The Playlist (Free MP3s) • Grey Gull’s Mystery Black Bands (1929 – 1930)

The Playlist (Free MP3s)
Grey Gull’s Mystery Black Bands (1929 – 1930)

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Amongst all the garbage that was Grey Gull are these often-overlooked gems by some unknown black groups. The band names are meaningless; they were also used to cover groups ranging from Clarence Williams’ Orchestra to several obviously white groups, including the so-called Grey Gull house band. Several bear some resemblance to 1929–1930 sides by known J. C. Johnson and Walter Bennett bands on other labels.

We don’t know who the musicians are, despite countless published guesses — some of them reasonable, and some so far off the mark as to be real head-scratchers (such as Brian Rust attributing the January 1930 titles to Grey Gull’s coarse and buffoonish house band). The only clue is that the composers are the same for all titles in each group — J. C. Johnson for the August 1929 sides, Porter Grainger for November 1929, and Claude Austin for January 1930 — so it’s likely that they and/or their publishers had a hand in booking these sessions.

You can see what else Rust had to say about them in our free downloadable edition of Jazz Records, 1892-1942 (the sixth and final edition). But like so much else you’ll find there, take it with the proverbial grain of salt. In early editions of JR, Rust attributed the cornet on “Harlem’s Araby” to King Oliver. Then, in Edition 4, he did a complete flip-flop and changed it to white novelty trumpeter Mike Mosiello. Finally, he changed it to Unknown in Edition 6, after some prodding by his editor — which of course was the correct answer all along.

So, enjoy these on their own terms, whoever they’re by.

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “MOONLIGHT REVELERS”):
Alabama Shuffle

New York: c. August 1929
Grey Gull 1767

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “MOONLIGHT REVELERS”):
Baby Know How

New York: c. August 1929
Grey Gull 1775

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “JAZZOPATORS”):
Don’t Know and Don’t Care
New York: c. November 1929
Grey Gull 1803

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “MEMPHIS JAZZERS”):
In Harlem’s Araby
New York: c. November 1929
Grey Gull 1804

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “LEVEE SYNCOPATORS”):
The Rackett
New York: c. January 1930
Grey Gull 1843 (take A)

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “NEW ORLEANS PEPSTERS”):
The Rackett
New York: c. January 1930
Van Dyke 81843 (take B)

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “NEW ORLEANS PEPSTERS”):
Harlem Stomp Down

New York: c. January 1930
Grey Gull 1836

 

Collector’s Corner: Some Late 2020 Additions

Collector’s Corner: Some Late 2020 Additions

 

If there was one bright spot in 2020 (aside from the defeat of Donald Trump), it was that some collectors suddenly became more amenable to thinning their holdings, for any number of reasons. And so, some very fine things found an appreciative new home here in the final months of an otherwise horrid period. Here are a few favorite newcomers that I hope you’ll enjoy as you toast the start of a new year and a new era.

If you have records of this type to sell, in equally fine condition, your lists of disposables are always welcome. Please use standard VJM grading, note all defects no matter how seemingly minor (especially any graininess in the pressing), be brutally honest in your grading, and state your asking price.  (Due to exorbitant shipping costs and delays and mishandling by Customs, I am purchasing only from U.S. sources.) — Allan Sutton

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BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON: Shuckin’ Sugar Blues  (EE–)

Chicago (Marsh Laboratories): c. October 1926
Paramount 12454 (mx. 3077 – 2  /  ctl. 498)

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BLIND BOY FULLER: Untrue Blues  (EE+)

New York: February 9, 1937
Melotone 7-10-56  (mx. 20641 – 2)

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BIG BILL BROONZY: You Know I Got a Reason  (EE+)

Chicago: September 3, 1936
Melotone 6-11-72 (mx. C 1457 – 2)

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LOUIE BLUIE (HOWARD ARMSTRONG) & TED BOGAN: Ted’s Stomp  (EE+)

Chicago: March 23, 1934
Bluebird B-5593 (mx. BS 80504 – 1)

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DICK JUSTICE: Cocaine  (E)

Chicago: May 20, 1929
Brunswick 395 (mx. C 3516 – )
Two takes were recorded; the issued take is not indicated in the pressing or the Brunswick files.

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COON-SANDERS ORCHESTRA (Carleton A. Coon, vcl): Bless You, Sister  (E)

Chicago: December 12, 1928
Victor 21895 (mx. BVE 48726 – 2)  (regional release, per Victor files)

 

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Collector’s Corner • Some New Record Arrivals for October – November (Will Ezell, George H. Tremer, Savoy Bearcats, Fess Williams, George E. Lee, Jimmie Noone)

Collector’s Corner • Some New Record Arrivals for October – November

A few favorite new additions to the jazz collection, for your listening pleasure. (Opera fans, we’ve not forgotten about you. In a few weeks, we’ll be posting some interesting Fonotipia and Russian Amour recordings that were recently added to the collection.)

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WILL EZELL: West Coast Rag  (V++)

Chicago (Marsh Laboratories): c. September 1927
Paramount 12549 (mx. 4787 – 2)

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GEORGE H. TREMER: Spirit of ’49 Rag   (EE–)

Birmingham (Starr Piano Co. store): August , 1927
Gennett 6242 (mx. GEX 779 – A)
Take A was received at the Richmond, Indiana, plant on August 6, 1927 (the rejected plain take followed on August 8).

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SAVOY BEARCATS: Bearcat Stomp  (E)

New York: August 23, 1926
Victor 20307 (mx. BVE 36060 – 3)
January 1927 Race release, deleted in 1928. Don Redman’s name is misspelled “Radman” on the labels and in the Victor files.

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FESS WILLIAMS’ ROYAL FLUSH ORCHESTRA: Alligator Crawl  (EE+)

New York: June 15, 1927
Brunswick 3589 (mx. E 23633)
Originally marked as a Race release in the recording ledger, which was subsequently crossed-out.

