WTIU documentary celebrates local history of Indiana's Gennett Records

Jazz giants like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Indiana University alumnus Hoagy Carmichael have a small American record company and label based in Richmond, Indiana, to thank for their careers. Now, with the help of IU faculty expertise and archival resources, a new documentary from WTIU Public Television will tell the story of Gennett Records and its impact on the Jazz Age.

Hoagy Carmichael statue covered in snowView print quality image
Gennett Records created some of the earliest recordings of IU alumnus Hoagy Carmichael. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

"The Music Makers of Gennett Records" features interviews from several faculty members from the IU Jacobs School of Music and an original music score by Tyron Cooper, director of IU's Archives of African American Music and Culture. The film's producer, Todd Gould, said he relied heavily on IU's Archives of Traditional Music for Hoagy Carmichael photographs, artifacts and recordings of early compositions from his time as a law student.

"After much of our primary shooting, we went back and shot a number of photographs and various artifacts from the Hoagy Carmichael Room at the Archives of Traditional Music, which helps fill in key moments of the storytelling process," Gould said. "These elements, along with other footage of the campus, help complete the story that is simultaneously a rich Indiana story and a powerful national story."

IU professor of jazz Patrick Harbison said he has been interested in the history of Gennett Records for a long time and has had an extensive knowledge about Gennett musicians due to his long-lasting career in jazz. In the documentary, he shares details of the history, factoids and importance of Gennett Records in regard to jazz history and musical innovation.

He said the Archives of Traditional Music, which has over 100,000 recordings and is one of the largest ethnographic university-based sound archives in the world, has been instrumental not only in his knowledge of the label but also in the preservation of the history of Gennett.

Nobody thinks of Indiana as being a music center, but it really is.

Patrick Harbison

In 2010, IU East, which is also in Richmond, Indiana, partnered with the Starr-Gennett Foundation, an organization focused on promoting, preserving and celebrating Gennett Records. IU has since collected more than 300 digital recordings from Gennett artists, which are all available to the public in the IU East Campus library.

"Nobody thinks of Indiana as being a music center, but it really is," Harbison said. "Not only because Jacobs is one of the greatest music schools in the country, but because there has been a lot of interesting things that take place in Indiana. All of this jazz history radiated from a small town in Indiana to the rest of the world."

Rob Anderson, assistant general manager at WTIU, agreed that this story is an important one to tell.

"Gennett's impact on American culture and music is vast, yet not many Hoosiers or Americans know the story," Anderson said. "There is much to learn and understand that a small recording studio in Richmond, Indiana, played a vital role in recording music, sounds and stories -- in a relatively short timeframe -- that would help make up the American fabric."

"The Music Makers of Gennett Records" premieres at 8 p.m. Nov. 25, three days after Carmichael's birthday, on WTIU and Facebook Live. It will also air at 9:30 p.m. on Dec.1, 4 p.m. on Dec. 2 and 1 p.m. on Dec. 4 and is available to stream online. The film will be available for purchase on DVD and BluRay in April 2019 at shopwtiu.org.