Discographical Update • Correct Date and Personnel for the First Meritt Record (1924)

MSP-NAUCK_meritt-2201 (Label scan courtesy of Kurt Nauck. MP3 conversion from
a tape dubbing supplied by the late Mike Stewart.)

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LOTTIE KIMBROUGH BEAMAN (as LENA KIMBROUGH) with PAUL BANKS’ TRIO:
City of the Dead

Kansas City: Late 1924
Meritt 2201 (mx. X-22)

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Winston Holmes’ Meritt label is one of the rarest race-record brands of the 1920s, and although anecdotes concerning it abound, reliable documentation has been hard to come by.

Traditionally, works like Dixon, Godrich & Rye’s Blues and Gospel Records, 1890–1943 have cited mid-1926 as the date of Meritt’s first release. However, we now know otherwise, thanks to a blurb on p. 8 of the National Edition of The Chicago Defender for January 10, 1925. Clearly, Meritt 2201 had already been recorded by that time; based on the article, the correct recording date would be late 1924, approximately eighteen months earlier than has been assumed by discographers:

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MSP_winston-holmes_-1-10-19.
There are also some discrepancies in the personnel listing, although here we are not certain which account to trust — the Defender wasn’t particularly reliable when it came to  fine details, but on the other hand, BGR doesn’t cite its sources. Clifford Banks is shown as a clarinetist in the Defender article, but as an alto saxophonist in BGR; Simon Hoe is shown as a one-string violinist in the Defender, but as a clarinetist in BGR. Personally, we don’t hear either a saxophone or a violin on either side, although admittedly the few copies we’ve heard have been so worn, and that questionable third instrument is so faintly recorded, that we wouldn’t want to bet on what it was. (By the way, these are acoustic recordings, not electrical as one might expect had they actually been made in mid-1926.)

Lena Kimbrough was one of several names used by Kansas City blues-belter Lottie Kimbrough Beaman; this is the first mention we’ve seen of her having studied in Europe. The revised recording date could explain why Holmes used a pseudonym for her — perhaps he did so to avoid a conflict with Paramount, for whom she was still recording in the fall of 1924?


POSTSCRIPT — THE WINSTON HOLMES “SESSION” PHOTOGRAPH

Back in the late 1960s, Doug Jydstrup located Lottie’s sister Estella, who had two versions of a photo that Winston Holmes used to promote Meritt 2201. Turns out, Lottie was sick on the day of the shoot according to the far slimmer Estella, who filled in for her sister in the photo. Just to add to the deception, Simon Hoe also failed to show up, so Winston Holmes himself filled in, posing with a clarinet (which, by the way, he could not play), and Clifford Banks was posed with a saxophone — in other words, a rather fanciful re-creation all around. You can find the details and both photos in 78 Quarterly (Volume 1-2) — The  entire run can be downloaded free at 78 Quarterly Download (on the late, lamented Dinosaur Discs blog, which sadly is no longer active but is still online as of this writing).