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Ethel Gabriel the First of the 5%

 

Ethel Gabriel (1921-2021) may be one of the most prolific recording industry professionals you’ve never heard of. Ethel was the first woman record producer for a major record label, and one of the first women in the world to work in A&R. She had a 4-decade career at RCA starting with an entry-level job and rising up to being an executive in the company.

During her career, Ethel produced over 5,000 records – some original recordings and some repackaged – by nearly every artist on the RCA roster (including Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton). Ethel was the woman in A&R to receive an RIAA Gold Record in 1959, and the first woman to win a Grammy for Best Historical Album (1982).

Ethel was willing to take risks, such as producing the first digitally-remastered album or working with artists who brought new types of music to the mainstream. Her credits include everything from mambo to easy listening to rap.

Ethel’s Background

Ethel was born in 1921 in Pennsylvania. She started her own dance band at age 13 (called “En and Her Royal Men”) where Ethel played trombone. She originally wanted to go to college for forestry (at the encouragement of her father) but women were not allowed into the program. She decided to attend Temple University (Philadelphia, PA) and study music education.

A relative helped Ethel get a job at RCA’s record plant (in Camden, New Jersey) to help pay for tuition and expenses. Ethel’s first job included tasks like putting labels on records. She was promoted to record tester where she had to listen to one out of every 500 records pressed for quality. She learned every note of the big hits since Ethel had to listen to them over and over.

Ethel was allowed to visit the nearby RCA recording studios. She brought her trombone with her, playing with major artists for fun between sessions. She also learned how recording sessions worked. Ethel was secretary to the manager of A&R at the time, Herman Diaz, Jr. Ethel got to produce her first recording session (with bandleader Elliot Laurence) when Diaz called in sick and asked her to do it.

In 1955, Ethel convinced her boss, Manie Sacks, to sign Perez Prado to RCA’s label. She produced his record, Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, which became a worldwide hit and helped bring the mambo craze to the US.

She was with RCA during the creation of their Nashville studios, the signing of Elvis, and their transition from mono to stereo.

Through Ethel’s career, she was willing to take risks and experiment with new technology or music. In 1959, Ethel launched Living Strings, a series on RCA Camden’s label that ran for 22 years.

In 1961, she produced Ray Martin and his Orchestra Dynamica, the first release using RCA’s “Stereo Action.” In 1976, she was executive producer of Caruso,’s A Legendary Performer, the first digitally-remastered album. The technology used by Soundstream Inc (lead by Thomas Stockham) has gone on to be widely used in audio and photography restoration and Stockham’s work on the Caruso album was the basis for a 1975 scientific paper. In 1975, Ethel gave a chance to then-unknown producer Warren Schatz, who produced RCA’s first disco album, Disco-Soul by The Brothers.

Ethel managed RCA’s Camden label (designed for budget records) starting in 1961. Camden was struggling when she took over and went on to become a multi-million dollar label under Ethel’s watch. Some of RCA’s major artists even asked to be released on the Camden line over the flagship RCA label because of Camden’s success.

Ethel received two RIAA Platinum records and 15 Gold records (over 10 million record sales total) during her career with numbers still growing. Many of these were repackages or re-releases where Ethel put her expert eyes (and ears) on song selection and label redesign. One album she re-packaged, Elvis’ Christmas Album, was the first Elvis record to reach Diamond (10 million sales). Ethel said of creating special packages (in Billboard Magazine Sept 5, 1981), “It’s like second nature to me. The secret is that you know the market you’re trying to reach. You can’t contrive a special record. It has to be genuine and full of integrity because people know the difference.” Ethel re-issued albums for nearly every RCA artist (including the Legendary Performer series, RCA Pure Gold economy line, and the Bluebird Complete series).

Towards the end of her time at RCA, Ethel asked the company to fund a women’s group for lectures and seminars. She wanted to help women learn to become executives. Ethel said she felt like a mother to some of the women she mentored (Ethel was married but did not have children). She wanted to teach skills like how to network, how to dress or behave. Ethel also became involved with Women in Music, one of very few groups available to women in the music industry at the time. In 1990, Ethel publicly spoke out against the “boys club” in a Letter to the Editor of Billboard Magazine (Oct 6). She said, “Yes, there are ‘record women’ in the industry – and they have ears, too!”

Ethel also worked with many artists and ensembles in the studio during her career including Chet Atkins, Caterina Valenti, Marty Gold, Los Indios Tabajaras, Teresa Brewer and hundreds of recordings under the Living series. She said of working with artists, “There are times to ‘harness’ artists and times to ‘push.’” Ethel said her most helpful qualifications to do the job were “her knowledge and love of music and her ability to make difficult decisions and hold to them.” (Cincinnati Enquirer August 18, 1983)

Ethel was not promoted to Vice President at RCA until 1982, over 40 years into her career. Many colleagues said it was long overdue. The following year, she won a Grammy for Best Historical Album (for co-producing The Dorsey/Sinatra Sessions). After leaving RCA, Ethel remained in the industry where she worked as president and vice president to smaller record labels.

Ethel’s story is being captured in a documentary film about her life and career, called LIVING SOUND. Production on the film started in 2019, when Gabriel was 97 years old. The documentary began (with the aide of SoundGirls) through uncovering archival materials and conducting interviews with Ethel.

For more about LIVING SOUND visit livingsoundfilm.com.  SoundGirls also has a scholarship in Ethel’s honor: the Ethel Gabriel Scholarship.

The SoundGirls Podcast – Caroline Losneck and April Tucker: Living Sound the Ethel Gabriel Documentary Team

 

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Profiles of Women in Audio

 

The Ethel Gabriel Scholarship

Applications for 2021 will open on June 1, 2021.

