The Playlist • Victor Tip-Toes Into the Race Record Market (1923)

Victor’s management remained aloof in the face of the blues craze until mid-1923, when they reluctantly decided to try a few blues-inflected titles by black singers. They made only a minimal effort, turning to publisher/talent-broker Joe Davis, who ran a booming business dispatching pre-packaged singers and accompanists, armed with his latest hits, to record-company executives who lacked the skills or desire to develop a race-record catalog on their own. Davis’ singers (some of whom had come to him from the defunct Black Swan operation) were a competent if undistinguished lot, able to make quick work of whatever was handed them for very little money.

In the group of recordings presented here, Rosa Henderson, Lena Wilson, Lizzie Miles, and their accompanists all came from Davis’ stable. They were local cabaret and vaudeville performers, and their work paled in comparison with the greats like Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, and Ma Rainey, who were beginning to appear on competing labels whose managers made the effort to scout truly great talent. But it was a start, at least, for what was then one of the most hidebound, complacent companies in the industry.

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MSP_vic_chi-def_8-4-1923

Victor’s first “blues” ad (Chicago Defender, August 4, 1923)

That summer, Victor took what was (for it) the unprecedented step of placing a large display ad in The Chicago Defender, the nation’s leading black newspaper, announcing their new “blues” records. Besides the first titles by Davis’ singers, there was a comedy skit by Moss & Frye; a couple of pop-ish duets by Sissle & Blake; and two generic-sounding fox trots by Arthur Gibbs & his Gang. Victor also dredged up their 1921 medley sides by the “Shuffle Along” pit orchestra for the list.

For the full story of Victor’s involvement in the race-record market, be sure to check out Race Records and the American Recording Industry, 1919–1945: An Illustrated History, the latest release from Mainspring Press.

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LIZZIE MILES (CLARENCE JOHNSON, piano): You’re Always Messin’ ‘Round with My Man

New York: May 23, 1923 — First advertised August 4, 1923
Victor 19083 (mx. B 28025 – 3)

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LENA WILSON (PORTER GRAINGER, piano): ‘T’ain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do

New York: May 9, 1923 — First advertised August 4, 1923
Victor 19085 (mx. B 27894 – 3)

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NOBLE SISSLE (EUBIE BLAKE, piano): Down-Hearted Blues

Camden, NJ: May 25, 1923 — First advertised August 4, 1923
Victor 19086  (mx. B 27976 – 3)

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LIZZIE MILES (Clarence Johnson, piano): Cotton Belt Blues

New York: July 19, 1923 — Released October 1923
Victor 19124 (mx. B 28298 – 4)

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ROSA HENDERSON (with uncredited band): Midnight Blues

New York: July 19, 1923 — Released October 1923
Victor 19124 (mx. B 28299 – 4)
The accompaniment is credited to Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra in most discographies, with no source cited, although the aural evidence does suggest that at least some of Henderson’s men were present. The Victor files show only “Colored Orchestra – Edward T. King, director” (King was the Manager and Chief Petty Tyrant of Victor’s New York studio at the time).

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JAMES P. JOHNSON: Bleeding-Hearted Blues

Camden, NJ: July 25, 1923 — Released October 1923
Victor 19123 (mx. B 28197 – 6)

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