Collector’s Corner • More March 2020 Finds — Johnson’s Crackerjacks, Tiny Parham, Bennie Moten, Red Allen

Collector’s Corner
More March 2020 Finds — Johnson’s Crackerjacks, Tiny Parham,
Bennie Moten, Red Allen

 

A few more favorite new additions to the jazz collection, a little something to distract from the stay-at-home blues, we hope!

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HENRY (RED) ALLEN & HIS ORCHESTRA: Swing Out  (EE+)

New York: July 17, 1929
Victor V-38080  (mx. BVE 53930 – 2)

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TINY PARHAM & HIS MUSICIANS: Voodoo  (EE–)

Chicago: February 1, 1929
Victor V-38054  (mx. BVE 48844 – 2)

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TINY PARHAM & HIS MUSICIANS: Skag-a-Lag  (EE–)

Chicago: February 1, 1929
Victor V-38054  (mx. BVE 48845 – 2)

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BENNIE & BUSTER MOTEN (et al.): Loose Like a Goose  (EE+)

Chicago: July 18, 1929
Victor (Argentina) V-38123  (mx. BVE 55428 – 2)
c. 1930 Buenos Aires pressing, roughly contemporaneous with the U.S. release. Both the U.S. and Argentinian labels credit only Bennie and Buster Moten (pianos) by name, although clarinetist Woody Walder dominates the side.

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BENNIE MOTEN y SU ORQUESTA: Dentro de Poco (It Won’t Be Long)  (E)

Chicago: July 17, 1929
Victor (Argentina) V-38123  (mx. BVE 55427 – 3)
c. 1930 Buenos Aires pressing, roughly contemporaneous with the U.S. release.

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EDDIE JOHNSON’S CRACKERJACKS (Benny Jackson, vocal): The Duck’s Yas Yas  (E)

Atlanta (Egleston Auditorium): February 25, 1932
Bluebird B-6278  (mx. BVE 71625 – 1)
1936 original-stamper reissue of Victor 23329.
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Newest Free Download: The Victor Discography — Blue, Green, and Purple Labels by John R. Bolig (A $1,935.89 Book for Free)

Newest Free Download

The Victor Discography: Blue, Green, and Purple Labels
(1910 – 1926)
By John R. Bolig

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A couple of days ago, we posted that two Amazon.com dealers are offering this book for $1,935.89 (plus tax and shipping). Well, no need to whip out the Visa card — Here it is, complete and free of charge as a searchable PDF download, the latest addition to Mainspring Press’ Free Online Reference Library. Enjoy it on us!

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In February 1910, Victor flooded the market with fifteen new recordings by Harry Lauder, setting off a shouting match with Edison over who had exclusive rights to the comedian. Victor had previously issued some of Lauder’s British recordings on its standard black label, but these new releases were different — recorded in the U.S., and issued on a striking new royal-purple label.

Over the next few months, it became apparent that the new purple-label discs were not reserved for Lauder alone. Victor Herbert’s popular orchestra was lured away from an already-peeved Edison, and selections began to appear by some of Broadway’s top stars (many of them previously unrecorded). For budget-conscious classical enthusiasts, there were well-known concert artists deemed not quite worthy of Red Seal status, but still perfectly respectable. For the adventure-minded, Ernest Shackleton and Robert Peary recounted their polar expeditions.

Several months after the purples were launched, Victor introduced yet another line, the double-sided blue-label series. At first, it served only as a reissue vehicle for imported operatic recordings licensed from The Gramophone Company, along with some Arabic selections (now incredibly rare) recorded in Cairo and Beirut. But in February 1913, the blue label was recast as a double-sided companion to the single-sided purples, and the latter were slowly phased out.

The blue-label line was one of Victor’s most diverse, running the gamut from comedy monologues and Broadway hits to opera (grand, light, and in-between), classical (from the usual lollipops to complete extended works), the premier recording of Rhapsody in Blue, cantorials, exotic imports from around the globe, bird imitations, exercise records by boxer Gene Tunney — and, of course, copious helpings of Harry Lauder’s interminable ruminating.