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JIMMIE NOONE’S APEX CLUB ORCHESTRA: Apex Blues  (E–)

Chicago: August 23, 1928
Vocalion 1207 (mx. C 2258 – B)

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GEORGE E. LEE & HIS ORCHESTRA: Ruff Scufflin’  (EE+)

Kansas City: November 6, 1929
Brunswick 4684 (mx. KC 585 -A or B)
The selected take is not indicated in the Brunswick files or on the pressing.

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Why don’t we list personnel?

Simple. The 1920s band personnel listed in works like Brian Rust’s or Tom Lords’  discographies generally are not from the original company recording files or other reliable primary-source documentation. Just where they are from is a question to which we rarely get an answer. When we do, all too often it turns out to be anecdotal or speculative (or just plain bat-shit crazy).

Most record companies didn’t start regularly documenting personnel until the later 1930s, when new union regulations made that necessary. Exactly where most of those 1920s and early 1930s personnel listings in the discographies came from — who knows? They rarely cite sources (which, according to Rust associate Malcolm Shaw, was sometimes just friends getting together over pints and playing “I hear so-and-so.”) That’s a shame, because some of the information in those books probably is from reliable sources; but without citations, there’s no way to separate the good from the bad.

Unfortunately, even when Rust had access to reliable primary-source materials, like Ed Kirkeby’s California Ramblers ledgers, he couldn’t resist meddling with the facts — for example, stating that Tommy Dorsey or Glenn Miller were present on sessions for which Kirkeby’s files clearly show they were not. So, take it all with the proverbial gain of salt. We certainly do.

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Forgotten Black Musicians • Wendell P. Talbert

Forgotten Black Musicians • Wendell P. Talbert

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ROSA HENDERSON (Wendell P. Talbert, piano)
Good Woman’s Blues

New York: May 24, 1923
Victor 19084 (mx. B 28026 -2)

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ROSA HENDERSON (Wendell P. Talbert, piano)
Good Woman’s Blues

New York: May 24, 1923
Victor 19084 (mx. B 28027 -2)

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Like Noble Sissle, with whom he was associated off-and-on for many years, Wendell Talbert was largely a creature of the theater. Unlike Sissle, he left behind only a handful of issued recordings, and only in an accompanying role. As a result, he’s been largely overlooked by collectors and historians.

The earliest substantive reference we’ve found to Wendell Phillip (or Philips, depending on the account) Talbert shows him as a member of the Southern Jubilee Singers and Players in January 1912. This was a traveling organization that specialized in old-time “plantation” songs, traditional spirituals, and other fare that likely was selected at least in part for its appeal to white audiences.

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Talbert as tenor, cellist, and pianist with the Southern Jubilee Singers and Players (Bismarck [North Dakota] Tribune, January  27, 1912)

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By 1914, Talbert was a featured performer with William A. Hann’s Jubilee Singers, a group of “seven cultured ladies and gentlemen” whose offerings ran from “refined and wholesome humor” to spirituals and grand opera. Its members included soprano Florence Cole, who Talbert married in the same year. At about that time, Noble Sissle joined the troupe, initially filling in for Talbert on occasion, based upon some published programs from the period. Their paths would continue to cross for the next four decades.

.Wendell Talbert and Florence Cole-Talbert with Hann’s Jubilee Singers (Hutchinson [Kansas] Gazette, October 17, 1914)

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The Talberts divorced at some point, although the date remains unclear. One secondary source cites 1915, but news reports as late as 1917 continued to state that the couple were married. The latest such report we’ve located so far, in the Xenia [Ohio] Daily Gazette for May 24, 1917, refers to Cole-Talbert’s “talented husband, Prof. Wendell Talbert.” However, she continued to use Cole-Talbert as her professional name, perhaps leading to some confusion in the press.

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Florence Cole-Talbert is remembered primarily for her Black Swan recordings. She and Wendell had divorced by the time those recordings were made, but she continued to use her married name in stage work.

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Talbert appears to have left Hann in 1918 or 1919, when mentions of him vanish from the press. At some point in the early 1920s, he made the transition from old-time tunes and spirituals to jazz and blues, albeit of a rather tame sort. In July 1921, it was reported that he would be writing for the Chamberlain Company, a newly launched music publisher in Detroit. Anecdotal reports credit him with coming up with the name for Sissle & Blake’s “Shuffle Along,” and conducting the pit orchestra in one of the show’s touring companies, but those stories remain to be confirmed.

In 1923, Talbert resurfaced as the piano accompanist on a few records by vaudeville-blues singers Rosa Henderson (Victor) and Lethia Hill (Vocalion). His two recordings with Henderson were released in Victor’s first attempt at a race-record series:

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Victor’s first attempt at a race-record series, July 1923. Sissle’s and Talbert’s sessions were held a day apart. Sissle by this time was a major star, and it’s tempting to speculate that he might have arranged for Talbert to record for Victor.

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By late 1925, Talbert had remarried and was touring in vaudeville with his Chocolate Fiends, a large revue that starred Alethia Hill. In November of that year, he accompanied two sides by comedian Billy King on Okeh. His orchestra made a test recording of “Deep Henderson” for Brunswick of October 28, 1926, which unfortunately was not approved for issue.

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Talbert and company on the road (Indianapolis, December 1925)

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Talbert remarried in 1926 and publicly credited new wife Hallie for her help and inspiration. He continued to tour with the Chocoalte Fiends into the late 1920s, but made no further issued recordings that we know of.

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Pittsburgh Courier (October 2, 1926)

Pittsburgh Courier (October 9, 1926)

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Pittsburgh Courier (September 15, 1927)

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In the early 1930s, Talbert returned to his roots with his Dusky Troubadours, a choir that specialized in the same sort of material he had performed with Hann’s Jubilee Singers two decades earlier. The group broadcast over radio station WOR (Newark, New Jersey) on occasion. By 1934, Talbert had augmented the choir with an eighteen-piece orchestra.

 

Talbert with the USO during World War II (Louisville Courier-Journal, September 24, 1944)

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During World War II, Talbert served as musical advisor to the Colored USO of Central New Jersey. In July 1950, Talbert rejoined Noble Sissle, probably for the last time, in a fund-raiser for the New York Heart Association. He died in the early 1950s.

