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One-Hundred-Year-Old Gretsch Ad Touts Benefits Of Another 100-Year-Old Music Survivor, OKeh Records

One-Hundred-Year-Old Gretsch Ad Touts Benefits Of Another 100-Year-Old Music Survivor, OKeh Records

Gretsch Family Member Finds Ad From May 1919 Issue of The Talking Machine World Magazine.

A 100-year-old print ad was recently found featuring two of the oldest surviving names in the music business: The Gretsch Company and OKeh Records. A Gretsch 5th-generation family member discovered the ad and presented it to Gretsch Company president, Fred Gretsch. It was printed in the May 15, 1919 edition of The Talking Machine World magazine.

The May 1919 Gretsch ad promising music dealers “phenomenal success” with popular OKeh Records and fast shipments: “Orders Small and Orders Large Shipped with Equal Promptness.” Although the record company claimed the word OKeh was of Native American descent and featured the likeness of one in their original logo, the OKeh name was actually derived from the initials of its founder, Otto K. E. Heinemann.

“I had never seen this ad. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the music world of a hundred years ago and how my grandfather was meeting the needs of music lovers who were buying more and more 78 rpm records,” shared Gretsch. “It’s also ironic since OKeh is one of today’s premier jazz labels. Gretsch has a long history of legendary jazz drummers such as Art Blakey, Chico Hamilton, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, and Tony Williams.”

OKeh Records, named from the initials of its German-American founder, Otto K. E. Heinemann, was started in 1918 and is famous for several recording industry milestones. OKeh is credited with releasing the first vocal blues recording by an African-American singer in 1920. Mamie Smith’s recording of “Crazy Blues” was a surprise hit, selling more than one million copies in less than a year. In 1923, OKeh made history again when it placed a pop-up recording studio inside a downtown Atlanta storefront building and recorded America’s first country music hit song, “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane,” by local musician Fiddlin’ John Carson.

Since 1926, OKeh has been a subsidiary of Columbia Records, now itself a subsidiary of Sony Music.  In 2013, OKeh became Sony’s primary jazz label featuring both new and established artists including Branford Marsalis, David Sanborn, Bob James, Bill Frisell, Regina Carter, and Dhafer Youssef.

The Gretsch Company, also founded by a German-American, Friedrich Gretsch, in Brooklyn, NY in 1883, began as a small manufacturer of banjos, drums, and tambourines. By 1919, Friedrich’s oldest son, Fred Gretsch, Sr., was president and had recently moved the growing family business into the ten-story Gretsch Building at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn. By 1920, the Gretsch Company would be recognized as the largest musical instrument manufacturer in the United States.

Today, fourth-and fifth-generation Gretsch family members continue to be involved in the business and Gretsch produces a long line of popular drums, guitars, and fretted instruments. Famous artists who play or have played Gretsch instruments include Chet Atkins, George Harrison, Brian Setzer, Duane Eddy, Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Ferrone, Phil Collins, and Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones.

Fred Gretsch also shared that he imagines his grandfather and OKeh Record founder, Otto Heinemann, were business acquaintances and that his grandfather probably appreciated the music OKeh was recording in German and other European languages that was available to immigrant communities across the United States. “I’ve been told that this ad is one in a series of ads for OKeh Records produced over a five-year time period,” said Gretsch. “The ad really pushed the benefits of ordering OKeh Records from the Gretsch Company, but two benefits, a quality product and prompt shipments, are timeless. They’re still keys to success in the music industry one hundred years later.”

Jazz legend and OKeh artist Bill Frisell playing “Rambler” (from his #1 2018 Music IS jazz album) on a late 50s Gretsch Anniversary model guitar.