We are proud to recognize Ethel’s contributions to the music industry and for paving the way for future generations of women working in music production.

In honor of Ethel Gabriel, SoundGirls will be awarding two $500 scholarships to members pursuing a career in the recording arts. These scholarships will be awarded in August 2021 and can be used for educational training and university programs. The scholarships are open to all members of SoundGirls.

SoundGirls is currently in production on a new documentary about Ethel Gabriel’s career and impact. For more info visit EthelGabrieldoc.com

WHO IS ELIGIBLE?

Any member of SoundGirls that is attending or plans to attend educational programs in Professional Audio. There is no age requirement and includes college programs, trade schools, seminars, and workshops. Applications are open to all genders and non-conforming genders.

HOW TO APPLY

The application includes two short essay questions:

  1. Why you are applying for this scholarship;
  2. How has Ethel Gabriel inspired you? (400-600 words, please.)
  3. Application opens June 1, 2021 – Apply Here

DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSION

The essay submission deadline is 12:00 midnight EDT July 30, 2021. The scholarships will be awarded in August 2021, and paid to scholarship winners. Scholarship winners will be required to send proof of enrollment in the educational program to SoundGirls or scholarship money must be returned.

SELECTION PROCESS & NOTIFICATION

The SoundGirls Board will review essays and will notify the winners via email.

ADDITIONAL DETAILS

The scholarship funds awarded can be used for educational programs related to professional audio. Scholarships are non-renewable. You will need to submit proof of enrollment in a program.

QUESTIONS?

Any questions on the scholarship essay can be directed to soundgirls@soundgirls.org.


About Ethel Gabriel

Photo: Democrat & Chronicle Dec. 13, 2013

Photo: Democrat & Chronicle Dec. 13, 2013

Ethel Gabriel may be one of the most prolific music producers you’ve never heard of. Ethel had a 4-decade career at RCA starting with an entry-level job and rising up to become the first female record producer for a major record label and an executive role in A&R.

During her career, Ethel produced over 5,000 records and worked with a wide variety of artists on RCA’s roster including Elvis Presley. Ethel was willing to take risks – such as producing the first digitally-remastered album or working with artists who brought new types of music to the mainstream. Her credits include everything from mambo to easy listening to rap.

Ethel’s Background

Ethel was born in 1921 in Pennsylvania. She started her own dance band at age 13 (called “En and Her Royal Men”) where Ethel played trombone. She originally wanted to go to college for forestry (at the encouragement of her father) but women were not allowed into the program. She decided to attend Temple University (Philadelphia, PA) and study music education.

A relative helped Ethel get a job at RCA’s record plant (in Camden, New Jersey) to help pay for tuition and expenses. Ethel’s first job included tasks like putting labels on records. She was promoted to record tester where she had to listen to one out of every 500 records pressed for quality. She learned every note of the big hits since Ethel had to listen to them over and over.

Ethel would hang out at the nearby RCA recording studios (and brought her trombone with her to play between sessions). She got to play with some major artists for fun and also learn how the engineers and producers worked. She also spent a lot of time in the studio as secretary to the manager of A&R at the time, Herman Diaz, Jr. Ethel got to produce her first session (with bandleader Elliot Laurence) when Diaz called in sick and asked her to do it.

In 1955, Ethel convinced her boss, Manie Sacks, to sign Perez Prado to RCA’s label. She produced his record, Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, which became a worldwide hit and helped bring the mambo craze to the US.

She was with RCA during the creation of their Nashville studios, the signing of Elvis, and their transition from mono to stereo.

Through Ethel’s career, she was willing to take risks and experiment with new technology or music. In 1959, Ethel launched Living Strings, a series on RCA Camden’s label that ran for 22 years.

In 1961, she produced Ray Martin and his Orchestra Dynamica, the first release using RCA’s “Stereo Action.” In 1976, she was executive producer of Caruso,’s A Legendary Performer, the first digitally-remastered album. The technology used by Soundstream Inc (lead by Thomas Stockham) has gone on to be widely used in audio and photography restoration and Stockham’s work on the Caruso album was the basis for a 1975 scientific paper. In 1975, Ethel gave a chance to then-unknown producer Warren Schatz, who produced RCA’s first disco album, Disco-Soul by The Brothers.

Ethel also helmed RCA’s Camden label (designed for budget records). Camden was struggling when she took over in 1961 and had a sales volume increase of 100% over two years. Camden went on to become a multi-million dollar label under Ethel’s watch. Some of RCA’s major artists even asked to be released on the Camden line over the flagship RCA label because of Camden’s success.

During her career, Ethel received two RIAA Platinum records and 15 Gold records (over 10 million record sales) and her albums continue to sell. Many of these were repackages or re-releases where Ethel put her expert eyes (and ears) on song selection and label redesign. One album she re-packaged, Elvis’ Christmas Album, was the first Elvis record to reach Diamond (10 million sales). Ethel said of creating special packages (in Billboard Magazine Sept 5, 1981), “It’s like second nature to me. The secret is that you know the market you’re trying to reach. You can’t contrive a special record. It has to be genuine and full of integrity because people know the difference.” Ethel re-issued albums for nearly every RCA artist (including the Legendary Performer series, RCA Pure Gold economy line, and the Bluebird Complete series).