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August 10, 1920 • Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” Turns 100 • Mamie Smith and the Birth of the “Blues Craze”

August 10, 1920 • Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues”
Turns 100

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MAMIE SMITH & HER JAZZ HOUNDS: Crazy Blues

New York: c. August 10, 1920 (released October 1920)
Okeh 4169 (mx. S 7529 – B)

Transferred at 80 rpm, the correct playing speed for Okeh records of this period

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Mamie Smith and the Birth of the “Blues Craze”
By Allan Sutton

Excerpted from
Race Records and the American Recording Industry
(Mainspring Press, 2016)

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While George Broome was busy launching the first Black-owned record company in 1919, another relative newcomer, the General Phonograph Corporation, was struggling to carve out a niche in a glutted market.  Founded in mid-1918, and backed in part by the Berlin-based Carl Lindstrom conglomerate, the company was an outgrowth of the Otto Heineman Phonograph Supply Company, a manufacturer of phonograph motors and parts. Its Okeh label, like other start-ups of the period, relied heavily on the usual studio free-lance performers. The early artist roster was so lackluster that for the for the first eighteen months of its existence Okeh often listed only song titles in its trade-press advertising, without bothering to mention the performers.[1]

Okeh’s unlikely saviors would be Perry Bradford and Mamie Smith — the former a struggling Harlem songwriter and music publisher, the latter a recent arrival in Harlem who was slowly gaining a following as a cabaret singer. Setting up shop in New York in 1918, Bradford quickly earned the nickname “Mule” for his tenacious promotion of blues-inflected pop tunes. [2] Bradford recalled meeting resistance from members of the local Black musical establishment, who found his material to be “low-class,” unpleasant reminders of life in the South.[3] Bradford claimed that he “walked out several pairs of shoes trying to show…the value of the blues,” and he was not alone. W. C. Handy recalled,

I caught another glimpse of the same prejudice when I tried to introduce colored girls for recording our blues. In every case the managers quickly turned thumbs down. “Their voices were not suitable.” “Their diction was different from white girls. “They couldn’t possibly fill the bill”… Viola McCoy, who was under contract with me, made test records for seven companies, all of whom turned her down. [4]

Bradford was particularly impressed by Mamie Smith, a singer he first heard performing with comedian Tutt Whitney’s Smart Set company. She soon left to pursue solo work in the local cabarets, at which point Bradford hired her to appear in his Made in Harlem, a quickly cobbled-together production that opened at Harlem’s Lincoln Theater in 1918. There, she scored a hit singing his “Harlem Blues.” Determined to capitalize on Smith’s popularity, Bradford shopped her around to the local record companies, with no success.

In early 1920, Bradford finally got a foot in the door. Edward King, Victor’s New York studio manager, agreed to schedule a test session for Mamie Smith. [5] On January 10, 1920, Smith made an unnumbered trial recording of Bradford’s “That Thing Called Love” with Bradford at the piano. [6] When Victor showed no interest, Bradford renewed his search and found an unlikely champion in Okeh’s Fred Hager, a veteran white recording artist and studio director whose career had begun in the 1890s. For the last decade, Hager had moved from one failed label to the next while relying on his music publishing business to keep him afloat financially. Now well into his forties, and with Okeh so far showing only faint promise, he must have been open to new opportunities.

Hager agreed to schedule an Okeh recording session for Mamie Smith. Short of cash, Bradford tapped band leader George Morrison (freshly arrived with his orchestra from Denver, at the behest of Columbia records) for a loan to buy Smith some suitable attire. As Morrison recalled,

[Bradford] came up to my hotel, at the time I was recording. He says, “Morrison, you wanna make some money? I’ve got a sure bet — sure thing…  And he took me up there to this house, and there she was in this old house, and the old lamp light burning — in the daytime, now, mind you. It was simply awful in there — whooo! simply awful. And who was it? Mamie Smith… She was up there ironing. Perry said, “Kid, we’ve got it made! Mr. Morrison here’s gonna finance this thing, and we’ve got it made….

And so I went and got a hundred and fifty dollars and I bought Mamie a hat — great big old hat, and then I bought her some lingerie, and shoes. I dressed her from the inside out. Everything. I had never heard of that woman — never seen her before. Mamie said she was gonna pay me back. She was going to record for Okeh records.[7]

On or about February 14, 1920,[8] Mamie Smith reported for her first Okeh session in the company’s studio on West 45th Street, where she recorded Bradford’s “That Thing Called Love” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” accompanied by the so-called Rega Orchestra, a cover name for Okeh’s white studio band. [9]  Hager directed the session in the company of Ralph Peer, a newly arrived Okeh employee who within a few years would play a major role in the development of race records.[10]

“That Thing Called Love” / “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” (Okeh 4113) was listed in the June 1920 Talking Machine World advance bulletin as a July release. Cataloged in Okeh’s Tenth Supplement alongside the latest offerings by Billy Murray, the Waldorf-Astoria Dance Orchestra, and other mainstream white artists, it was the first pop release by a Black female soloist. Okeh avoided any mention of Smith’s race, describing the record merely as “Contralto with orchestra,” [11]  but the African-American press was quick to spread the news. On March 13, two months before Okeh formally announced the record, The Chicago Defender broke the news:

Well, you’ve all heard the famous stars of the white race chirping their stuff on the different makes of phonograph records. Caruso has warbled his Jones to the delight of millions; Tetrazzini has made ’em like it heavy, and Nora Bayes has tickled their ears with a world of delight; but we have never — up to now — been able to hear one of our own ladies deliver the canned goods. Now we have the pleasure of being able to say that at last they have recognized the fact that we are here for their service; the Okeh Phonograph Company [sic] has initiated the idea by engaging the handsome, popular and capable vocalist, Mamie Gardener Smith of 40 W. 135th Street, New York City, and she has made her first record… [12]

Many questionable or false claims have been made over the years regarding Mamie Smith and her first record. Smith was by no means the first Black woman to make commercial recordings.[13] Nor does her first record appear to have been the sensational hit sometimes portrayed by modern writers, based on its relative scarcity today and its failure to make Okeh’s own list of top sellers for the summer of 1920.[14] However, the mechanical royalties were good enough that Bradford was able to repay George Morrison’s loan,[15] and Okeh decided to gamble on another Mamie Smith release.

