HENRY (RED) ALLEN & HIS ORCHESTRA: Swing Out (EE+)
New York: July 17, 1929
Victor V-38080 (mx. BVE 53930 – 2)
TINY PARHAM & HIS MUSICIANS: Voodoo (EE–)
Chicago: February 1, 1929
Victor V-38054 (mx. BVE 48844 – 2)
TINY PARHAM & HIS MUSICIANS: Skag-a-Lag (EE–)
Chicago: February 1, 1929
Victor V-38054 (mx. BVE 48845 – 2)
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.
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.
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. .
Theodore Shaw, Oliver Naylor, Duke Ellington,
Bumble Bee Slim & Memphis Minnie,
Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five sans Louis
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.)
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.
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)
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).
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)
BUMBLE BEE SLIM & MEMPHIS MINNIE: New Orleans Stop Time (E–)
Chicago: February 6, 1936
Vocalion 03197 (mx. C 1227 – 2)
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.
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.
.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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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 With Photographs from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s When Malindy Sings
Victor announces the first Fisk Jubilee Singers releases (catalog courtesy of John Bolig)
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 Soundsfor 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.
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.
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.
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):
This latest addition to the Mainspring Press Free Reference Library includes all confirmed American-series catalog listings (catalog numbers, titles, artists, and release dates) for cylinder records produced for retail sale by Columbia from 1896 to the end of its commercial cylinder production in 1909.
Note that this is not a fully detailed cylinderography, which would entail identifying the numerous remakes that Columbia produced over the years (on which different artists were sometimes substituted), changes in spoken announcements and accompaniments, and other details that are not readily available due to the destruction of Columbia’s cylinder files.
Credits are given only for the artists who performed on the initial releases. Thus, you may encounter specimens in your collection that don’t correspond to the artists listed here, particularly on brown-wax numbers that were remade in XP (black wax) format, and on XP-era numbers that were remade during the transition from piano to orchestral accompaniments.
If you do, I hope you will forward that information to Mainspring Press, which will keep it on file in anticipation of eventually producing a truly comprehensive Columbia cylinderography. A work of such scope and complexity will require the involvement of countless collectors and researchers, and is still many years in the future. However, the catalog listings given here should provide a solid foundation upon which to begin building that work.
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.
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:
Harry Pace to W. E. B. DuBois (New York: December 27, 1920). W. E. B. DuBois Papers, University of Massachusetts-Amherst Special Collections.
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.
MARIAN ANDERSON: Go Down, Moses
Camden, NJ: May 29, 1924 Victor 19370 (mx. B 29896 – 9) With studio orchestra directed by Charles Prince
University Press of Mississippi
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.
Leslie Gerber, Tim Brooks, and Steve Smolian, producers
Parnassus PACD-96067 (CD)
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.
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.
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)
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)
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:
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.)
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.
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.
With Sara Martin, one of Okeh’s early race-series stars
With wife Eva Taylor (July 1923)
“Papa De-Da-Da” was among the Blue Five sides featuring
Louis Armstrong. (July 1925)
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)
Williams was Okeh’s New York studio workhorse in the mid-1920s. Here, his Blue Five accompany a young Sippie Wallace. (August 1925)
New York (June 1926)
Williams’ ill-fated Bottomland opened on June 27, 1927, and closed after only nineteen performances.
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.
Working the New York clubs (1951 and 1955)
. New York (November 9, 1965)
And a sampling from Williams’ tremendous recorded output:
CLARENCE WILLIAMS’ ORCHESTRA: Jingles
New York: October 1927
Paramount 12587 (mx. 2882 – 2) Featuring Coleman Hawkins, on loan from Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra
CLARENCE WILLIAMS & HIS BOTTOMLAND ORCHESTRA:
Slow River (export version)
New York: June 7, 1927
Brunswick (German) A-457 (mx. E 23502) The standard version (mx. E 23500) includes vocal chorus by Evelyn Thompson (Preer).
CLARENCE WILLIAMS’ WASHBOARD FIVE (Williams, vocal):
Walk That Broad
New York: September 26, 1928
Okeh 8629 (mx. W 40115 – A)
CLARENCE WILLIAMS’ JAZZ KINGS: The Keyboard Express
New York: August 1, 1928
Columbia 14348-D (mx. W 146825 – 3)
CLARENCE WILLIAMS & HIS ORCHESTRA (as Memphis Jazzers): Close Fit Blues
New York: March 1929
Van Dyke 7801 (Grey Gull mx. 3394 – B)
The success of Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” in 1920 set off a mad scramble among record companies for similar artists. Many of the women who were signed in the early days of the “blues craze” — like Esther Bigeou — were not blues singers at all, but vaudeville comediennes who specialized in blues-inflected pop tunes.