The obscure green-label series was an “educational” line, best known for its vocal-instruction series produced under the supervision of Oscar Saenger. But perhaps its most intriguing offering was the “American Speech” series (issued at first on the Red Seal label, then transferred to green, and later to brown), which captured a wide range of American dialects, some of which have since vanished or evolved nearly beyond recognition.

It’s all here, carefully transcribed from the original Victor files. We think you’ll be amazed by the scope and diversity of these under-studied and often under-appreciated records.

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Download File for Personal Use (print-restricted) (pdf , ~2mb)
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The Victor Light Opera Company is the latest addition to Mainspring’s rapidly growing Free Online Reference Library. As with all titles in the Library, this is a copyrighted publication and is offered for personal, non-commercial use only. You can help ensure that we continue to offer these free titles (and protect yourself from potential legal problems) by honoring our terms of use, as outlined at the beginning of each file.

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Victor monthly supplement excerpts courtesy of John Bolig

Latest Free Download • The Victor Light Opera Company Discography (John R. Bolig)

Latest Free Download

The Victor Light Opera Company Discography
(1909–1930)
By John R. Bolig
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Victor’s “Gems from…” discs were among the first records many of us encountered as budding young collectors. Like them or not,  they were still seemingly everywhere. Even now, you’re bound to run across them if you scrounge enough estate sales, junk shops, and !!RARE !!L@@K!! eBay listings.

They had been tremendous sellers, capitalizing on a popular American phenomenon of the day — grand opera sung in English by troupes of competent, if not-quite-stellar, artists. As the twentieth century began, countless small civic and private opera companies were making the glories of Verdi and Puccini accessible to the far-flung general public at affordable prices and in a language most could understand, just as the “Gems from…” series would do.

But Victor went a step farther, adding medleys from the latest hit Broadway shows that the average American was unlikely to be able to attend in person. In the process, the good folks at Victor  unwittingly preserved many now-forgotten songs (albeit it in abridged versions, and sometimes taken at break-neck tempos) that otherwise went unrecorded. The company had no qualms about using stage shots from the actual productions, picturing the actual stars (who almost never performed on the records), in advertising new “Gems” releases.

The Victor Light Opera Company was a fiction, of course. It never staged any live productions, and it never appeared in public. Its “cast” members — mainly Victor’s studio work-horses — changed from one recording session to another and (with one notable exception) were not credited on the labels. But their names are preserved in the Victor ledgers and, thanks to John Bolig’s expert sleuthing and generosity in sharing his work, are now available to you in this unique publication. Enjoy!

 

The Victor Light Opera Company is the latest addition to Mainspring’s rapidly growing Free Online Reference Library. As with all titles in the Library, this is a copyrighted publication and is offered for personal, non-commercial use only. You can help ensure that we continue to offer these free titles (and protect yourself from potential legal problems) by honoring our terms of use, as outlined at the beginning of each file.

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Download File for Personal Use (print-restricted) (pdf , ~1mb)

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Victor monthly supplement excerpts, courtesy of John Bolig

 

Collector’s Corner • Some March 2020 Finds: Theodore Shaw, Oliver Naylor, Duke Ellington, Bumble Bee Slim & Memphis Minnie, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five without Louis

Collector’s Corner • Some March 2020 Finds
Theodore Shaw, Oliver Naylor, Duke Ellington,
Bumble Bee Slim & Memphis Minnie,
Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five sans Louis

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A few favorite new additions to the collection for March (so far), for your enjoyment in case you’re stuck at home and being driven up the wall by the endless coverage of Covid-19. (It has a real name, and it’s not “China Virus.” Anyone who thinks calling it “China Virus” is clever or appropriate is invited to go get their free music elsewhere. Enough with the childish shit, and with the sorry losers who perpetuate it.)

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THEODORE SHAW: Hold ’Er Newt (They’re After Us)
(V+)

Richmond, IN: April 17, 1924
Vaughan 825 (Gennett mx. 11831 – B)
Shown in error as mx. 11881 in Brian Rust’s Jazz Records (Sixth Edition). Shaw’s first name is not shown on the labels but is listed in the Gennett files. This was one of James D. Vaughan’s Ku Klux Klan records, with Shaw accompanying the Vaughan Quartet’s “Wake Up America and Kluck, Kluck, Kluck” on the reverse side.