Mamie Smith returned to the Okeh studio on or around August 10.[16]  Her first release had featured two Pace & Handy publications, but for Smith’s second session, Bradford chose to promote two titles from his own catalog — “Crazy Blues” and “It’s Right Here for You (If You Don’t Get It, ’T’ain’t No Fault of Mine).” The former was a retitling and slight reworking of two earlier Bradford pieces (“The Broken-Hearted Blues” and “The Harlem Blues) that he had already sold to other publishers, a move that would soon land him in serious legal trouble.

In a marked departure from the first Smith session, the stiff Rega Orchestra was replaced on Bradford’s recommendation by a hastily assembled band he dubbed the Jazz Hounds. Their raucous, uninhibited style, unlike anything heard so far on records, took Okeh’s studio staff by surprise. As Bradford recalled, the session became a battle of wills between himself and recording engineer Charles Hibbard, whose insistence that the band soften its approach was roundly ignored. [17] Rising above the cacophony, Smith shouted her way through Bradford’s lyrics, which in the case of “Crazy Blues” included a threat to “get myself a gun and shoot myself a cop” — a line that most companies of that period  almost certainly would have censored.

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Okeh announces the release of “Crazy Blues” (October 1920)


“Crazy Blues” was released with considerable fanfare in October 1920, and this time there was no dodging the race issue. A full-page ad in The Talking Machine World featured Smith’s portrait. [18]  The record caused a sensation among Black and white buyers alike. Trade papers soon were awash in planted stories like this one, masquerading as press releases:

The advertising department of the General Phonograph Corp., New York, received recently an interesting letter from a Mamie Smith enthusiast in North Carolina. … It reads: “I rite you to please send me one of your latest catalog of latest popular songs and musical comedy hits popular dancing numbers I got the Crazy Blues all ready and if you have any other latest Blues sung by Mamie Smith and her jazz hounds send along 2 or 3 C.O.D. with the catalog I want something that will almost make a preacher come down out of the pulpit and go to dancing and hang his head and cry I want all you send to be Blues.” [19]

Early Okeh advertisements make it clear that Mamie Smith’s records were not intended solely for Black customers, contradicting widely published claims by such modern writers as Daphne Duval Harrison that the records “were sold exclusively to Blacks.” [20] In one Okeh distributor’s full-page, Mamie Smith was even pictured along with the celebrated tenor John McCormack.

Smith’s records were widely advertised by white dealers, and several even found their way into Canada, where they were pressed under the Phonola and Sun labels. A full-page ad for “Crazy Blues” in November 1920 employed a stereotypical minstrel-show theme that was clearly aimed at white buyers, with a cartoon figure in blackface proclaiming in minstrel-show dialect, “I’s heard Blues, but I’s telling you Mamie’s beats ’em all. O! Man, her voice is as sweet as honey! It jes flows and flows and ev’ry note gets richer until I can just sit back and expire with joy.”[21]

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Okeh chose a stereotypical “minstrel” theme for its
November 1920 ad.

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In the same month, Okeh announced that it was supplying dealers with special Thanksgiving window displays featuring Mamie Smith, “colored queen of syncopation,” alongside several of its white artists. By then, the records were turning up in all sorts of unlikely venues. The Talking Machine World reported that even the manager of the Summit-Cherry Markets of Toledo, Ohio, was stocking Mamie Smith records in his grocery stores:

Demand for Mamie Smith numbers has been particularly large, and Mr. Richards has expressed himself on numerous occasions as being very enthusiastic about the line and well pleased with his merchandising policy of bringing music to the attention of housewives when they are doing their marketing.[22]

Okeh dealers reported that they were delighted with the “unlimited sales possibilities” of blues records.[23]  Unfortunately, Okeh’s sales data have not survived, but the large number of surviving copies of “Crazy Blues,” and the many variations seen in early pressings and labelings  (strong indicators that  outside plants were used to keep up with demand) are certainly evidence of a strong seller. However, claims that “Crazy Blues” sold 75,000 copies the first month, and a million copies within seven months of release — which originated with Bradford’s self-aggrandizing (and often demonstrably inaccurate) autobiography, and which have since been slavishly repeated in countless works — are questionable, given what is known of record sales in general during this period. [24]

But Bradford’s boastful sales claims pale in comparison with those made by some modern pop-culture writers, who have inflated them considerably over the years, without ever citing a documentary source (because there is none; the Okeh files for this period have not survived, and there was not yet a method of certifying sales results within the recording industry):

“For months, the disc sold some 7,500 copies a week.” (Paul Oliver, Blues Fell This Morning, 1960)

“It sold 75,000 copies in the first month, and over a million in the first half-year.” (Gunther Schuller, Early Jazz, 1968)

“The disc is reputed to have sold a million copies within a few weeks.” (Louis Barfe, Where Have All The Good Times Gone?, 2004)

“A wild success, selling over a million copies in less than a year, and finally ending up selling over two million copies.” (Red Hot Jazz website, 2008)

 

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By January 1921, Okeh had released eight sides by Mamie Smith. In the same month, Harry Pace began laying the groundwork for Black Swan, the second Black-owned record company.

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Whatever the actual sales might have been, they seem to have justified the risk that Fred Hager and Okeh’s management had taken in issuing and promoting “Crazy Blues.” Anecdotal tales have appeared over the years of dealer resistance and even outright hostility, and although none has been convincingly documented, they likely have some basis in fact, given the rampant racial prejudice of the time. In later years, Perry Bradford expressed his appreciation for the opportunity that Fred Hager had afforded him and Mamie Smith:

May God bless Mr. Hagar [sic], for despite the many threats, it took a man with plenty of nerve and guts to buck those powerful groups and make the historical decision which echoed around the world… He prised open that old “prejudiced door” for the first colored girl, Mamie Smith, so she could squeeze into the large horn — and shout with her strong contralto…” [25]

Now well on her way to national stardom, Smith needed more professional management than Bradford alone could offer. In early 1921 she agreed to let the Standard Amusement Company handle her stage appearances. The company lost no time in sending Mamie Smith & her All Star Revue on the road, in a production that featured Smith singing her Okeh hits, interspersed with comic acts, a magician, a juggler, and dance numbers by the Jazz Hounds. [26] By April of that year, the troupe had completed a circuit that began in Chicago, worked its way through the Midwest down to Texas, then swung through the deep South before eventually heading north to end in Philadelphia.

