It’s a bit eerie, a sort of ghost town in Richmond, Indiana. From the late 1800s to the Great Depression, the Whitewater Valley gorge was home to the Starr Piano Company. Its subsidiary, Gennett Records, recorded great jazz artists, including Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke. Today, a shell of the piano factory, a smokestack, and a couple of graffiti covered structures are all that remain. Yet, it isn’t completely dead. The property is now the Whitewater Valley Gorge Park. The lone remaining building is used as an events center, and the Gennett Records Walk of Fame is embedded into the walking/biking path that runs through the park. The Gennett Records Walk of Fame pays tribute to the jazz, country, big band, blues, and gospel greats who recorded here.
Starr Piano and Gennett Records heyday
Brothers James and Benjamin Starr established a piano company in the late 1870s. Although the company did well, its success escalated when Henry Gennett joined the team in the early 1900s. Over time, the company added several buildings to the site. Besides pianos, they produced refrigerators, freezers, and synchronizer units used with talking picture projectors. During World War I, they built wooden cabinets for radios. But perhaps most important to the company’s history, they built phonographs and records.
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Larger labels wouldn’t record the new jazz music. They stuck with what was popular at the time. So jazz artists went to Gennett Records. Many of those artists became big names, like Jelly Roll Morton and Hoagy Carmichael. Big bands, new in the mid-1920s, recorded at Gennett Records, as well. Lawrence Welk recorded at Gennett, as did Guy Lumbardo. Country music artists like Gene Autry also recorded there. Gennett was producing 3 million records each year by the mid-1920s.
Sadly, the Great Depression brought Gennett Records to an end. However, the piano factory kept in business until the early 1950s. The buildings fell into disrepair, and most were demolished in the 1970s.
Gennett Records Walk of Fame
The Starr-Gennett Foundation and the Richmond Parks Department partner with development of Whitewater Gorge Park and preserving Starr-Gennett history. As of 2016, 35 artists are honored in the Gennett Records Walk of Fame. The artists’ likenesses are portrayed in medallions that resemble 78 rpm records and set into the walkway. Walk of Fame members include those artists who recorded for Gennett Records and whose work contributed significantly to American History. New inductees are honored during Richmond’s annual Walk of Fame Music Festival. You can find the entire list of Walk of Fame inductees on the Start-Gennett Foundation website.
If you visit Gennett Records Walk of Fame
Whitewater Valley Gorge Park and the Gennett Records Walk of Fame are located on South 1st Street in Richmond, Indiana.
We stayed at Seldom Scene Meadow Bed & Breakfast during our visit to Richmond. Check rates to the Seldome Scene Meadow B&B and other Richmond area accommodations here.
Disclosures: Visit Richmond Indiana hosted our visit to the area. However, any opinions expressed in this article are my own.
This article contains an affiliate link. If you book a hotel room through the “Check rates here” link above, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.
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