Towards the end of her time at RCA, Ethel asked the company to fund a women’s group for lectures and seminars. She wanted to help women learn to become executives. Ethel said she felt like a mother to some of the women she mentored (Ethel was married but did not have children). She wanted to teach skills like how to network, how to dress or behave. Ethel also became involved with Women in Music, one of very few groups available to women in the music industry at the time. In 1990, Ethel publicly spoke out against the “boys club” in a Letter to the Editor of Billboard Magazine (Oct 6). She said, “Yes, there are ‘record women’ in the industry – and they have ears, too!”

Ethel also worked with many artists and ensembles in the studio during her career including Chet Atkins, Caterina Valenti, Marty Gold, Los Indios Tabajaras, Teresa Brewer and the entire Living series recordings. She said of working with artists, “There are times to ‘harness’ artists and times to ‘push.’” Ethel said her most helpful qualifications to do the job were “her knowledge and love of music and her ability to make difficult decisions and hold to them.” (Cincinnati Enquirer August 18, 1983)

Ethel was not promoted to Vice President at RCA until 1982, over 40 years into her career. Many colleagues said it was long overdue. The following year, she won a Grammy for Best Historical Album (for co-producing The Dorsey/Sinatra Sessions). After leaving RCA, Ethel remained in the industry where she worked as president and vice president to smaller record labels.

 

 

Lillian McMurry – Record Producer & Owner of Trumpet Records

In 1949, Lillian Shedd McMurry heard a record that changed her life. A woman with no prior experience in the music industry started a record store, record label, and recording studio where she produced, promoted, and engineered songs – many of which became rhythm and blues classics. Some of her artists went on to hit records and career success such as Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, and Big Joe Williams. At its peak, Lillian calculated Trumpet Records to be the fifth-largest independent record label in the US.

She was born Lillian Shedd in 1921 in Purvis, Mississippi. During the Great Depression, Lillian’s family experienced extreme poverty. For years, they couldn’t afford a radio, so the family entertained themselves by singing together. She had seven male cousins who were like brothers to her. Lillian, a self-described tomboy, could “whip any three” of her cousins.

At age 13, she worked part-time after school. She graduated high school with experience in bookkeeping and secretarial work. In the early 1940s, she worked the counter at a pharmacy from 7 am to 10 pm 7 days a week, and was later promoted to manager. She met her future husband, Willard McMurray when she inquired about a beautiful concert grand piano for sale in his furniture store. The two were married in 1945 and had a daughter, Kathryn Vitrice, in 1947.

Willard and Lillian purchased a hardware store in 1949 (at 309 Farish Street in Jackson, Mississippi) with the plan to turn it into a furniture outlet. It was located on the boundary of white and black businesses and entertainment districts. While sorting through what was left behind in the building, workers came across a stack of unsold 78s (at the time, you could find records for sale at hardware stores in addition to grocery stores, service stations, and beauty parlors). One of the workers put on a record, Wynonie Harris’s recording of “All She Wants to Do Is Rock,” and Lillian was transfixed. “’It was the most unusual, sincere and solid sound I’d ever heard,” she said. ”I’d never heard a black record before. I’d never heard anything with such rhythm and freedom.’”

The workers (one who was a part-time bassist) knew these “race” records could only be ordered from wholesale houses in New Orleans. Lillian was going there on business soon and asked them to help make up a list of records to buy. In New Orleans, some of the distributors laughed at Lillian’s lack of knowledge but still told her where to get the records. She asked Willard if they could turn the store into a combination record and furniture store and he agreed.

Record Mart

The store had a sign that said Record Mart and the record shelves were on the walls (the center of the store had furniture for sale). She quickly sold out of her new records and the stock the workers had found. Lillian advertised three hours a day on a local radio show that featured a lot of music aimed at the black audience (R&B, blues, and gospel music). Lillian then expanded to the mail-order business, growing to as many as 1,500 orders a day. Most of the orders were coming from rural areas which had no record shops.

Record Mart also had listening booths which brought customers to the store to listen to new releases. Vocal groups would come in to hear new releases and sing along. This was the first time Lillian heard a live black vocal performance. Marc Ryan says in his book, “Trumpet Records: An Illustrated History with Discography”:

In the segregated society of Mississippi, it had been possible for Lillian McMurry to live nearly thirty years without having heard live or recorded black music. Segregation worked both ways, and the places where black musical forms flourished were pretty much off limits for whites.

Trumpet Records

The success of record sales at the store and her encounters with local musicians made Lillian want to create her own records.  28-year-old Lillian formed Trumpet Records and its parent company, The Diamond Record Company (DRC). Her first two signed artists were black gospel groups she met in the store (over time, word traveled that Lillian would audition walk-in talent at Record Mart). On April 3, 1950, Lillian produced her first recording session with a local group called the St. Andres Gospelaires. The session was at a local radio studio (WRBC). Lillian signed a second artist, the Southern Suns, to an exclusive contract on May 30, 1950, and had their first recording session at WRBC the next night.

Even with her lack of experience, Lillian already had the instinct of a producer. She went looking for local country, western, and blues artists to expand the label. While she didn’t have any marketing data to know it would sell, she saw how Hank Williams’ records performed at Record Mart (she had never heard of Hank Williams until the prior year when her workers wrote up the list of records for her to buy). Lillian arranged for a recording with Kay Kellum, a well-known local singer-accordionist, and paired him with two brothers she heard on the radio (Sam and Westley Tolars who played bass and fiddle).

Sonny Boy Williamson II

Lillian heard about a blues singer who played the harmonica (or the “harp” as it’s known in the blues circle) and tracked him down in a neighboring community. Sonny Boy Williamson had been performing locally and on the radio for almost 20 years. They signed a contract in December 1950 and in January they recorded the label’s first hit, “Eyesight to the Blind.” The recording was at Ivan Scott’s Radio Service Studio in Jackson. He used one microphone and a direct-to-disc recording process.