Smith returned to New York just in time to see “Crazy Blues” become embroiled in a legal controversy that temporarily halted sales of all recordings of the song. In May 1921, two major music-publishing houses — Frederick V. Bowers, Inc., and Shapiro, Bernstein & Company — filed for a temporary injunction restraining Bradford and wife Marion L. Dickerson from publishing and selling “Crazy Blues.”

The lawsuit also sought to restrain fourteen record and piano-roll companies from distributing any recording of the song, and from paying any royalties on sales to Bradford, his company, or his wife. [27] Bowers alleged that twelve bars of “Crazy Blues” came from “The Broken-Hearted Blues,” which his firm purchased from Bradford in 1918. Shapiro, Bernstein & Company alleged that “Crazy Blues” incorporated parts of “The Harlem Blues,” which they had purchased from Bradford in the same year. [28]

The settlement required Bradford to pay substantial damages to both companies. The lesson seems to have been lost on him, however. A similar legal scrap in 1923, over the authorship of “He May Be Your Man, But He Comes to See Me Sometimes,” saw Bradford convicted for subornation of perjury, for which he served four months in jail.

In the meantime, the working relationship between Bradford and Smith was becoming increasingly strained. The inevitable split came during the summer of 1921, while Bradford was preparing his new stage production, Put and Take. Exactly what transpired between the two is unclear in Bradford’s rather jumbled account, but the result was that the starring role went not to Smith, but to Edith Wilson, for whom Bradford quickly negotiated a Columbia recording contract. [29]

For Mamie Smith, it meant the loss of the Jazz Hounds (by now under the nominal direction of cornetist Johnny Dunn), who went along to Columbia with Wilson as part of the package deal. Smith was allowed to continue to use the Jazz Hounds name in her stage act, but on records, the name as well as the band itself now belonged to Columbia.

With demand for new Mamie Smith releases still running high, and another extended tour scheduled to begin on September 23, [30] Okeh spent the late summer of 1921 stockpiling new Smith recordings, minus the Jazz Hounds, with unsettling results. A group of white musicians, reputedly drawn from Joseph Samuels’ commercial dance orchestra, was pressed into service in place of Bradford’s band. Variously known as Samuels’ Jazz Band, the Synco Jazz Band, or the Tampa Blue Jazz Band, the group had been churning out stiff, cliché-laden “jazz” records for many of the smaller labels since 1919.

Beginning with “Daddy, Your Mama Is Lonesome for You” and “Sax-O-Phoney Blues” (Okeh 4416) in August 1921, the ill-conceived collaboration dragged on into September, yielding twelve issued titles before Smith left for her tour. While she was away, Okeh attempted to cover its tracks by publishing a photo purportedly taken during the recording of “Sax-O-Phoney Blues” that showed Black musicians accompanying Smith. [31] The subterfuge should have been apparent to anyone who compared the photo to the record, since the instrumentation does not match, and the two saxophonists who figure so prominently in “Sax-O-Phoney” are nowhere to be seen. [32]

Ultimately, Mamie Smith would be eclipsed by far better singers cashing in on the blues craze she had started. She returned from her tour to find Edith Wilson and the Jazz Hounds already selling well for Columbia. Okeh kept Smith on until the summer 1923, but as Perry Bradford recalled,

I didn’t bother Mamie anymore, because she was coming down the ladder… Mamie’s records were falling down and melting away like snow balls on a hot July day, and Okeh was feeling the pinch of competition. [33]

 

Notes

[1] “Okeh Records” (monthly advertisements). Talking Machine World, May 1918–December 1919.

[2] The “Mule” nickname appeared in print as early as May 1919, in a column by songwriter Tom Lemonier (“Lemonier’s Letter.” Chicago Defender, May 24, 1919, p. 9).

[3] Charters, Samuel B., and Leonard Kunstadt: Jazz: A History of the New York Scene, p. 82. New York: Doubleday (1962). Much of this information comes from Dan Burely’s 1940 profiles of Perrfy Bradford and Mamie Smith in the Amsterdam News.

[4] Handy, W. C. Father of the Blues, p. 200. New York: Macmillan (1941).

[5] King is remembered today primarily for having ejected cornetist  Bix Beiderbecke from his first recording session with the Jean Goldkette Orchestra.

[6] Victor trial session ledgers. Sony Archives, New York. Bradford was not credited by name in the ledger, but stated his biography that he was the accompanist. Bradford recalled being given a test pressing, which apparently no longer exists.

[7] Morrison, George. Interview by Gunther Schuller. Quoted in Schuller, Gunther: Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development, p. 367. New York: Oxford University Press (1968).

[8] The recording date of February 14, 1920, was supplied many years later by Perry Bradford (an often unreliable source) and should be considered approximate. The Okeh recording files for this period have not survived.

[9] “Rega” was a pseudonym for Fred Hager, as confirmed by multiple entries in the U.S. Copyright Register; “Milo Rega” was a pseudonym for Hager in collaboration with his long-time associate, Justin Ring. The accompanying personnel shown for this session in Dixon, Godrich & Rye’s Blues and Gospel Records is incorrect, having apparently been based on the erroneous assumption that the Jazz Hounds accompanied this session. Photographs of the Rega Orchestra in The Talking Machine World and other trade publications show an all-white group with Hager present.

[10] Charters and Kunstadt, op. cit., p. 84

[11] “Okeh Records Tenth Supplement” (advertisement). Talking Machine World (July 15, 1920).

