Vee-Jay Records was a successful company in the mid-1900s owned by Vivian Carter and her husband, James Bracken. Vivian Carter was born on March 25, 1921 in Tunica, Mississippi and moved to Gary, Indiana when she was still a child. After her marriage to Bracken, they opened a record store in Gary. In 1953, Vivian and her husband decided to borrow $500 from a pawnbroker to open a recording company because they wanted to record a group they discovered in Gary. For the name of this new company, Vivian and James took their initials, V and J, to create the name “Vee-Jay Records.” With that, their record company was born.
Carter and her husband saw immediate success with their business. In 1953, Vee-Jay Records recorded and released the band, The Spaniels’, “Baby it’s You.” Recording and releasing this band’s music led to the business’ growing success. The company caught the eye of future famous blues musician Jimmy Reed. He walked into Vivian and James’ store asking for them to record a couple of his songs. His song, “You Don’t Have to Go,” became a Top 10 Rhythm and Blues hit in 1955.
Vee-Jay Records continued to record famous bands of the day like the El Dorados. Soon after gaining more traction, Vivian and James moved their company to Chicago. After moving to Chicago, Vivian convinced Ewart Abner, Chicago’s top promotion man of the day, to join her and her husband’s team. She also convinced her brother, Calvin Carter, to be the company’s talent scout.
For thirteen years, Vee-Jay was the nation’s largest independent black-owned record agency. They continued to record big-name artists of the day, like Four Seasons and their hit “Sherry.” Vivian’s company even recorded the Beatle’s first ever American label. In 1963, within the first month of selling the Beatles’ label, they sold 2.5 million copies. However, their company saw so much success that it ended up leading to the destruction of their business. Producing big-name labels led to Vivian and James incurring $3 million in debt. Vivian and her husband simply didn’t have enough resources to keep up with their growing business.
In 1964, Vee-Jay Records closed its doors. The money simply wasn’t there to distribute all the big-name labels. Even though the company folded, the business had still been successful for years. Vivian helped spread new sounds and new music revolutionary for its time and helped transform average people with dreams into iconic musicians. Her legacy lives on through the music people world-wide listen to today.