The blues recording industry began in New York City and for most of the 1920s, musicians travelled from all parts of the country to make their mark in the recording studio. Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey were amongst the most popular female singers but they were soon rivaled by the likes of Lonnie Johnson, Robert ‘Barbecue Bob’ Hicks, Texas Alexander and Mississippi John Hurt. Kansas Joe McCoy cut ‘When The Levee Breaks’, justly famous in its Led Zeppelin incarnation, in the city.
Memphis was the town blues musicians passed through on their way to Chicago. But some of them stayed and the record companies sent their mobile units to record them. Over a three-year period from 1927, an astonishing amount of talent was recorded: local stars like the Memphis Jug Band, Frank Stokes, Cannon’s Jug Stompers, Jim Jackson, Furry Lewis, Robert Wilkins, Bukka White, Memphis Minnie, Joe Callicott and Sleepy John Estes.
One of the architects of bebop in the 1940s, Max Roach continued to lead innovative and exemplary jazz groups into the 21st century. He cut his first discs with Coleman Hawkins in 1943, and soon afterwards worked with Dizzy Gillespie both on 52nd Street and on record.