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OLIVER NAYLOR’S SEVEN ACES: Ain’t That Hateful
(V++)

New York: February 22, 1924
Gennett 5393 (mx. 8748 – A)
“They have that distinctive New Orleans rhythm that can only be developed by living in the South…” — Gennett Record Gazette I:3 (see the full article at the end of this post)

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NEW ORLEANS WANDERERS: Perdido Street Blues
(EE–)

Chicago: July 13, 1926
Columbia 698-D (mx. W 142426 – 1)

The band is Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five, with George Mitchell subbing for Armstrong (who was exclusive to Okeh at the time and had recently been apprehended and chastised after he was caught recording  surreptitiously for Vocalion).

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DUKE ELLINGTON & HIS ORCHESTRA (as ­Joe Turner & his Memphis Men): Mississippi Moan  (E––)

New York: April 24, 1929
Columbia 1813-D (mx. W 148172 – 3)

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BUMBLE BEE SLIM & MEMPHIS MINNIE: New Orleans Stop Time  (E–)

Chicago: February 6, 1936
Vocalion 03197 (mx. C 1227 – 2)

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Good Listening • “The Missing Link: How Gus Haenschen Got Us from Joplin to Jazz and Shaped the Music Business” (Archeophone)

Good Listening:

The Missing Link: How Gus Haenschen Got Us from Joplin to Jazz and Shaped the Music Business
(Archeophone 6011)

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If you’ve been following Jim Drake’s Gus Haenschen interview series on the blog, here’s the accompanying soundtrack, on a newly released CD. Archeophone Records has compiled a superb sampling of recordings by Haenschen and some of the bands and singers he oversaw in the studio, along with some interesting related items.

The star attraction is a complete run of Haenschen’s 1916 Columbia Personal Records, including his Banjo Orchestra’s  impossibly rare “Maple Leaf Rag” — a wonderfully relaxed performance that stands in striking contrast to Vess Ossman’s break-neck rendition of a decade earlier. It’s interesting to compare this with recordings of the same piece by Brun Campbell, the only other confirmed Joplin pupil to have recorded it (Haenschen recalled paying Joplin “around $25 a month” for instruction). Unfortunately, the Personal Records were made at a time when Columbia’s recording and pressing quality were at their all-time worst, but Archeophone has done a remarkable job of  recovering what’s there while preserving the integrity of the original recordings.

The rest of the CD is devoted largely to jazz, pop vocal, and dance numbers of 1920–1924 by artists Haenschen recorded for Brunswick, ranging from some fine regional bands captured on their home turf, to the rather dreadful (but historically interesting) Charlie Chaplin–Abe Lyman collaboration. Brunswick’s acoustic recording technology was far superior to Victor’s or Columbia’s and comes through brilliantly through in these clean transfers. A nice bonus is an excerpt from Jim Drake’s 1975 interview with Haenschen and songwriter Irving Caesar.

Archeophone productions are notable for their accompanying booklets, and this one (at a generous thirty pages) is no exception, with an expertly researched and well-written biography and listening guide by Colin Hancock, a detailed discography, and many rare illustrations. For more details, visit Archeophone Records.

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On the Mainspring Press Blog:
James A. Drake: The Gus Haenschen Interviews

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Free Download • Ajax Records: The Complete Discography

Free Download
Ajax Records: The Complete Discography
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.William R. Bryant & The Record Research Associates
Edited and Annotated by Allan Sutton

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Download Free for Personal Use (pdf, ~0.5mb)

 

Ajax has been called “the forgotten race record label.” It was an odd creature, the product of Emile Berliner’s rebellious son Herbert, and his Canadian-based Compo Company; but the masters were recorded in New York (for the most part), and the records, although pressed in Canada, were intended for the African-American market in the U.S.

Although the “Ajax Record Company” was officially headquartered in Chicago, it was little more than a sales and distribution office, managed by Compo Company personnel. Unfortunately, Ajax never recorded there (the sides listed as Chicago recordings in some discographies were actually made in Montreal, as the surviving Compo ledgers confirm). Berliner instead brought locally available artists to his New York branch studio. Most of them were contracted by promoter and publisher Joe Davis (who oversaw the recording sessions along with Berliner), and few measured up to the Chicago-based artists that Paramount was promoting so successfully at the time. Nevertheless, there are some gems to be found in the Ajax catalog.

Although Compo’s files have survived, those of its Ajax subsidiary (which used a separate series of master numbers) have not. Therefore, this is a reconstruction, based in part on first-hand inspection of the now-rare original discs, and in part on what can be inferred from surviving documentation, including relevant portions of the Compo ledgers, and listing and release dates from The Chicago Defender, The Talking Machine World, and other period publications. Recording-date ranges have been extrapolated based upon  Berliner’s monthly week-or-so absences from Montreal (as noted in the ledgers), which are believed to correspond with his visits to the New York studio, and which correlate very nicely with the confirmed release dates. Personnel listings are based upon the recollections of Louis Hooper, Joe Davis, and others who were present at the recording sessions.

A detailed history of the Ajax Record Company, and of Herbert Berliner and the Compo Company’s American recording activities, can be found in American Record Companies and Producers: An Encyclopedic History, 1888–1950, available from Mainspring Press.

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See all titles in the Mainspring Press
Free Online Reference Library

Like all of our free downloadable titles, this publication is offered for your personal use only. Sale or other commercial use is prohibited, as is any unauthorized duplication, distribution, or alteration, including conversion to e-books or online databases.

Please honor our terms of use, so that we can continue to offer these free publications.

110 Years Ago at Victor: Introducing the Fisk University Jubilee Quartet (Plus Photographs from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “When Malindy Sings”)

110 Years Ago at Victor: Introducing the
Fisk University Jubilee Quartet

With Photographs from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s
When Malindy Sings

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Victor announces the first Fisk Jubilee Singers releases
(catalog courtesy of John Bolig)

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On February 19, 1910, the Victor Talking Machine Company released the first recordings by a quartet from the Fisk Jubilee Singers — a widely celebrated group that nevertheless had been ignored thus far by the recording companies. They were not the first black vocal group to record, by any means (see Tim Brooks’ Lost Sounds for more on that), but those groups had failed to gain traction in the record market, and their names were mostly dim memories by the time Victor released its first Fisk records.

Blues-and-gospel purists often dismiss these records as pandering to white audiences with “sanitized” or “Europeanized” treatment of traditional spirituals. But that was precisely the strategy — to present black music and performers in a concert setting, in a bid to attract white audiences who might otherwise have never considered attending a performance or purchasing a record by a black artist — and it succeeded wonderfully. Victor’s initial Fisk offerings were outstanding sellers and are still among the most commonly encountered records of the period. The Fisk singers, with periodic personnel changes, went on to make dozens of recordings for Victor, Edison, and Columbia from 1910 to early 1926.

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FISK UNIVERSITY JUBILEE QUARTET: I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray

Camden NJ: December 8, 1909
Victor 16448 (mx. B 8422 – 2)
Released February 10, 1909; Deleted 1923.

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For their other February 1910 Fisk release, Victor slipped into more typical “good-old-plantation-days” mode, having the group record Stephen Foster’s “Old Black Joe,” and backing it with J. A. Myers’ recitation of the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem, “When Malindy Sings.” Although Dunbar was African-American, and his work can be deeply moving at times, he employed stereotypical minstrel-show dialect that is almost unreadable, and difficult to stomach,  today. Myers’ recitation is an anomaly among the Fisk Jubilee Singers’ recorded output.

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From Paul Laurence Dunbar’s When Malindy Sings (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1903). The book is notable for its photographs by members of the Hampton Institute Camera Club, headed by Leigh Richard Miner; names of the individual photographers unfortunately were not given. (Mainspring Press collection):

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Collector’s Corner (Free MP3 Downloads) • Some Early February Additions — Collins & Harlan, Van Eps Banjo Orchestra, Sammy Stewart’s Orchestra, Lottie Kimbrough, Hayes & Prater, Seven Gallon Jug Band

Collector’s Corner (Free MP3 Downloads) • Some Early February Additions
Collins & Harlan, Van Eps Banjo Orchestra, Sammy Stewart’s Orchestra, Lottie Kimbrough, Hayes & Prater, Seven Gallon Jug Band

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The past few weeks have seen a real hodge-podge come in, everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. Here are a few new favorite additions to the collection, for your enjoyment:

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ARTHUR COLLINS & BYRON G. HARLAN: Cohan’s Rag Babe  (E–)

New York: c. May 1908
Columbia A583 (mx. 3906 – 2)
With studio orchestra (probably Charles A. Prince, director)

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VAN EPS BANJO ORCHESTRA: Old Folks Rag  (E)

New York: September 25, 1914
Columbia A5618 (mx. 37042 – 2)
Fred Van Eps (banjo); others unlisted in the Columbia files.

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SAMMY STEWART & HIS ORCHESTRA: Copenhagen  (EE–)

Chicago: c. September 1924
Paramount 20359 (mx. 1891 – 1)

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LOTTIE KIMBROUGH (BEAMAN) (as LOTTIE EVERSON): Rolling Log Blues  (V++)

Richmond, IN: August 21, 1928
Champion 15636  (mx. GE 14162)
The Gennett matrix ledger states, “Use plain [take].” The guitarist is not identified.

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NAP HAYES & MATTHEW PRATER: Nothin’ Doin’  (V++)

Memphis: February 15, 1928
Okeh 45231 (mx. W 400243 – B)

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NAP HAYES & MATTHEW PRATER: Somethin’ Doin’  (V+)

Memphis: February 15, 1928
Okeh 45231 (mx. W 400241 – B)

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SEVEN GALLON JUG BAND: What If I Do  (E–)

New York: December 6, 1929
Columbia 2087-D (mx. W 149691 – 3)

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SEVEN GALLON JUG BAND: Wipe ’Em Off  (E–)

New York: January 3, 1930­
Columbia 2087-D (mx. W 149690 – 6)
No personnel listed in the Columbia files, other than Clarence Williams.

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Jimmie Rodgers: Newspaper Highlights, 1929 – 1932

Jimmie Rodgers: Newspaper Highlights, 1929–1932

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Birmingham, Alabama (July 1929)

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“Waiting for a Train” (an October 1928 recording) was released on February 8, 1929, but was soon replaced by a dubbed version using a master that was transcribed on April 26, 1929 (easily identified by the “4R” marking in the wax, at the nine o’clock position; original takes show just plain 4). The -4R pressing are still quite common, but pressings from the original, unmolested master tend to be elusive, especially in decent condition. They’re well worth seeking out for the rich bass and “forward” quality that were lost in the anemic-sounding dubbing.

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Austin, Texas (January 1930)

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Hamlin, Texas (March 1929)

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Huntsville, Alabama (July 1931)

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H. C. (Henry Columbus) Speir is best remembered as the free-lance talent scout who landed recording sessions for the likes of Tommy Johnson, Charley Patton, Son House, and other blues greats. His role in promoting white country music performers has been largely overlooked and will be the subject of a future posting. (Jackson, Mississippi, January 1929)

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Jackson, Mississippi (January 1929). Note the offer to autograph records. Signed records still turn up today, mainly in the South, but forgeries likely exist.
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Marshall, Texas (May 1932)

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On a roll at Victor — The ad picturing the ever-dour Carter Family is from September 1931, and “Blue Yodel” is from October. The latter of course is Rodger’s celebrated side with trumpet accompaniment by Louis Armstrong, recorded in Hollywood on July 16, 1930, but not released until September 11, 1931. Armstrong was still under exclusive contact to Okeh at the time, and Victor took pains to ensure his anonymity, leaving his name off the labels and not even listing him in the original recording ledger.

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Rodgers with W. I. Swain’s traveling tent show, “In the Flesh” and sharing billing with “Plenty of Girls” (top: Pampa, Texas, May 1930; bottom: Camden, Arkansas, March 1931).

 

Hide the Band: The Coon-Sanders “Castle Farms Serenaders” Paramounts (1928)

Hide the Band: The Coon-Sanders “Castle Farms Serenaders” Paramounts (1928)

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MSP_bwy-1227b

Broadway pressing from NYRL mx. 20924 (with Joe Sanders’ last name misspelled), originally issued on Paramount 20668

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Here’s a bit of “hide the band” activity that escaped Brian Rust and those who have copied his work —  In November 1928, the Coon-Sanders Orchestra recorded Joe Sanders’ “Tennessee Lazy” for Paramount at Chicago’s Marsh Laboratories — on the sly, since they were under exclusive contract to Victor at the time — as the “Castle Farms Serenaders.” The alias had at least a bit of basis in fact, since the Coon-Sanders band  occasionally played at Cincinnati’s Castle Farms (the name was used to cover other bands as well).

Three other titles on adjacent master numbers (preceded by a Big Bill & Thomps session, and followed by Richard Jones’ Jazz Wizards), were variously issued as the “Castle Farms Serenaders” and “Manhattan Entertainers.” Unfortunately, there are no Victor versions of these three titles for comparison.

Chronologically, there is no possibility that the Paramount was copied from the Victor by some cover band (not that any cover band could have produced such a perfect sound-alike anyway). Aside from the addition of Joe Sanders’ vocal, and the slightly slower tempo, the arrangement and solos are identical.

Brian Rust somehow missed the correlation in Jazz Records 6th Edition, listing the “Castle Farms Serenaders” on this session as an entirely unknown band. American Dance Bands on Record and Film erroneously credits the record to a Bill Haid group, with no source cited (banjoist Haid had been in and out of the Coon-Sanders Orchestra over the years, but by this time he had his own band, a so-so outfit). Earlier Paramount issues under the “Castle Farms” name still bear further investigation; the undocumented personnel listed by Rust and others for those sessions, although not disclosed as such, appear to be purely speculative.

Here are both versions of “Tennessee Lazy” for side-by-side comparison:

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COON-SANDERS ORCHESTRA (as Castle Farms Serenaders): Tennessee Lazy

Chicago (Marsh Laboratories): November 1928
Broadway 1227 (mx. 20924 – 2)
Paramount release: c. January 1929
Broadway release: Spring 1929 Montgomery Ward list

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COON-SANDERS ORCHESTRA (Joe Sanders, director and vocal): Tennessee Lazy

Chicago (Victor Lab, 925 N. Michigan Ave.): February 12, 1929
Victor 21939 (mx. BVE 48880 – 2)
Released: May 17, 1929 — Deleted: 1931

New Online Discography: Vocalion 14000 Series, 2nd Edition (Allan Sutton) — Free Download

New Online Discography (Free Download):
THE VOCALION DISCOGRAPHY — Part 1

14000 Series (Second Edition)

By Allan Sutton

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The latest addition to our rapidly expanding Record Collectors’ Online Reference Library is now available to download free of charge for personal, non-commercial use. 

An updated edition of our 2010 publication, Vocalion 14000 Series includes a substantial amount of newly added data from the Brunswick-Vocalion transfer logs; the files of recording contractor Ed Kirkeby (who booked sessions for the likes of Charles Harrison and Fred Van Eps, besides managing the California Ramblers); the Record Research group’s extensive archival materials (now a part of Mainspring Press’ holdings); foreign-release data from catalogs in the British National Library and private collections; and other reliable documentation that has become available to us since the original edition was published.

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Download for Personal Use (Print-restricted) (pdf, ~2 mb)

 

Part 2 in the Vocalion Discography series — covering the vertical-cut and pre-1925 classical, operatic, and miscellaneous series — is in final fact-checking and editing for release this Spring. Part 3, covering the Brunswick-era issues, obviously is a much longer-range project.

As with all titles in the Library, Mainspring Press holds the exclusive publication and distribution rights to this work in all forms, print or digital. Please be sure to read and adhere to all terms of use as detailed in the individual files.

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Marian Anderson: Black Swan’s Missed Opportunity

Marian Anderson: Black Swan’s Missed Opportunity

By Allan Sutton

 

One December 27, 1920, Harry Pace wrote to W. E. B. DuBois concerning several artists he wanted to audition for his as-yet unnamed record label, in which DuBois was a major investor. In the same letter, Pace approved DuBois’ suggestion that the label be named “Black Swan.”