It turns out Sonny was not the artist’s real name – he was an escaped convict who needed a new name. Sonny recorded hits for the label including “Dust My Broom” and became one of Trumpet’s most successful artists.

In 1951, the label got the news that all of their masters, which had been sent to the Master Record Company in Chicago, were lost in a fire. Lillian powered forward by finding a new firm to handle her mastering and getting her artists back in the studio to re-record songs.

Lillian had high standards in the studio. She recalled 120 rejected takes on one title. Since Ivan Scott’s studio was direct-to-disc, they couldn’t edit, and a new disc was required for each take. Whether it was a balance issue, audio problem, or an artist’s flaw in performance, Lillian only wanted to release the best.

Lillian was honest and direct with her artists. In a later letter to Joseph Curtis Almond (after he skipped a session), she said, “We are very disappointed with your slow tunes . . . Your voice is cracked all through; you blast and then drop your voice, and the whole dark vocal comes out a mess. . . If you had come to Jackson as planned on Thursday, we could have put you on the mike and corrected anything that was wrong with the songs or your voice; then you could have rehearsed from Thursday until Sunday.” She told Sherman “Blues” Johnson in a letter, “You are about the nicest guy, and we do appreciate your attitude. .We are not discouraged, and we don’t want you to be. . . I’m going to give you a swift kick in the pants next time I see you if you don’t keep on trying.”

Recording to Tape

Bill Holford, ACA Studios

A year into operations, Lillian discovered Bill Holford, a recording engineer who owned the Audio Company of America (ACA) in Houston. Bill was willing to work remotely and worked with analog tape (new technology at the time) which gave the ability to edit takes. Bill was an Oklahoma native who trained in the Air Force (where he learned electronics) during World War II. He had a 1948 Raytheon four-channel mixer and an Ampex 300 mono recorder. Lillian booked him in December 1951 for a marathon series of sessions (four days, three nights) and scheduled nearly all of her contracted talent. The sessions were booked at the local Musicians’ Union Hall.

With Bill busy setting up mics and Lillian doing last-minute preparations, they didn’t notice what was going on with the union folks at the hall. At the time, Mississippi was one of the most openly segregated areas of the entire country, and the musician’s union had a ‘whites only’ policy. According to Marc Ryan, “Lillian had naively assumed that the union would welcome such a flurry of activity for the Jackson musicians. As a relative novice in the recording field, she had little knowledge about the attitudes and policies of the rank-and-file white leadership towards black musicians. When the union bosses finally sized up the situation, turmoil erupted.”

Lillian and Bill captured a few tracks while the union bosses bothered the black musicians waiting to record. “I wasn’t going to have those musicians harassed,” she said in Ryan’s book. “They got so nasty that we just moved our equipment out.” She quickly located a vacant club hall, the Cedars of Lebanon, and rented it for the rest of the sessions. Ryan wrote, “Beset with coffee nerves and talking herself hoarse; the crusading producer forged on into the third night, then the fourth day, of the marathon. Holford, ever calm and self-possessed, aided and comforted by his wife Kay, kept the reels of his Ampex rolling as the final round of recordings built to a remarkable climax.” In the end, they had 42 usable takes and Lillian was confident there were hits in the bunch.

Lawsuit

In January 1952, Lillian received news that “a pair of big shots from Hollywood” were in the Jackson area trying to sign artists by promising fame and fortune. Many of the artists the Bihari brothers (Jules and Joe) were going after were Trumpet artists – with no regard to their Trumpet contacts. Lillian quickly contacted a lawyer and the local Sheriff. The Sheriff issuing a restraining order to the Bihari brothers during a demo recording at a local nightclub. Trumpet artist Lonnie Holmes was about to audition when the Sheriff came in. The session ended, and the Biharis were served papers to appear in court. Diamond Record Company was suing Modern Records for “inducing artists who were under exclusive contract” and asking $1 million in damages.

The lawsuit made national news and the case was in the courts for over two years. In 1954, a judge ruled in Lillian’s favor. The Biharis were guilty of “violating a state statute forbidding willful and knowing interference between parties of an employment contract.” The damages awarded were a disappointing $2,500 and the Biharis continued to record with one of the artists they took from Lillian, “Mister” Elmore James. Lonnie Holmes, the artist whose audition, was stopped, had his contract voided and his first Trumpet release (which was about to ship) was canceled. He never recorded again.

Moving Ahead

Lillian continued to look for new talent and sign new artists. The Southern Sons recorded some tracks with the Argo Singers, an all-female gospel group based in Chicago. 

Their first session was at the RCA Victor Studio in Chicago then one at Universal Recording (while Bill Putnam was still based in Chicago). Lillian held Gospel concerts at some of Jackson’s small theaters and used that to help promote the label and the store. These shows were advertised on local radio and usually had a full house.

On the country music side, Lillian was gaining recognition for her ear for artists. Producers from MGM and Capitol started to call her to talk shop and market trends. After Hank Williams’ death in 1953, she recognized a hole in the market and arranged sessions with existing and new Trumpet artists. She helped shape part of the early Rockabilly sound with artist Joseph Curtis Almond.

She hired top musicians for some recordings including B.B. King, Little Milton Campbell, and Joe Willie Wilkins. Even though the city of Jackson’s musician’s union had segregation requirements, she refused to adhere and mixed black and white musicians. Lillian said later, “Because we recorded some black blues and spirituals, I was treated rather ugly sometimes by certain people… I acted like a lady, as a businessperson, and that’s the way it should have been.”

