“Record companies such as Okeh, Paramount, Vocalion, and Columbia soon began to market special labels of “race records” — music by and for an African-American audience…. This new genre of recordings allowed many African Americans artists to reach a national audience for the first time. “There’s 14 million Negroes in our great country and they will buy records if recorded by one of their own,” said the pioneering black record producer Perry Bradford in 1920, “because we are the only folks that can sing and interpret hot jazz songs just off the griddle.”
Harry Pace established the first black owned record company, called Black Swan, whose pointedly ironic slogan was “The Only Genuine Colored Records — Others Are Only Passing for Colored.” Sales of race records soon reached five million copies a year.
A large segment of race records were marketed directly to an African-American audience, and soon became part of the black community’s culture. The Chicago Defender encouraged “lovers of music everywhere and those who desire to help in the advance of the Race” to purchase these records. Listening to and enjoying these recordings not only unified the listener with the artist, but also with African-Americans in other communities across the country, giving them a voice and a place within the chaos of urban life.