1921. ISSN 0011-1422. Retrieved February 2, 2010. [dead link]
  6. ^ "Black Swan Records (advertisement)". The Crisis (New York) 23 (4): 187. February 1922. ISSN 0011-1422. Retrieved January 27, 2010. [dead link]
  7. ^ "A List of Sacred and High Class Black Swan Records (advertisement)". The Crisis (New York) 23 (5): 236. March 1922. ISSN 0011-1422. Retrieved January 27, 2010. [dead link]
  8. ^ "To the Investing Public (advertisement)". The Crisis (New York) 25 (1): 44. November 1922. ISSN 0011-1422. Retrieved January 27, 2010. 
  9. ^ a b Settlemier, Tyrone (September 19, 2008). "Black Swan 2000 Series numerical listing". The Online Discographical Project. Retrieved February 2, 2010. 
  10. ^ a b "White Performers on Black Swan". Mainspring Press. 2005. Retrieved February 3, 2010. 
  11. ^ Settlemier, Tyrone (November 30, 2006). "Black Swan miscellaneous series". The Online Discographical Project. Retrieved February 2, 2010. 
  12. ^ Sutton, Allan (August 29, 2007). "Black Swan's Other Stars". Mainspring Press. Retrieved February 2, 2010. 


External links[edit]