Lillian’s devotion to her artists went outside the studio, too. She offered everything from encouragement and advice to money management and cab rides. She got notified by the police that artist Bobo “Catfish Slim” Thomas had been in jail for eight months. The year prior, Lillian had loaned him an amp and a guitar to write a b-side to a song, and he hadn’t been heard from since. Lillian wasn’t concerned about the broken and muddy guitar and amp the police were returning to her. She was more concerned that Bobo didn’t have a single hearing in eight months. She hired a lawyer for him for $125 (for perspective, a 125-mile taxi ride would cost you $6 at the time). Lillian was at the trial where she spent two hours in a room behind the judge’s bench trying to talk Bobo into pleading “not guilty” so the judge would let him go. A couple of years later, Lillian sent her family doctor to check on Trumpet artist Willie Love as his health was failing. She visited Willie in the hospital in his final days, and DRC paid for his funeral.

Recording Studios

Lillian tried a few tape-based studios once she made the jump from recording vinyl. She connected with Sam Phillips, engineer, and owner of Memphis Recording Service (where Marion Keisker worked). Lillian knew that Sam’s interest was the blues and trusted his instinct and sent some of her artists for sessions at his studio. She also continued to send artists to ACA in Houston. But, eventually, a new idea came about: The furniture store. In the summer of 1953, Lillian’s dad built the Diamond Recording Studio (designed by Bill Holford of ACA) in the 309 building. The Record Mart ceased operations.

Ryan’s book explains her gear:

She bought a new Macintosh pre-amp and amplifier, a big Altec Lansing monitor, RCA 77 DX and 44 BX microphones, and a Magnecord tape deck. She had mattresses hung on the walls and ceiling, covering them with huge theatre drapes for acoustical effect.

Lillian began experimenting as an engineer, using her observations from being in sessions with engineers like Holford and others. Ryan said,

She discovered the wisdom in recording everything “flat”, with no “echo”, which could then be added later as needed. She studied balance, striving always to keep the voice “out front.” With her usual dynamism, she soon was obtaining professional standards in her temporary studio in the furniture store. The first DRC studio session to be released on the Trumpet label was Jerry McCain in October 1953.

Lillian engineered tracks at the studio such as Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Red Hot Kisses” and ‘Lucky’ Joe Almond’s “Every Day of the Week.” Most (but not all) of DRC’s catalog starting DRC 185 were recorded by Lillian.

The End of Trumpet

By the end of 1954, the DRC was losing money, and Lillian’s enthusiasm was starting to dwindle. Willard’s furniture business was subsidizing the studio in hopes a new release would be a big success and help put the studio and label finances back on track. It had been nearly two years since Trumpet had a big hit. The label faced a number of struggles – unfaithful artists, the failure to find new artists that could grab hold of the market, distributors that took merchandise on advance then went bankrupt, and other distributors that ignored invoices completely.

At the same time, R&B music was starting to reach the mainstream. The major labels were enveloped by it. It wasn’t practical for Lillian to release music for local consumption but competing with the majors was going to be a challenge. Lillian, in a fight to the end, started Globe Records in an attempt to reach a new market (she also engineered all the recordings, as well).

Trumpet was done (in 1955). But, the growing debt of the organization lead to fewer recording sessions. Lillian even traded away Sonny Boy’s recording contract to their pressing plant, Plastic Products, to cancel a huge debt. The last recording was Lucky Joe Almond on St. Patrick’s Day in 1956.

Ryan says in his book, Lillian “had grown from a musically naive dilettante to an accomplished professional, whose tiny label had blossomed to become, for a few years at least, the second-largest independent label based in the South. To have remained in the field into the second half of the decade would have required a greater stake than the McMurrys were willing to gamble. The furniture business was still booming, and there was certainly no need to pursue the chimerical forms of fame and fortune that tantalized so many of DRC’s contemporaries.”

Lillian continued to keep the books and sell off old record stock for years at the furniture stores. She kept Globe Music, the publishing company where most of Trumpet’s catalog (and some unreleased tracks) went. She kept protecting her business-like in 1963 when a record-producer reissued some of Sonny Boy’s Trumpet recordings without Lillian’s blessing (she immediately sued the label owner). Federal copyright did not protect sound recordings until 1972. She protected her artists, too, who she diligently paid royalties on-time for years.

The rights to many Globe and Trumpet releases were sold to other labels (major and small). In 1985, the remaining masters and rights were donated to the Centre for the Study of Southern Culture (at the University of Mississippi in Oxford).

Lillian was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1998 (one of a few record producers at the time to have that honor). She died a year later at age 77.

In 2007, Lillian and Willard McMurry were posthumously honored with a historical marker at 309 Farish Street in Jackson. It was the first record company in Mississippi to achieve this type of recognition. Unfortunately, the site of the studio has since decayed – but Lillian’s most important contribution to the music industry will live on.

Further reading/listening

Ryan, Marc. Trumpet Records: an Illustrated History, with Discography. Big Nickel Publications, 1992.

Lillian McMurry and the Blues Contracts of Trumpet Records

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Profiles of Women in Audio

These Women Are Fixing The Gender Problem in Music Tech

Making up just 5 percent of the music tech industry, women are vastly underrepresented. There is a long way to go to achieve gender parity across the board. However, as Chandler Shortlidge discovers, welcome and overdue change is in the air. 

Great strides have been made across the electronic music industry in recent years to bring more visibility and opportunity to women and non-binary artists on stage. Major drink brands have launched entire campaigns around the issue, helping to highlight the work done by groups like female:pressure, Keychange and Discwoman to make lineups gender equal. And while there’s still much work to be done, few would argue that the efforts have been in vain. But beyond the stage, and into major audio production and engineering studios, women are still greatly underrepresented, currently making up just 5 percent of the music tech industry.