[12] “Making Records.” Chicago Defender (March 13, 1920), p. 6.

[13] That honor might have been held by May C. Hyers, who recorded at least fourteen titles, including several syncopated songs, on cylinders for the Kansas City Phonograph Company, c. 1898.

[14] “Six Best Sellers.” Talking Machine World (October 15, 1920), p. 144.

[15] Morrison, George. Interview by Gunther Schuller, op. cit.

[16] See note 6 concerning the accuracy of Okeh recording dates.

[17] In his autobiography, Bradford made the questionable claim that the session took eight hours to complete, which would have been unprecedented given what we know of studio practices during this  period. Bradford also erroneously claimed that the recordings were “hill & dale” (i.e., vertically cut), and his  recollection of the band personnel present at the session (particularly cornetist Johnny Dunn) has been widely questioned by modern jazz scholars.

[18] “Okeh Records — To Hear Is to Buy!” (advertisement). Talking Machine World (October 15, 1920).

[19] “Has Designs on the Preacher.” Talking Machine World (February 15, 1921),  p. 127.

[20] Harrison, Daphne Duval. Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920s, p. 46. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press (1988).

[21] “Okeh Records” (advertisement). Talking Machine World, (November 15, 1920).

[22] “Doing Big Okeh Record Trade.” Talking Machine World (January 15, 21), p. 146.

[23] “Records for the Okeh Library.” Talking Machine World (October 15, 1920), p. 200.

[24] Million-sellers appear to have been very rare occurrences in the early 1920s, based on surviving company documentation. Although sales figures for most of the smaller companies have long since vanished, some reliable statistics that survive in the Victor and Columbia archives offer a good picture of record sales in the early 1920s, in the process debunking some other “million-seller” myths.  Paul Whiteman’s “Whispering” (Victor 18690), for example, is often said to have sold nearly 1.5 million copies, although the Victor files show sales of only 214,575 copies. A similar case is Ben Selvin’s “Dardanella” (Victor 18633), which is said in Faber’s Companion to Twentieth Century Music to have sold an incredible six million copies, although the Victor files shows that only 961,144 copies were pressed.

[25] Bradford, Perry. Born with the Blues, p. 119. New York: Oak Publications (1965).

[26] “Mamie Smith Co.” Chicago Defender (April 2, 1921), p. 6

[27] “Songwriter Faces Two Suits.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1921), p. 149.

[28] Bowers admitted that he had not copyrighted “The Broken-Hearted Blues” owing to an oversight on his part that he attributed to “changes in the personnel” at his firm.” Bradford was the initial publisher of “The Harlem Blues,” but he assigned copyright to Shapiro, Bernstein & Company, as was duly registered with the Copyright Office.

[29] Put and Take opened at the Town Hall (New York) on August 23, 1921, and Wilson made her first Columbia recordings on or about September 12.

[30] “Mamie Smith on Extended Tour.” Talking Machine World (October 15, 1921), p. 64.

[31] “Making Sax-O-Phoney Blues.” Talking Machine World (November 15, 1921), p. 160.

[32] On March 9, 1940, clarinetist Bob Fuller told New York Amsterdam News columnist Dan Burely that he and cornetist Bubber Miley were present in the purported “Sax-O-Phoney” session photo.

[33] Bradford, op. cit.,  p. 157.

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© 2016 by Allan R. Sutton

Collector’s Corner • Some July Additions (Free MP3 Downloads): Rev. Gates, De Ford Bailey, Georgia Cotton Pickers, Clarence Williams, Duke Ellington, Red Nichols

Collector’s Corner • Some July 2020 Additions
(Free MP3 Downloads)

A few favorite July additions to the collection, for your enjoyment

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REV. J. M. GATES & CONGREGATION: A Sure-Enough Soldier (E)

Atlanta: February 20, 1928
Victor 21523 (mx. BVE 41916 – 1)

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DE FORD BAILEY: Dixie Flyer Blues (E–)

New York: April 18, 1927
Brunswick 146 (mx. E 22501)

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GEORGIA COTTON PICKERS: She’s Coming Back Some Cold Rainy Day (E)

Atlanta: December 8, 1930
Columbia 14577-D (mx. W 151106 – 2)

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CLARENCE WILLIAMS’ JAZZ KINGS: I Need You (E)

New York: May 29, 1928
Columbia 14326-D (mx. W 146366 – 3)

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

New York: April 4, 1929
Columbia 1813-D (mx. W 148172 – 3)

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RED NICHOLS & HIS FIVE PENNIES: Eccentric (E)

New York: August 15, 1927
Brunswick 3627 (mx. E 24228)

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Collector’s Corner (Free MP3s)• Some May 2020 Additions: Louisville Jug Band, Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe, Fletcher Henderson, Cliff Jackson, Carolina Tar Heels

Collector’s Corner (Free MP3s) • Some May 2020 Additions
Louisville Jug Band, Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe, Fletcher Henderson, Cliff Jackson, Carolina Tar Heels

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Some of this month’s favorite new additions to the collection, for your entertainment. We’re always looking to purchase more records of this type, if in top condition; let us know what you have on your disposables list.

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CLIFFORD HAYES’ LOUISVILLE JUG BAND (as Old Southern Jug Band): Blues, Just Blues, That’s All  (E– to V++)

St. Louis: November 24, 1924
Vocalion 14958  (mx. Ch 336)

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MEMPHIS MINNIE & KANSAS JOE: You Got to Move (You Ain’t Got to Move) — Part 2  (EE–)

Chicago: August 31, 1934
Decca 7038  (mx. C 9389)

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BIG BILL (BROONZY): C and A Blues  (E-)

Chicago: June 20, 1935
Oriole 5-12-65  (ARC mx. C 1020 – B)
Probably Louis Lasky, second guitar.

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FLETCHER HENDERSON & HIS ORCHESTRA: Hop Off  (EE+)

Chicago: September 14, 1928
Brunswick 4119  (mx. C 2315 – A or -B)
The take used is not indicated in the pressing or the Brunswick files. This recording was made just two weeks after Henderson sustained serious injuries in an auto accident in Kentucky, while on an extended tour with the band.

