The Playlist • Black Swan at the Beginning — Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter, Katie Crippen (1921)

MSP_BS-2010-B_1st-state

A first-state pressing of Waters’ “Down Home Blues.” The record stayed in Black Swan’s
catalog until the end, and was reissued by Paramount. It was frequently re-pressed,
with examples from at least three different plants — NYRL, Fletcher-Olympic,
and BD&M — all confirmed,
so it appears with many variations in label
design and pressing characteristics.
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Folks are often disappointed when they hear early Black Swans for the first time and discover just how un-jazzy and un-bluesy they are. This, however, was Harlem in early 1921 — still dominated by cabaret- and vaudeville-blues singers and the ghost of Jim Europe, and definitely not a jazz haven just yet.

Be that as it may, the records are loaded with historical interest, and they have a certain charm if you can get past the plodding house-band accompaniments, directed in the early days by a very young and inexperienced Fletcher Henderson; so here are a few  of the best early offerings from the world’s second black-owned record company (hats off to George W. Broome, who founded the first one):

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KATIE CRIPPEN: Blind Man Blues

New York: c. March 1921 (Released May 1921)
Black Swan 2003 (mx. P 103 – 2)

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ETHEL WATERS (with house band, as CORDY WILLIAMS’ JAZZ MASTERS):
Down Home Blues

New York: c. April 1921 (Released July 1921)
Black Swan 2010 (mx. P 115 – 1)

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ALBERTA HUNTER (with house band, as HENDERSON’S NOVELTY ORCHESTRA):
How Long, Sweet Daddy, How Long

New York: c. May 1921 (Released July 1921)
Black Swan 2008 (mx. P 121 – 2)

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