Lillian Shedd McMurry, the founder and owner of the legendary Trumpet
Records label and the Globe Music Corporation, died in Jackson,
Mississippi, after suffering a heart attack, on March 18, 1999. She
McMurry's Jackson-based label, which released blues, spirituals, country, pop, and
rockabilly records, was one of the first independent labels in the
South. But it was blues that Trumpet became best known for in the
early 1950s. Commercially, the label didn't rival Chess, RPM, King,
Imperial, or Specialty, but Trumpet's recordings were innovative and
the label introduced several important artists to the public. Under
McMurry's supervision, Trumpet recorded Sonny Boy Williamson [Rice
Miller], Elmore James, Tiny Kennedy, Big Joe Williams, Willie Love,
Percy and Luther Huff, and Jerry McCain.
McMurry became involved in the record business by chance. In the late 1940s she was working as a bookkeeper in her husband's furniture shop. Willard McMurry bought a hardware store on North Farish Street in the black part of Jackson and sent his wife there to supervise the liquidation of the remaining inventory. The shop still had some "race records," which
she enjoyed listening to and which sold very quickly. McMurry found
out that such records were supplied by distributors in New Orleans
and were not easy to obtain in Jackson. She visited these
distributors on a trip to New Orleans and returned with a trunk full
of blues and spiritual 78s. Those records also sold quickly, and
before long McMurry was phoning in record orders to New Orleans and
The McMurrys kept theNorth Farish location open as a combination record shop and
furniture store called Record Mart-Furniture Bargains. The store
attracted a lot of walk-in traffic and it also became a busy
mail-order outlet through advertisements over radio station WRBC.
"We had listening booths in the shop with the record player on the
counter," said McMurry in a 1984 interview. "Groups of black men
would crowd into the booths and I found out they were singing
spirituals along with the records. Some of them were really good. By
the middle of 1950 I started thinking, 'Why can't I make a record?'
Gads, I didn't know what I was getting into."
Trumpet's initial releases by the Andrews Gospelaires and the Southern Sons were
recorded at WRBC and aimed at the spiritual market. However, McMurry
wanted to record blues and auditioned Joe Hill Louis, Bo Carter, and
Tommy Johnson‹but she didn't think they were good enough to record.
She had heard about an entertaining harmonica player in the Delta
and went looking for him to see if he was worth recording. In
December of 1950 McMurry found Sonny Boy Williamson in a Belzoni
juke joint and signed him to a Trumpet Records contract. Sonny Boy
would be the label's key artist over the next five years.
Sometimes Sonny Boy
would be in the studio until two a.m., until he recorded a song
right," said McMurry. "If he said, 'Let's get out of here,' or made
a few boo boos while recording, that was all right as long as the
feeling was in it. That's what sold records.... I had an advantage
over some producers being so close to the record shop and hearing
what sold. Back then if you had the No. 1 Billboard hit,
you¹d be lucky to sell 50,000. We never did that but we did well
with Sonny Boy's Nine Below Zero, Mighty Long Time, Cat Hop, and Too Close Blues."
Sonny Boy also served
as a talent scout and was responsible for bringing Elmore James to
the label. James's lone Trumpet release and recording debut, Dust
My Broom, would be the label's only R&B chart entry. Sonny Boy
also recruited pianist Willie Love, whose Nelson Street Blues was a best seller in the Delta. Other artists gravitated to Jackson
once they heard there was a lady there who made blues records.
McMurry went as far as building a studio in the back of the record
shop, in which many of the sessions were conducted.
sales and escalating debts forced McMurry to shut Trumpet down in
1955. She sold Sonny Boy Williamson's contract to her pressing plant
and worked for several years to pay off bills the label had
incurred. During the 1960s and '70s, she worked with her husband at
their store on Gallatin Street. For years she sold Trumpet 45s and
78s to visiting blues collectors for a dollar each. In 1974 she
liquidated the remaining stock at a nickel a disc to a New England
In the early 1980s,
McMurry used reissue royalties to purchase an impressive granite
marker that was placed over Williamson's previously unmarked grave
in Tutwiler, Mississippi. In 1985, she donated her written records,
files, and remaining masters and rights to the University of
Mississippi Music Library's Blues Archive. McMurry is survived by a
daughter, Vitrice (Willard McMurry died in 1996). She is buried at
Lakewood Cemetery in Jackson.
JEFF HANNUSCH -