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CLIFF JACKSON & HIS KRAZY KATS (as Tuxedo Syncopators):
Horse Feathers 
(V+)

New York: c. January 1930
Madison 5098  (Grey Gull mx. 3866 – A / Madison ctl. 337)

..

(racist language)

CAROLINA TAR HEELS: Shanghai in China  (E–)

Charlotte, NC: August 11, 1927
Victor 20941  (mx. BVE 39795 – 3)
Gwen Foster (vocal, guitar, harmonica) and Dock Walsh (vocal, banjo), per the Victor files.

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New Free Download: Ragtime on Records (1894 – 1950) • The Worldwide Discography of Cakewalks, Rags, and Novelties on Cylinders and 78s – New Edition

The Mainspring Online Reference Library — Free Download

Ragtime on Records (1894 – 1950) • The Worldwide Discography of Cakewalks, Rags, and Novelties
on Cylinders and 78s

New Revised and Expanded Edition by Allan Sutton

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The latest addition to the free Mainspring Online Reference Library, Ragtime on Records covers more than 900 commercially recorded compositions, from the earliest primitive cakewalks to the classic rags of the early 1900s, the decadent novelty rags of the 1920s, and the ragtime revival of the 1940s. The work is conveniently arranged by title, with original publishers and publication dates noted in each entry, and is fully searchable.

Ragtime on Records covers more than 8,000 cylinders and 78s (U.S. and foreign) in 550 pages. In addition to highly detailed discographical listings for mainstream performances, there are supplemental summary listings of recordings in other styles (jazz, country, novelty-pop, etc.) that reflect ragtime’s spread and assimilation over the decades. There is also a gallery or rare sheet-music covers, historical introduction, and user’s guide.

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Download Acrobat / Reader file (pdf) (~30 mb)
(Free for Personal Use — Print-Restricted)

 

This work is offered by the publisher for personal, non-commercial use only. Sale or other commercial use, as well as any other unauthorized reproduction, distribution, or alteration (including conversion to or dissemination via digital databases, e-books, or the Internet), either in printed or digital form, is prohibited. Please read and honor the conditions of use included with this file, so that we can continue to offer these free publications.

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Buy Direct from Mainspring Press:

Winner of the 2019 ARSC Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded-Sound Research, this unique volume contains more than 1,100 entries covering the record companies, independent studios, and individual producers — and the thousands of disc and cylinder brands they produced for the commercial market (including consumer, jukebox, and subscription labels) — from the birth of commercial recording to the start of the LP era.

“A mighty fortress is this book – and it guards an accumulation of knowledge of unparalleled proportions.”
– Tim Fabrizio, ARSC Journal

American Record Companies and Producers will forever be the ultimate resource.”
– John R. Bolig, author of The Victor Discographies

“I am in awe of the scope, breadth, detail
and documentation.”

– James A. Drake, author of Ponselle: A Singer’s Life and Richard Tucker: A Biography


DETAILS AND SECURE ONLINE ORDERING

 

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.

 

Buy Direct from Mainspring Press:

Winner of the 2019 ARSC Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded-Sound Research, this unique volume contains more than 1,100 entries covering the record companies, independent studios, and individual producers — and the thousands of disc and cylinder brands they produced for the commercial market (including consumer, jukebox, and subscription labels) — from the birth of commercial recording to the start of the LP era.

“A mighty fortress is this book – and it guards an accumulation of knowledge of unparalleled proportions.”
– Tim Fabrizio, ARSC Journal

American Record Companies and Producers will forever be the ultimate resource.”
– John R. Bolig, author of The Victor Discographies

“I am in awe of the scope, breadth, detail
and documentation.”

– James A. Drake, author of Ponselle: A Singer’s Life and Richard Tucker: A Biography


DETAILS AND SECURE ONLINE ORDERING

100 Years Ago at Okeh: Mamie Smith Gets Her Break

100 Years Ago at Okeh: Mamie Smith Gets Her Break
By Allan Sutton

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.In February 1920*, a vaudeville blues singer named Mamie Smith showed up at the General Phonograph Corporation’s Okeh studio, in the company of songwriter and publisher Perry Bradford, having been rejected by Victor a month earlier. Bradford was shopping around two of his new titles  — “That Thing Called Love” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down.”

Bradford recalled that Fred Hager, General Phonograph’s musical director, was interested in both songs, especially if Sophie Tucker would agree to record them for Okeh. She wouldn’t, so Bradford took a chance and instead pitched Mamie Smith to Hager, recalling:

“[I] handed Mr. Hager this new line of jive: ‘There’s a colored girl, the one I told you about up in Harlem. Well, she will do more with these songs than a monkey can do with a peanut; she sings jazz songs with more soulful feeling than other girls, for it’s only natural with us…

“May God bless Mr. Hager, for despite many threats, it took a man with plenty of nerve and guts to buck those powerful groups and make the historical decision which echoed aroun’ the world. He pried open that old ‘prejudiced door’…

“After Mamie finished recording ‘That Thing Called Love’ and ‘You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down’ that snowy morning in February 1920, I was itching to jump and yell, right there in the studio, ‘Hallelujah, it’s done!’ It was a happy moment, for I’d schemed and used up all my bag of tricks to get that date.”

Okeh initially did nothing to promote Mamie’s record, nor did it need to. During the five months it took the company to finally release the disc, Bradford made sure that news of the session reached The Chicago Defender and other black-owned newspapers, and word-of-mouth did the rest. When Okeh 4113 finally appeared in July, it found an eager audience.

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Okeh initially did nothing to promote Mamie Smith’s first release. By the time this ad appeared in the autumn of 1920, her second release, “Crazy Blues,” was on its way to becoming a hit, and Okeh was promoting her aggressively.

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The record’s release was a symbolic victory, if not a musical one. Accompanied by Okeh’s plodding Rega Orchestra (“Rega” being a pseudonym for Hager, as confirmed in the federal copyright registers), Mamie played it straight. There is little to distinguish her performances on these sides from those of Marion Harris and some other white comediennes of the period, who in turn were trying to sound a little black-ish.

