Follow TV Tropes


Creator / Okeh Records

Go To
The script logo used by the label since 1940.

Okeh (pronounced Okay) Records is a New-York based record label started by German-American record manager Otto Heinemann in 1916. Okeh started out by issued popular songs, dance numbers and recordings of vaudeville skits, which was similar to what other record labels did at the time. Heinemann, though, wanted to sell records for niche audiences that the mainstream labels had ignored. The label thus produced German, Czech, Polish, Swedish and Yiddish records for immigrant communities in America.

After Ralph Peer’s recordings of Mamie Smith in 1920 turned out to be a big success for Okeh, the company started putting more focus on "race records", which were basically music performed by African Americans, most of which is now referred to as Jazz and Blues though some were very similar to what white musicians were recording, particularly early Country Music which was known at the time as "hillbilly records". Okeh opened a recording studio in Chicago (were many jazz musicians were active in the 1920s) and released records for Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, King Oliver, Duke Ellington and Bessie Smith, amongst others.

The label was bought by Columbia Records in 1926 and Columbia’s parent companies have remained the owners of Okeh ever since. Okeh has since been shut down and revived several times: it was shut down in 1935, revived from 1940-46, revived again from 1951-70 (focusing more on Soul from the early 60s on), revived again from 1993-2000 as a new-age blues label, and is currently on yet another revival since 2013 as a jazz label.

Okeh Records pioneered the practice of location recording where mobile recording trucks were sent to record performers that were not present in New York City or Chicago. These trips led to a vast collection of jazz and early country music records. Many are featured on Okeh’s acclaimed 8000 race series which contains records from a number of influential jazz and blues musicians who did not record much material during their careers. Their 45000 country/hillbilly music series is also quite acclaimed by collectors.

The 1951-70 incarnation of the label became known during the 1960s as the home of "Chicago Soul". Veteran Chicago producer Carl Davis became the A&R director for Okeh in 1963; with the help of associate producer Curtis Mayfield, who was already well-known in the Chicago scene, he produced many hits for the label with artists like Major Lance, The Vibrations and Walter Jackson. Davis left for Brunswick in 1965 following a dispute with the new management at Columbia note ; attempts to recapture his magic, such as trying to popularize Los Angeles soul as the "Angel Town Sound" with producer Larry Williams, failed, and that incarnation of the label went into decline before shutting down in 1970.

Okeh Records performers have included: