Starr Piano & Gennett Records
By the 1870s, more business flowed toward Richmond, Indiana. John Trayser, a piano maker from Ripley, Ohio, moved to the Whitewater Gorge and established the Trayser Piano Company. By 1884, local businessman James Starr and his brother Benjamin had reorganized and expanded the piano company in the gorge, renaming it the Starr Piano Company. The company continued to grow (the last building was constructed in 1920) to encompass 35 acres and 24 buildings. It was one of Richmond’s largest employers, especially hiring woodworkers newly arrived from Germany. Many of the woodworkers lived in the Old Richmond area just at the top of the hill above the factory. The concrete staircase to the south was a short-cut that many used to get to work.
Gennett Records 1920s - 1930s
Soon after the turn of the century, Starr Piano began manufacturing phonographs along with pianos and player pianos. Before long, they decided to start recording the discs to be played on those phonographs: records. By the early 1920s, a separate division was established, Gennett Records, named for the family that now controlled the company. Unable to record the large orchestral, opera, and classical that many other record companies were making, the small Gennett had to concentrate on smaller organizations and genres of music deemed “beneath” the big labels. Consequently, throughout the early and mid-1920s a stream of artists came to Richmond including future legends like Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Beiderbecke, Gene Autry, and Hoagy Carmichael and many others who recorded their earliest records in Starr Valley.
Richmond has sometimes been called the “Birthplace of Recorded Jazz,” but Gennett produced a wide range of music, and many different genres had their earliest recordings created in what was sometimes called “Starr Valley.” Gospel, blues, country, and spoken word records were pressed at the Starr Piano complex, making it one of the earliest companies to record both African American and white musical styles in a largely segregated industry. Gennett also had a cash recording business, where anyone could pay to rent a studio, record their own material, and have it pressed into records. Even musical groups associated with the Ku Klux Klan took advantage of this business (although the owners of Gennett were not supporters of the KKK). With all these different individuals and groups coming and going from the studio, Gennett’s story gives a snapshot into the vast diversity of music, culture, and politics in the United States in the 1920s.
After Gennett 1930s - Present Day
The Great Depression put an end to nearly all musical manufacturing at Starr Valley, although several record pressing companies occupied some of the buildings into the 1960s. The complex fell into disrepair, and most of the buildings were torn down in the 1980s. One remaining structure was saved before it was completely gone. The once six-story “Logo Building” – called that because the shadow of the Gennett parrot logo is still visible on it – has been stabilized and transformed into an amphitheater. It is now part of the Richmond Parks Department.