OKeh was founded by Otto K. E. Heinemann when he set up his own recording studio and gramophone record pressing plant in New York City in September 1918. Heinemann formed the name of the record label “OKeh”, from his initials. OKeh began by issuing popular songs, dance numbers, and vaudeville skits similar to the fare of other labels, but Heineman also wished to experiment with music for audiences neglected by the larger record companies. OKeh produced lines of recordings in German, Czech, Polish, Swedish, and Yiddish for the USA’s immigrant communities.
In 1920, Ralph Peer’s recordings by African-American blues singer Mamie Smith were a surprise smash hit for Okeh. The company perceived the significant, little-tapped market for blues and jazz by African American artists. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Bix Beiderbecke are only a few names of jazz greats that have recorded for the label. By 1926 Columbia Records bought the label and kept it running into the 60′s with jazz and R&B recordings.
In 1994, Sony Music reactivated the OKeh label as a new-age Blues label. Okeh’s first new signings included Keb’ Mo, Popa Chubby, and Little Axe. By 2000, the Okeh label was again retired, but in 2013 it saw its re-launch as a jazz label once again.