The question of why this imbalance exists has been well covered and is seen by some in the industry as counterproductive. Focusing on the disparity itself only “reinforces the message that women and non-binary people working in sound are an anomaly,” says Kirsty Gillmore of SoundGirls, a non profit organisation founded in 2013 with the mission of inspiring and empowering the next generation of women in audio. Instead, women like Gillmore think the message now needs to be focused on solutions.

Kirsty Gillmore

Kirsty Gillmore, photo by Issac Peral

Gillmore has worked professionally in the sound industry for 17 years. She graduated in New Zealand in 2001, and says she was one of only two women in her class studying sound engineering. “Sound design wasn’t really a known thing in New Zealand,” she says. So she moved to the UK, earning a job at the BBC, where she worked for eight years in a variety of sound-related roles. Now she does sound design for theatre and opera, where she’s responsible for everything you hear. “So that’s everything from the speaker selection to microphone selection to the soundscapes and sound effects,” she says. She also creates soundscapes for audio drama, where she shapes and selects sounds before mixing it all together. As for SoundGirls, Gillmore works on a volunteer basis as the European co-director and UK chapter head.

With over 6,000 members and chapters worldwide, SoundGirls first launched a directory for women in audio two years ago. It was a place where anyone looking to find a woman for their engineering or production needs could find one. But early this year, Spotify reached out to SoundGirls about updating the directory in the hopes of giving it more visibility. “Spotify has made an ongoing commitment to making strides towards equity in the industry,” Gillmore says. Together, they launched The EQL Directory, a revamped version of the original database that’s more dynamic and user-friendly.

You can’t keep saying that there’s no female producers because you just don’t know them. We know them, and we gather them here.

“A lot of what was heard in the industry was, ‘oh, we really wanted to hire a woman engineer but we didn’t know where to find one,’” Gillmore says. But by creating a focal point to easily find female and gender non-conforming sound engineers, designers, producers, mixers and editors, Gillmore hopes the days of claiming ignorance will soon be over. “This is a way of saying, actually, there are a lot of women working in the industry, and now we’ve made it easier for you to find them, so you don’t have that excuse anymore.”

This ethos is echoed closely by Anna Ingler, who helped establish the Upfront Producers Network. Like its name implies, the Stockholm-born network is producer orientated and helps connect and highlight non-male artists in pop, electronic music, and occasionally hip-hop. Artists come mainly from Stockholm, but also Berlin, London, Finland and Denmark.

Anna Ingler

Anna Ingler

“It’s a way to tell the industry, look, there’s a lot of producers here,” Ingler says. “You can’t keep saying that there’s no female producers because you just don’t know them. We know them, and we gather them here.”

Anyone wanting to join the network must apply. Ingler says this is for quality control, so anyone looking to hire a producer through the network already knows the artists have been professionally vetted. The network also serves as a way to connect non-male artists who have shared backgrounds. “They have experiences with sexism, or just people not believing in them or being degrading in some way,” Ingler says.

This isn’t universally true, of course. But male-dominated production and party crews are already a backbone of the electronic music industry, in part because men already gather in their own spaces. However, analogous female and non-binary crews are still rather rare. By meeting other like-minded producers, they can develop their own creative spaces where they feel safe, learn from one another, have fun and grow as professionals. “To get jobs or to become a professional producer, you need that kind of time to develop and refine your skills,” Ingler says. “I think it’s important to do that in a safe space.”

SoundGirls members are already audio professionals, but many women listed in its original directory obtained further work because of it. And with EQL, Gillmore expects that only to improve. Now she says the focus should be on increasing the visibility of women and non-binary professionals across the entire audio industry so that women and girls who are less experienced have someone they can look up to. “I know when I was starting out in sound, there very few female role models,” Gillmore says. “They were out there, they just weren’t visually represented.” Famous female engineers are still rarely used as spokespeople for audio equipment advertisements, or listed amongst many manufacturers’ famous clients when touting the quality of their brands. “I would like to see those manufacturers pledge to have gender equity on their websites,” Gillmore says. Women and non-binary people should be given equal representation in interviews with audio publications too, so future generations can clearly see someone like them they can aspire to.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” Gillmore says. “We obviously want younger women and girls to come into the industry, and if they look at these publications and manufacturers and all they see are men, then it’s difficult to then go, well, there’s a path for you there.”

Saffron Laura Lewis-Paul also wants to give women a path. Though initially, her background wasn’t in music or technology, she’s long been interested in making creative spaces more diverse. But while working for Creative Youth Network, a youth creativity outreach program, she set up a “very small” label, and soon noticed the music industry’s lack of diversity. “[It’s] not a very diverse industry at all,” she says. And music technology even less so.

So in 2015 she launched Saffron, a music label and artist development program with six to eight week courses in DJing, Ableton Live, Logic and sound engineering, aimed at teaching women the skills necessary to empower them in traditionally male spaces, like music studios. “It’s a difficult place to hold yourself, to navigate a career,” Lewis-Paul says. “By giving women those skills, they can reclaim creative control over their work, and know exactly what needs to be done to make their careers the best they can be.”

Saffron Laura Lewis-Paul

Saffron Laura Lewis-Paul

Heavyweight studio veterans like Katia Isakoff agree. “Walking into a professional recording studio armed with session files and the necessary skills and confidence to communicate one’s technical and creative ideas can be very empowering and liberating,” she says. A veteran composer and producer, Isakoff owned a commercial studio in West London for 12 years, composed and produced for Mute Records in 2002. She also co-owned a commercial studio which she co-designed and built, and her lengthy resume is dotted with a host of other equally impressive achievements.

