Black and White Covers
When a song proved to be popular in one area, record companies would rush to issue the same song performed by one
of their local artists. As royalties, when paid, were due to the copyright owner (usually the record producer), not the song’s writer or original performer, this arrangement worked perfectly well for many years.
This was also a profitable way for the record companies to sell the same song (which they already owned the rights to) to a wider audience. One of the most common ways that record companies would make money from the same song was to take a popular song from one category of their catalog and have it recorded by an artist from another category. Songs from the record company’s popular songs catalog were often recorded by hillbilly artists and race artists and released under the appropriate section of the catalog. The most commonly covered songs were from the race record section of the catalogs. These songs were reworked to appeal to a different audience and recorded by the top selling artists from the hillbilly or country catalog.
Today being the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, I thought we’d take a look at a few of the records that were hits as either race or hillbilly records and were covered by artists from another style, providing the record label with twice the sales, and unwittingly helped to mix the various styles that would eventually lead to rock-n-roll.