Monthly Archives: October 2018

The Starr Piano Company, Oriental Branch (a Gennett Record connection)


The Starr Piano Company, located in Richmond, Indiana, was incorporated in 1893. Henry Gennett invested in the Company in 1893 and by 1903 the Gennett family controlled it. They produced high-quality pianos that sold world-wide.

On December 3, 1919, the Gennett family incorporated the Starr Piano Company – Oriental Branch. I believe the purpose of this company was to sell their products to middle eastern countries. The directors were Mardiros Nigohossian, Haig Varvarian, Clarence Gennett, Fred Gennett and William A. Klein. Clarence and Fred were sons of Henry Gennett. Annual Corporation Reports were submitted to the Indiana Secretary of State through 1934, but the corporation never did any business.


On each report was written “no stock was ever issued – no books opened – no directors chosen – no officers elected – no stockholders meeting held.”

According to ship passenger lists, Mardiros Nigohossian was of Turkish nationality and resided in Greece, and Haig Varvarian was a subject of Persia. Clarence Gennett was treasurer of the Starr Piano Company, and Fred Gennett was its secretary. On the 1920 Federal Census William A. Klein was listed as the Starr Piano Company’s “foreign manager”.

In 1915 Starr’s board of directors voted to produce phonographs and recordings to keep up with this new form of home entertainment. Fred Gennett was put in charge of the endeavor, and production of the phonographs began in Richmond, Indiana in 1916; recordings began with the Gannett label in 1917. Fred was successful in choosing artists that were known nationally and the Starr phonographs were popular. In 1919 Fred decided to make Gennett Record recordings using a popular procedure that was patented by Victor Records. Victor sued Gennett in response, and Gennett won the court battle in 1923.


Then in 1923 Gennett Record sales increased dramatically when they recorded Chicago-based jazz bands at the suggestion of Fred D. Wiggins, the company’s Chicago branch manager. Wiggins was thus promoted in 1924 to head Gennett’s recording department, and he actively searched for and recruited new, regional recording artists, including early jazz recordings of Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael, and Bix Beiderbecke. They also recorded “hillbilly” and country/western performers such as balladeer Bradley Kincaid and Luther W. Ossenbrink of radio’s National Barn Dance, and banjo player and entertainer Uncle Dave Macon of the Grand Ole Opry. Other artists recorded were blind banjo player Richard “Dick” Burnett from Kentucky, fiddler Wilmer Watts, and country blues singers Charley Patton and William “Big Bill” Broonzy.

Gennett also released early recordings of country singer Gene Autry in 1930-1931. Autry named his famous horse after Gennett’s country label, Champion, in recogniton of Gennett’s early backing.

As a central, midwestern studio located in Richmond, Indiana, Gennett Records reputation flourished. The book “Gennett Records and Starr Piano”, published by Arcadia Publishing, stated “Gennett discovered a vibrant and underrecorded group of groundbreaking jazz, blues, country, sacred and ethnic musicians who changed the face of American music and culture.”

Gennett Record sales dropped drastically during the Depression and they stopped recording in 1934. The defunct Starr Piano – Oriental Branch also stopped sending in its Annual Corporation Report the same year.

During the Depression years of the 1930s the sales of their pianos also dropped, and the Gennett family began to manufacture refrigerators in California. They sold the piano manufacturing assets to other investors at auction in 1952, but apparently the descendants, Fred and Clarence Gennett, along with local investor Russell Karn still wanted to manufacture pianos:


Apparently, this venture did not work out, though the refrigeration business did continue to thrive in California.

by Robert F. Gilyeat, an Indiana State Archives volunteer