The other interesting revelation in this letter is that Pace hoped to make a test recording of the young Marian Anderson:

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Harry Pace to W. E. B. DuBois (New York: December 27, 1920). W. E. B. DuBois Papers, University of Massachusetts-Amherst Special Collections.

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If Pace made test recordings by any of these artists, they have yet to be found. Cole-Talbert was eventually signed by Black Swan, and her output can be heard on the new Black Swans CD. Although Pace states that he had signed Ford Dabney, no Black Swan records by his orchestra were forthcoming.

Pace failed to follow through with Anderson, an artist who could have done for Black Swan’s operatic series what Ethel Waters did for its pop catalog.

She wasn’t the only opportunity Pace let slip through his fingers, in the way of concert artists. In June 1921 he hired Paul Robeson as a salesman, but did not record him.

In both cases, his losses would become Victor’s gains. In Anderson’s case, Victor musical director Josef Pasternack signed her in 1923, although she was placed in the lowly black-label series (as was Robeson, two years later). It would take many years, and a change of ownership at Victor, before Anderson was finally granted the Red Seal status she so richly deserved.

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MARIAN ANDERSON: Go Down, Moses

Camden, NJ: May 29, 1924
Victor 19370 (mx. B 29896 – 9)
With studio orchestra directed by Charles Prince

 

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Text © 2019 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

Worth Reading and Hearing: “The Blue Sky Boys” and “Black Swans”

Looking for a gift for that hard-to-shop-for vintage-record fan? Here are a couple of recent releases we’ve enjoyed:

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THE BLUE SKY BOYS

Dick Spottswood
ISBN 978-1-4968-1641-2
University Press of Mississippi

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Legendary musicologist, historian, and producer Dick Spottswood turns his attention to Bill and Earl Bollick, two brothers from Hickory, North Carolina, who as the Blue Sky Boys captivated record buyers and radio audiences in the 1930s.

The Bolicks bucked the latest trends in country music during the years leading up to World War II, preferring close-harmony renditions of southern folk tunes, old-time songs, hymns, and new compositions in a similar mold. Self-accompanied on guitar and mandolin, they developed a low-key, distinctive and readily recognizable sound that was sometimes imitated but never quite duplicated.

Their story is told in part by Bill Bolick himself, whose recollections are skillfully interwoven with Dick Spottswood’s perceptive commentary. Even if the Blue Sky Boys are not your cup of tea, you’ll find much of interest here, such as the role that radio played in disseminating country music, and how sponsors and station owners of the period treated or mistreated their artists. There are numerous illustrations (many of them rarely seen or previously unpublished), a detailed discography, and other useful backmatter.

Dick Spottswood is the author of numerous important works, the most monumental being his five-volume Ethnic Music on Records. He now lives in Naples, Florida, where he produces and hosts Bluegrass Country’s online version of “The Dick Spottswood Show” (aka “The Obsolete Music Hour”). The Blue Sky Boys has won a well-deserved 2019 Award for Excellence from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections.

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BLACK SWANS

Leslie Gerber, Tim Brooks, and Steve Smolian, producers
Parnassus PACD-96067 (CD)
Parnassus Records

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This ground-breaking CD focuses on black classical and operatic performers of the early twentieth century, a group largely overlooked by modern writers (a notable exception being co-producer Tim Brooks, whose Lost Sounds explored many of them in depth for the first time).

The recordings fall into three basic groups: Roland Hayes’ privately made Columbias; the 1919 Broome Specials (Broome having been the first black-owned record label); and the Black Swan operatic series of 1921–1922. As experienced collectors know, these records range from scarce to extraordinarily rare, and assembling them all is a notable achievement. Twenty of the twenty-five selections are reissued here for the first time.

Understand that this is not an “easy listening” compilation, from either a musical or a technological standpoint. Steve Smolian has been diligent in his sound-restoration work, but clean copies do not always exist of records this rare (some of which were poorly recorded to begin with), and the sound quality varies accordingly. Musically, there are some gems here, as well as some failures that nevertheless are worth hearing, for historical perspective if nothing else.

