While transcribing the many songs from Swede Home Chicago: Wallin’s Svenska Records, 1923–1927, I reached out to friends and family for help. After listening to the same song for hours on end, you reach a sort of impasse. You slow things down. You turn things up. You adjust your headphones. You use different speakers. You listen again and again and again just trying to catch another word or two. And each word brings you just a bit closer and each word is a small celebration. But the entire process comes with frustration, as well.
When the frustration threatens to boil over, I turn to my dad. I turn to him for a lot of things, whether it’s what to do when you come home to a flooded basement or how to translate agricultural vocabulary that appears in 19th century Swedish legends. Over the years he seems to have grown used to my weird emails linking to obscure songs or poems. With a little help, we were able to piece together a few more lines from Folke Andersson’s “I Herrens helgedom.”
But even he has limits and when the frustration began to get to him and he started laughing at the seriousness of some of the hymns that appear on Swede Home Chicago: Wallin’s Svenska Records, 1923–1927, I shared with him one of my favorite songs from the collection: Gustaf Fonandern’s “Jazz-Gossen.” And my dad started humming along. Which is not a normal thing for him to do.
Old discs serve as singing tombstones. Spinning grooves and printed labels yield voices and virtuosity, names and places, commemoratively situating dead souls. Discs are all we have sometimes, but happily they’re often where we start.
Swede Home Chicago started with a search to identify the otherwise anonymous impresario whose surname was emblazoned on “Wallin’s Svenska Records” (WSR). Who was Wallin? Record labels commonly list cities of origin, and WSR acknowledged Chicago.
Talking Machine World, the era’s leading trade journal, offered a candidate: Chicagoan Frank Wallin, bandleader of the Harmony Kings, who operated a music shop in the west-side Austin neighborhood at 5749 W. Chicago Avenue. We might have chased thiswild Wallin were it not for the unusual inclusion of a business address on every WSR disc: 3247 N. Clark, in Lake View on Chicago’s north side.
That business address correlated with Gustaf Waldemar Wallin, a Swedish immigrant music store owner listed in the 1920 census. We were underway.
Genealogical and newspaper search engines, publications focused on Swedish Chicago, and an interview with Wallin’s daughter Signe Anderson—digitized by the Vasa Archives in Bishop Hill, Illinois—yielded much more, including descendants. Signe’s daughter/Gustaf’s granddaughter Carol Dixon generously provided us with family photographs and newspaper clippings.