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MAMIE SMITH: That Thing Called Love

New York: Probably February 10 or 18, 1920*
Okeh 4113 (mx. S-7275 – E)
Accompanied by the Rega Orchestra (house group directed by Fred Hager); Charles Hibbard, recording engineer

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MAMIE SMITH: You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down

New York: Probably February 10 or 18, 1920*
Okeh 4113 (mx. S-7276 – D)
Accompanied by the Rega Orchestra (house group directed by Fred Hager); Charles Hibbard, recording engineer

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That would all change six months later, when Mamie Smith returned to Okeh and cut loose on Bradford’s “Harlem Blues” (renamed “Crazy Blues” for the occasion, a hastily made decision that would come back to bite Bradford, and badly; but that’s a story for another post). This time she was accompanied by the Jazz Hounds, a raucous little band that Bradford had thrown together for the session. They sorely taxed recording engineer Charles Hibbard’s patience, Bradford recalled, but produced what is generally acknowledged as the first true blues recording — or, perhaps more accurately, the first blues-like recording by a black woman. Whichever take you prefer, there’s no disputing that Mamie Smith’s records sparked the early-1920s blue craze and resultant birth of the race-record industry, which would provide opportunities for black performers that had been undreamed-of a decade earlier..

* When Was Mamie Smith’s First Session?

Okeh’s recording files for this period have long-since been destroyed, so we have to rely on circumstantial evidence — in this case, the weather reports. Discographies traditionally put the date at Saturday, February 14, with no source cited. But that’s almost certainly a bad guess, if Bradford’s recollection of a “snowy morning” is accurate. The weather in Manhattan on the 14th was fair and dry, as it had been (and would continue to be) for much of the month. It did snow there on Tuesday the 10th and Wednesday the 18th — either date being a far more likely candidate than the sunny-and-mild 14th.

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Quoted excerpts are from Perry Bradford’s autobiography, Born with the Blues (New York: Oak Publications, 1965).

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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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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Collector’s Corner • Matson’s Creole Serenaders on Edison (and Documented Personnel)

Collector’s Corner • Matson’s Creole Serenaders on Edison (and Documented Personnel)

 

Some surprising luck this week — both of the Matson’s Creole Serenaders Edisons found a new home here within a few days of each other (one in lovely shape, the other having led a little harder life, but still perfectly serviceable).

Both copies use the scarcer takes. “I Just Want a Daddy” is the rarer issue of the two, having been “red-starred” — Edison’s signal to dealers that the record was not expected to sell very well and therefore should be ordered only sparingly. A sales genius, Edison was not.

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CHARLES A. MATSON’S CREOLE SERENADERS: I Just Want a Daddy (I Can Call My Own)  (V++)

New York: July 30, 1923
Edison 51224 (mx. 9105 – C)

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CHARLES A. MATSON’S CREOLE SERENADERS: ’T’ain’t Nobody’s Biz-Ness If I Do (intro: Aching Hearted Blues)  (EE–)

New York: July 30, 1923
Edison 51222 (mx. 9104 – A)

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This group has flummoxed collectors and discographers for decades. Various writers have suggested Freddie Keppard as the cornetist, or Armand Piron’s New Orleans Orchestra in disguise, along with more far-fetched guesses. Now, thanks to some first-class sleuthing reported on the grammophon-platten.de website, we have a credible answer as to who actually plays on these sides — and it sure isn’t Keppard, or anyone else you’re likely to have heard of, with one exception.

Based on newspaper clippings from April and June 1923, as displayed on the grammophon-platten site, this group consists of:

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Thomas E. Hillery (cornet); Levi Bush (trombone); Carlos Daugherty (clarinet, saxophone); Charles O. Moseley (saxophone); William Escoffery (banjo); William (Bill) Benford (tuba); Curtis Moseley (percussion). (Julian Arthur was listed as a violinist, but a violin isn’t audible on these recordings.)

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Of course, these clipping don’t tell us who actually was present in the Edison studio. But given the consistency between the April and June reports, and the proximity of the latter to the July session, they’re probably the best evidence we’re going to get — and certainly more to be trusted than the guesswork that’s surrounded this band for so many years.

Hillery — the principal person of interest in this band — was born in Baltimore, where he trained and apparently spent much of his time. Until this discovery, he was a cipher to historians and discographers, although he seems to have been highly regarded in his hometown. Bush and Daugherty were also active in Baltimore in the 1920s, and Escoffery was a native of nearby Washington, DC.

Hillery’s obituary (he died in 1928, at age 28), biographical material on the other band members, and all the other supporting evidence can be viewed on the Charles Matson bio page at grammophon-platten — a beautiful piece of research, and highly recommended, as is the entire site.

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Clarence Williams: Newspaper Highlights (1922 – 1965)

Clarence Williams: Newspaper Highlights (1922 – 1965)

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Advertisement for Clarence Williams’ first record, on the C&S label (1922). The C&S Phonograph Record Company was a short-lived venture of Thomas Chappelle and Juanita Stinnette Chappelle, who encouraged Williams to marry singer Eva Taylor.

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With Sara Martin, one of Okeh’s early race-series stars
(June 1923)

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With wife Eva Taylor (July 1923)

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“Papa De-Da-Da” was among the Blue Five sides featuring
Louis Armstrong. (July 1925)

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A vocal release by Williams and Clarence Todd, here misspelled “Dood.” Todd, along with Eva Taylor, was a member of the Clarence Williams Trio, which broadcast regularly for several years. (July 1925)

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Williams was Okeh’s New York studio workhorse in the mid-1920s. Here, his Blue Five accompany a young Sippie Wallace. (August 1925)

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New York (June 1926)

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Williams’ ill-fated Bottomland opened on June 27, 1927, and closed after only nineteen performances.

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New York Age (January 3, 1953). Member of the Clarence Williams Trio pictured above are (left to right) are Williams, Eva Taylor, and Clarence Todd.

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Working the New York clubs (1951 and 1955)

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.     New York (November 9, 1965)

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