Black Swan’s Harry Pace misjudged his audience, stubbornly clinging to the belief that they would flock to what he called “numbers of a higher standard,” even as meager sales proved him wrong. Although it might be true that some of these artists failed to gain wider recognition because of their color, voices and technique that fell short of the demands of their material certainly are also to blame. The Harlem Renaissance, like any cultural movement, had its share of the mediocre and the pretentious, some of whom are on display here.

As expected, Roland Hayes emerges as the most promising performer of the lot. The fact that he had to pay Columbia to record him — only to move to England, where he was welcomed by the Vocalion label and went on to achieve international acclaim — speaks volumes about the times. Perhaps the most musically interesting items are the two piano solos by R. Nathaniel Dett, playing his own compositions. Co-producer Leslie Gerber has provided excellent program notes, including biographical sketches based in part on Lost Sounds.

While not for the casual listener, Black Swans can be a rewarding experience if approached with an open mind and some knowledge and appreciation of black history.

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The Mitchell Brothers (John & Bill Mitchell) • Newspaper Highlights (1915–1939)

The Mitchell Brothers (John & Bill Mitchell)
Newspaper Highlights (1915–1939)

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Although remembered primarily as members of Carson Robison’s synthetic-cowboy band in the 1930s, that was John and Bill Mitchell’s second act. Their first show-business career had begun much earlier, as a novelty banjo-and-vocal act. They were performing professionally by the time they were in prep school, honed their skills with the University of Washington’s “Pain Killer” Banjo Band in the late ’teens, and by the early 1920s were traveling the vaudeville circuits. By the time Robison tapped the brothers for his Bucakroos in 1932, they had retired from the stage and were running an oil-burner business, but Robison finally persuaded them to join his new band by dangling a trip to England as an incentive.

The Mitchells’ first recording session was brokered by California Ramblers manager Ed Kirkeby, who at that time was still managing other artists as well as his own band. It was held for Pathé on April 26, 1923, according to Kirkeby’s files, and the resulting sides — “Blue Hoosier Blues” and “Banjo Blues” (issued simultaneously on Pathé 021002 and Perfect 11123) — were inexplicably issued under the alias, “McGavock & Tillman” (and later, disguised as “Harper & Coralie” for a Cameo reissue).

In late 1924, the Mitchells signed with Victor and recorded several sides acoustically over a couple of months. Unfortunately, the records were released in February 1925, just as the company was upgrading to electrical recording, and they were deleted when much of the acoustic catalog was purged in 1926. They returned to Victor in October of that year for a final side.

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Capsule biography of the Mitchell Brothers (Kenosha [WI] Evening News, January 26, 1927)

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One of the earliest ads for the Mitchell Brothers (Hot Springs, Arkansas, April 1915), while they were still prep-school students.

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John and Bill Mitchell (left) as members of the University of Washington “Pain Killer” Banjo Band, Decemeber 1919.

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Playing the Liberty in Spokane, Washington, May 1921 (top) and September 1922.

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Seattle, June 1921

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Announcement of the Mitchell Brothers’ first record to be issued under their own name (Victor 19531), January 1925. The recordings were made in New York on November 26, 1924.

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Nashville, July 1926

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The Mitchell Brothers with Carson Robison’s make-believe cowboy band (variously billed as the Pioneers or the Buckaroos), March 1934. Pearl Pickens, who had attended Julliard, and was Bill Mitchell’s wife.

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A 1939 Screen and Radio Weekly account of the Buckaroos’ formation. Note the reference to college graduates John and Bill Mitchell as “a couple of cowhands,” typical of the shtick that went along with synthetic country-and-western groups like Robison’s.    

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MITCHELL BROTHERS: Nobody Knows What a Redhead Mama Can Do

New York: January 9, 1925
Victor 19561 (mx. B 31599 – 2)

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MITCHELL BROTHERS: Popular Medley (Linger While; Doo Wacka Doo; Eliza; Doodle Doo Doo)

New York: January 9, 1925
Victor 19561 (mx. B 31598 – 4)

John Mitchell (tenor vocal, banjo); Bill Mitchell (baritone vocal, banjo)

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We still have some copies of American Record Labels & Producers 1888-1950 (winner of the 2019 ARSC Award for Excellence), but stocks are running low on this special limited edition. Order soon to ensure delivery in time for Christmas!