The OKeh Records Story

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OKeh Records was launched in 1918, by Otto Heinemann. It's odd name came from Otto's initials. OKeh was one of the pioneering record labels in early recording. Most importantly, the company sought to market recordings to groups of people and minorities that other companies had overlooked. They sold their records to european immigrants of all types, and most importantly to Blues, they marketed to blacks. OKeh recorded Mamie Smith singing "Crazy Blues" in 1920, which became an enormous hit for the day. This led them to invent what they called "Race Records", records specifically marketed to minorities, particularly to African Americans. It was the race records that led to companies making Blues recordings, OKeh being the first.

OKeh was also an innovator in field recordings, where companies, instead of bringing artists to their studio to record, would go to the musician's locations. They often made trips across the south, as far as Kansas City, Missouri and as high as Detroit, Michigan. They recorded in every major pocket of Blues (as well as Jazz) activity. Several notable Blues and Jazz musicians recorded for OKeh, including Blind Lemon Jefferson, Louis Armstrong, Ida Cox, and "Texas" Alexander.

In 1926, Columbia Records gained a stake in OKeh and in 1929, OKeh was merged into Columbia. The OKeh label continued releasing records, however they were released more sparsly. The last record was put out in 1934, when American Recording Company (ARC) purchased Columbia.

OKeh has seen several revivals of it's name in later decades. CBS (which owned former OKeh competetor Vocalion Records), Purchased ARC. When Vocalion was dropped, OKeh was revived for several years in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s before being semi-permanently retired in 1970. Sony's Epic Records currently owns the OKeh catalog, and and has re-released several albums of OKeh material. Interetingly, contemporary Blues great Keb' Mo is listed on the OKeh label occasionally, notably with his self titled album "Keb' Mo'" and "Keep It Simple".

Notable artists under OKeh Records
Mississippi John Hurt Blind Willie McTell
Blind Lemon Jefferson
Louis Armstrong
Ida Cox
Alger "Texas" Alexander
Mamie Smith