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Where Women Made History - Lillian McMurry and Trumpet Records

Today on International Women's Day I submitted an entry for Trumpet Records visionary Lillian McMurry as part of the National Trust of Historic Preservation’s “Where Women Made History” crowdsourcing initiative. The National Trust is engaging the public in a multi-year collaborative effort to identify 1,000 places that have significant associations with women's history and their vital contributions to the American narrative.

At 309 North Farish Street in Jackson, Mississippi, stands the endangered creative home of one of the earliest female record producers, Lillian McMurry, and her label, Trumpet Records, the state's first nationally recognized recording company and at its peak, one of the largest independent record labels in the US.

The former Trumpet Records building at 309 N. Farish St. (Photo: Save Trumpet Records Facebook page)
Lillian McMurry, c. 1940s. (Photo: Marc Ryan, author)

The building had been a hardware store at the time Lillian and her husband Willard McMurry purchased it in 1949. During the process of adapting the space as a furniture store, Lillian heard Wynonie Harris’s “All She Wants to Do Is Rock” from an inventory of unsold 78s she had discovered, inspiring a formative moment in American music and women’s history.

Living in Mississippi's segregated society, Lillian had never been exposed to African-American music. Sonically spellbound and without any prior experience in the music industry, the enterprising 28-year-old transitioned part of the building into a record store (Record Mart) in 1950. Also with Willard’s support, Lillian began recording and producing black and white artists under her own label, Trumpet Records, in 1951.

She founded Globe Music Corporation, Trumpet’s publishing arm, and its parent company, The Diamond Record Company, both headquartered there, too. Eventually Lillian would be able to produce and record in-house when her dad Julius Shedd built the Diamond Recording Studio (per specifications by engineer and producer Bill Holford of ACA Studios in Houston) in the back room of the store in 1953, at which time she and Willard ceased operating the Record Mart.

Initially opening a record store on Farish Street, the city’s African-American commercial and cultural center, allowed Lillian to meet and network with artists she would later produce. Trumpet Records (1951-1956) was the first label to record blues legends Elmore James (Trumpet's biggest success was his 1951 hit "Dust My Broom"), Sonny Boy Williamson II (Aleck Miller) and Willie Love. Lillian also recorded other blues artists such as Little Milton, James Waller, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, Big Joe Williams and Jerry “Boogie” McCain as well as R&B singers, gospel groups and country artists.

Elmo (Elmore) James' "Dust My Broom" in 1951 was Trumpet's biggest success. (Photo: Ted Staunton Collection)

Not only was Lillian one of the first female record producers, an owner of her own label, recording studio and publishing company, she was a white woman in the Deep South recording black music at the height of the segregation era. She treated all the musicians equally and, despite segregation requirements of the local musicians union, brought black and white artists together in the studio to collaborate on recording sessions. In addition to producing the first releases of some of Mississippi's blues pioneers, Lillian made attempts to combine African-American influences with country music (what would eventually translate into rock ‘n’ roll) and is credited as having made an early impact on the rockabilly sound.

Lillian was inducted into Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame in 1998 before passing away the following year. In 2017, both Lillian and Willard were posthumously recognized by the Mississippi Blues Commission with the installation of a Mississippi Blues Trail marker in front of the former Trumpet Records building. Read both sides of the marker here.

A Mississippi Blues Trail marker honors the McMurrys and the Trumpet Records legacy. (Photo: Natalie Maynor, Flickr)
MS Blues Trail marker honors Lillian and Willard McMurry and the Trumpet Records legacy (Photo: Steve Minor, Flickr)

Trumpet Records was one of seven music heritage sites I secured nominations for to be considered for the National Association for the Preservation of African-American History & Culture's inaugural "America’s Most Threatened African-American Historical Properties” list in 2016. Read more about it in my blog post, Prioritizing music heritage in awareness campaigns for endangered African-American landmarks.

I'm working on getting an update on the building's status and the Save Trumpet Records campaign and will share it here. Stay tuned! -Sheryl

Image: Save Trumpet Records Facebook page

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