Swede Home Chicago: The Wallin’s Svenska Records Story, 1923-1927

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Memorial Library 126
@ 4:00 pm CDT - 5:30 pm CDT

Immigrant recording artists have made significant yet often overlooked contributions to their diasporic communities and larger American life since the late 19th century. Since 2016 UW-Madison’s Mills Music Library and Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures have collaborated with Archeophone Records on an award-winning CD/booklet Ethnic and Foreign Language series, including the Grammy nominated Alpine Dreaming, featuring rare Swiss recordings issued in the 1920s on Monroe, Wisconsin’s Helvetia label.

On Tuesday, October 3, Richard Martin and Meagan Hennessey from Grammy-winning Archeophone Records, UW emeritus professor and two-time Grammy nominee Jim Leary, Marcus Cederström from the Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic+, and Mills Music Library will offer a multi-media presentation on their latest collaboration, Swede Home Chicago: The Wallin’s Svenska Records Story, 1923-1927

Chicago, the most populous Swedish city after Stockholm, was also home to the first record label founded by a Nordic immigrant to the United States. Gustaf Waldemar Wallin, a former crofter from Sweden’s rocky western coast, owned a music shop and launched Wallin’s Svenska Records, issuing 28 ten-inch shellac discs (56 tracks) from 1923 to 1927. Performers ran the era’s gamut: raucous vaudevillians; operatic tenors; accordion dance bands intermingling venerable folk tunes with hot jazz; sedate classical duos and novelty bell ringers; rousing vocal quartets and massed choirs; seasoned professionals and moonlighting amateurs. Further, Wallin’s discs were recorded by two important entrepreneurs with Chicago studios: evangelist Homer Rodeheaver, who made acoustic records, and Orlando Marsh, who pioneered in the field of electrical recording.

Offering insights into the collection, archiving, sonic restoration, researching, and reissuing of rare historic sound recordings, the October 3rd event will also highlight the recent discovery of a “lost” Wallin’s disc by the still mysterious accordionist Berg Brothers who barnstormed the Upper Midwest in support of a Swedish strongman who bent horseshoes with his teeth.

This event is free and open to the public and is sponsored by the Nordic Folklife Project, the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, and the Mills Music Library.