You can’t be what you can’t see.

Today, she works in experimental avant garde electronic music using hardware synthesisers, voice, DAWs, Theremin and other hardware and software. She knows better than most, how powerful professional knowledge can be when working with a recording or mix engineer. “Especially for a self-producing artist—it can indeed help reclaim or maintain creative control over their work and career,” she says.

Katia Isakoff

Katia Isakoff

Last year, Lewis-Paul says roughly 15 percent of Saffron graduates went on to study higher education in audio at dBs Music—a production, sound engineering and electronic music performance school with campuses in Berlin, London and Bristol. It’s a Saffron partner, and where Lewis-Paul’s students learn the tools of the trade. Lewis-Paul is hoping she’ll soon be able to further track how many of her students then go on to work professionally in the music industry, but that’s still a work in progress.

Right now, her focus is on encouraging new students into the program, and organically developing the Saffron artists who are starting to show potential. “It’s a slow process, and I think I’m okay with that,” she says. One graduate of Saffron’s DJ program is now playing on Worldwide FM. And while it might be easy to try and quickly push her up through the ranks, Lewis-Paul says it’s “really important not to skip over some of those processes in the journey.”

When it comes to encouraging women into Saffron’s classrooms, Lewis-Paul says DJ classes fill up almost instantly. She thinks this is due to the high visibility of women on international and local DJ circuits. “In terms of what we’ve created in Bristol, there are women on nearly every lineup,” she says. But studio work is done behind the scenes, so “you can’t see them being celebrated,” she says. Which is why she thinks EQL is so important, closely echoing Gillmore’s “you can’t be what you can’t see” mantra.

“You can’t see there are other people like you going into these engineering positions,” Lewis-Paul says. “And there’s a fear with that where you might think, ‘well that’s going to be intimidating. It’s going to be men. If I’m going to have to spend more than a day in that environment, I’m going to feel vulnerable.’” But with the EQL database, women can see that there are people like them in those behind-the-scenes roles who they can connect with. “It’s about having a community and feeling supported in what you’re doing and what you want to go into so that you’re not the only one,” she says.

Saffron Masterclass

Saffron’s Masterclass. Photo by Rianna Tamara

As for the future of women in audio, Gillmore says she’s optimistic. “Well I have to be, really,” she half-jokes. In terms of actual numbers of women working in audio, “there’s a long, long way to go.” But there is more awareness, she says, and a willingness to do something about the gender imbalance. That includes initiatives like the EQL Directory, Girls Make Beats—an American school similar to Saffron—and Red Bull’s Normal Not Novel campaign, a monthly series of workshops for women led by

female electronic producers, engineers, and DJs. And although she’s heard the gender imbalance hasn’t greatly improved in her New Zeland class since 2001, she’s also heard about post-production studios in Australia that are half women. Things are improving with manufacturers and the media too. “ProSound News Europe does a regular podcast about women in sound, and they’re very good at featuring equal numbers of sound engineers, designers and producers,” she says.

As for Lewis-Paul, she thinks change needs to start even earlier, by erasing antiquated gender stereotypes as young as possible. “Around 13 to 15 years old, a lot of girls can start to lose their confidence and not want to go into some of those tech subjects,” she says. “So it’s about education starting from a young age, and continuing that so that there isn’t a drop off [in interest].”

With more focus on early education, an emphasis on highlighting female and non-binary role models, and the continued success of empowering networks and education programs, a large and lasting gender shift in the audio industry does look set to happen. Which Upfront’s Anna Ingler says is something we should all be excited for. “I see equality more like a resource than a problem that we have to fix,” Ingler says. “I mean in a company, if you have a diverse staff, you’re going to have different perspectives of a problem and you’re going to solve that problem better. It’s the same thing with creating music. If you have a more diverse, creative team, you’re going to come up with a more creative product.”

Chandler Shortlidge is a dance music journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter

Bringing your Musical Ideas & Dreams to Reality

Making an album in today’s music industry

By Betty Moon

When I first started playing music in Toronto’s music scene, it was during an era where CDs were still dominating industry sales and the digital scene was not how we see things today. Gatekeepers on all levels from retail to record labels only allowed so many artists through, and it was at a high cost. The idea of having a record deal or even getting your music heard on a mass level was intimidating and for most simply wishful thinking. Sure, part of my success was about the timing but it was really about the hard work, networking and ensuring I would be the best songwriter possible.

As my career in music evolved, I formed my own label, music publisher, and video production company, and am asked almost daily from friends and fans on how to release music and make a splash doing so. Though today it almost seems too easy, I find that many ambitious musicians still don’t understand the critical steps to simply reaching the finish line. Here is an action list I put together to adhere by next time any of you get the spark to write and record an album:

Write and document all your ideas:

One of the best ways to stay on track when bringing your songs to life is to keep a record of them. Whether you’re playing acoustic and recording via a voice memo app or using a free program like Garage Band on the computer, it’s easy to scratch demo all your great ideas. Keeping documentation on your ideas gives you a sense of progress, and allows you to easily share songs with other collaborators within your project.

Give yourself a deadline:

We all have a musician friend who has the story “I’m working on this great album”, yet it’s already been two years and there seems to be no end in sight. It’s very easy to lean on perfectionism and as time goes on you can second guess your work, which leads to potentially endless delays and many albums never being finished. When you give yourself a realistic deadline, you will be surprised on how you figure things out and make incredible progress along the way. Think of how deadlines work in the business world, yes it works for musicians as well!

