Professor collaborates on Grammy-winning project

February 10, 2015

An archival music project struck Grammy gold Feb. 8, and a Penn State Altoona professor did a lot of the digging.

Jerry Zolten, associate professor of communication arts and sciences, contributed as a writer/researcher on "The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records Volume I (1917-27)," winner of the Grammy for Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package at the 57th music awards celebration.

Zolten on the Rev. T.T. Rose

Associate Professor Jerry Zolten discusses the Reverend T.T. Rose, one of the most influential African American recording artists on the Paramount label.

C. Roy Parker, Penn State

The six-vinyl disc set features the works of mainly African-American artists from the early 20th century, including legends such as Louis Armstrong who were introduced in part thanks to Paramount Records. The project was sustained in large part by singer-songwriter and Grammy winner Jack White. Containing 800 newly remastered tracks representing 172 artists, the set was released through a collaboration between White's Nashville-based Third Man Records and Austin, Texas-based Revenant Records. The collection also features such items as a "field guide" to Paramount's artists and reproductions of the label's promotional materials.

Hundreds of artists recorded for the label between 1917 and 1932, and Zolten was among several specialists tasked with researching them. Zolten explored about 30 artists, primarily gospel singers and vocal groups.

"I'm fascinated as I learn more about how 'show business' worked for black entertainers, and how many of them had no choice but to become entrepreneurs in addition to being musical artists," Zolten said. "They achieved -- in this case thanks to the Paramount label -- a degree of material success and prestige, even though most were barely paid for their recordings, usually just a modest one-time flat fee and maybe some records they could sell at gigs. That contrasts with how African-Americans were portrayed, say, in films during that era, in roles that were demeaning."

Read more about Zolten's involvement with the project

Last Updated February 10, 2015