In 1878, the Starr Piano Company was established by James and Benjamin Starr in Richmond, Indiana, near the Whitewater Valley gorge. By 1893, it had gained national recognition through the Chicago ‘s Columbia Exposition. In that same year, Henry Gennett joined as secretary-treasurer of the company. With his great entrepreneurial skills, Gennett helped the company to grow, and by 1906, the Starr Piano Company employed over 600 craftsmen. In 1916, the business expanded to include the manufacture of phonographs and records. From 1916 to 1934, Gennett Records in Richmond made thousands of acoustic and electric recordings, ranging from blues, jazz, and country music to ethnic, classical, spoken word, and any other marketable music.
Gennett’s roster of artists was a veritable “who’s who.” The first recordings of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings were made in Richmond in 1922, jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton mastered over twenty tracks there in 1923, and King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band featuring Louis Armstrong, Lil Hardin, and Honore Dutrey recorded for Gennett. Other notable artists included Hoagy Carmichael, who recorded the first version of “Stardust” there. With the Great Depression came the downfall of many small recording companies, and by the early 1930s the Gennett Record Company was closed; Gennett’s parent company, the Starr Piano Company, eventually suffered the same fate, producing its last piano in the mid-1960s.
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