Pick a producer-engineer or choose best recording options:

Deciding on how you will record your album is a monumental moment in your steps to finishing your upcoming music. There are endless producer-engineers out there with years of experience, and at different rates to meet your budgetary needs. For those with the experience or willingness to learn, there are multiple recording suites available for PC/Mac that are relatively easy to master within a reasonable amount of time. Though being a music producer requires lifelong learning, today’s programs do much of the heavy lifting. Regardless of which route you take, making the commitment with how you will record your album shows there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Ensure your mix and mastering are of quality:

Your music can be the best work of art in 2017, but without a quality mix and professional mastering, you may have more work to prove your worth. A great mix not only helps your music sound it’s best, but it also provides an extra set of ears that has your best interest in mind. The mastering process can be equally as important and helps your music sonically be on par with other music being listened to by fans on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon and every other platform you can think of.

Register your music with a performing rights organization:

Many musicians don’t fully understand the world of music licensing, copyright and overall accountability for royalties when your music is used in film, television and other public locations. Make sure you register yourself and your music with your choice of a performing rights organization (PRO). In the United States, the three major players are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. These organizations help ensure music usage is accounted for, and that you are rightly paid for its use.

Select your digital distribution option:

Putting your music on Soundcloud and Youtube is great, but those are obviously not the only platforms that music fans use for new artist discovery. Using low-cost digital distribution sources like Tunecore or CD Baby will help push your music to top engaged platforms like Apple Music and Spotify.

Market your music:

Let’s not forget the most critical step in all of this. What good is making the music with the goal of being recognized, if you don’t market it properly? So many musicians forget to allocate even a nominal budget towards marketing, and this can lead to major disappointment. Have no fear though, today you can market your music for substantially less money than artists of any other decade have. When planning for a record release, always keep in mind how you will market the efforts and how much money will you need to allocate.

Putting out an album can be a very overwhelming process, but can be easily simplified by creating your own checklist and holding yourself accountable along the way. Believe me, nothing feels more fulfilling than getting those new CDs in the mail or seeing the amazing feedback in the press about your latest music. Once you go through the steps of making an album, I promise it gets easier and your album checklist will be committed to memory.


Betty Moon is a Toronto-born singer, songwriter, producer, and filmmaker. She has recorded six albums, including the 2014 release “Amourphous”, which Moon produced and which features the single, “Valentine,” mixed by Grammy Award-winner Chris Lord-Alge. Moon’s music has been featured in a variety of television shows and films including Californication, Dexter, Bounty Hunters, Walking the Dead directed by Melanie Ansley, and Last Gasp starring Robert Patrick.

Betty Moon was signed to A&M Records in 1990, and she released her self-titled debut LP in Canada in 1991. She has been nominated for four CASBY Awards including Best Album of the Year, Best Single of the Year, Best Video of the Year, and Best Artist of the Year. Moon released three records after her self-titled debut, including Doll Machine on EMI, STIR, and Demon Flowers.

In 2010, Moon relocated to Los Angeles and released “Rollin’ Revolution,” which garnered airplay on famed L.A. rock radio station KROQ. In 2013, Moon was a featured artist at the Sunset Strip Music Festival, sharing the stage with Marilyn Manson, Quiet Riot, Black Label Society, and The Offspring. She continues to be a regular performer at iconic venues such as The Roxy, Whisky a Go Go, and The Viper Room in Hollywood, California. Her collaboration with top music industry professionals includes Kenny Aronoff, Randy Cooke, Wes Scantlin, John Christ, Jason Sutter, Glenn Milchem, Gavin Brown and Chris Lord-Alge

Meet Female Frequency

11846575_488427751334833_7435856588267564587_nFemale Frequency is a musical collective dedicated to empowering women and girls in the music industry through the creation of media that is entirely female generated. Female Frequency started when singer/songwriter Dani Mari wished to work with a female producer for her next album. Dani soon realized that female producers and female owned recording studios were rare and hard to find. Dani eventually reached out to Women in Music, a professional organization dedicated to supporting, cultivating, and recognizing the talents of women in all areas of the music industry to find a female producer. Through WIM, Dani was introduced to I Am Snow Angel. Working together I Am Snow Angel and Dani came up with the idea of producing an all female recording project.  Every aspect of the recording project will be female produced. I Am Snow Angel suggested Claire London as another female to collaborate with and Female Frequency was born.

FF is currently raising money to record a five-song EP, with the long-term goal of supporting other females in additional collaborative projects in the future. FF will donate a percentage of funds raised to Women’s Audio Mission, a non-profit organization that teaches music technology to women and girls. In addition, FF is a current finalist in the Ovation TV/Rockethub “Creative Studio” initiative. If selected as a winning project, FF will be awarded an additional $5,000, which will be used to fund FF women’s workshops and classes on various topics, including audio production, beatmaking, singing, songwriting, and music marketing.

Women in music – and particularly in electronic music – have often honed their craft in the shadows of their male counterparts, who account for the vast majority of sound engineers, producers and electronic musicians. FF intends to challenge the status quo by giving women the opportunity to carry out every aspect of the music-making process, including but not limited to writing, instrumentation, arrangement, singing, audio production and the creation of accompanying visual media. FF aspires to boost morale and confidence, provide fruitful collaborative opportunities and, ultimately, increase female representation across all sectors of the music industry.

Female Frequency is hosting their Launch party

11836829_505434609634147_110428196334957056_n

October 7th – 7pm-10pm – FREE EVENT

Alt Space Brooklyn

Featuring music by Pozibelle of Women Beatmakers Meetup

Limited availability reserve your FREE ticket