From a prominent New Orleans Creole family, Bigeou married theatrical producer Irvin C. Miller and was soon landing featured roles in his stage productions. She first attracted the critics’ attention in 1915, in Miller’s Mr. Ragtime.
Miller and unidentified female cast members, one them presumably Esther Bigeou, from Mr. Ragtime (September 1915)
Praise for Bigeou in The New York Age (September 9, 1915)
Bigeou went on to star in Miller’s Broadway Rastus, which opened at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem in July 1917, after a try-out on the road that took the company throughout the mid-Atlantic states.
An overworked Esther Bigeou takes a break (August 1917)
Suffering from “a variety of ailments due to overwork,” Bigeou took a break for several weeks after Broadway Rastus closed its brief run at the Lafayette. The company was soon on the road again, embarking on a year-long tour during which audiences and critics alike heaped praises on Bigeou.
Broadway Rastus on the road: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (September 1918)
By early 1920, Bigeou had parted ways with Miller and was touring in Perrin & Henderson’s Lyric Road Show, an obscure revue that also starred “Mlle.” Rosa Henderson, who would become one of the most prolific of the “blues craze” recording artists. Miller’s Put and Take opened at the Town Hall, New York, on August 23, 1921. The female featured role, which might have gone to Bigeou, instead was given to Edith Wilson. Miller went on to marry Kathryn Boyd, who was given a position as Miller’s road manager that she found to be “a little too strenuous.”
The Okeh label signed Bigeou in the autumn of 1921. Her first release, a coupling of the already over-used “Memphis Blues” and “St. Louis Blues” (Okeh 8026) appeared in the Christmas 1921 list but seems to have attracted little attention. “Stingaree Blues,” her November follow-up (Okeh 8025), seems to have sold reasonably well based on the number of surviving copies, despite its plodding accompaniment.
Many of Bigeou’s Okeh releases were covers of other artists’ hits on competing labels — in this case, Bessie Smith’s popular Columbia recording of “Gulf Coast Blues.”
Although Okeh did not renew Bigeou at the end of 1923, she continued to promote her records for a time (Pittsburgh, February 1924)
Overall, Bigeou’s Okeh output will disappoint hard-core blues enthusiasts. The performances are purely in the vaudeville-blues vein, with accompaniments ranging from mediocre to awful, and many are simply cover versions of other singers’ hits on competing labels. Okeh released seventeen Bigeou titles before letting her go at the end of 1923. Only her last is of above-average interest, with a rollicking accompaniment by the Piron orchestra that imparts a Creole flavor not evident on her other recordings:
ESTHER BIGEOU with ARMAND J. PIRON’S NEW ORLEANS ORCHESTRA: West Indies Blues
New York: December 1923
Okeh 8118 (mx. S-72175 – B)
Okeh recorded Bigeou again in December 1926, accompanied by Clarence Williams’ Blue Five, but no issues resulted. By then, Bigeou was touring with her own company on the T.O.B.A. vaudeville circuit. In late 1927, she joined the cast of Southland Follies. But perhaps her most visible role was as a celebrity endorser of Hi-Ja beauty products, in whose ads she appeared from 1925 through 1929.
The Pittsburgh band that recorded for Gennett as Lois Deppe’s Serenaders in 1923 began life as The Symphonium Serenaders, under the direction of reed player Vance Dixon. Deppe served as manager and vocalist. Earl Hines was already a featured attraction when the band broadcast from the Westinghouse studio in Pittsburgh on August 5, 1922. He performed two piano solos on that broadcast, “Southland” and “Original Blues” (Pittsburgh Courier, “Westinghouse Radio Program for Today”).
A photo of the band, with Hines present, appeared in the Pittsburgh Courier for July 21, 1923. We’re especially fortunate that all members of the band (even the juvenile “mascot”) are identified. Not surprisingly, the personnel are at odds to some extent with the anecdotal listing published in Brian Rust’s Jazz Records and copycat works.
The Deppe band in July 1923; Earl Hines is in the back row, fifth from the left.
On September 1, 1923, the Courier reported that Deppe and Hines would go to New York to “register” with Okeh records. Apparently Okeh was not interested. If any recordings were made (and we have no way of knowing for certain, since Okeh’s files for the early 1920s are long-gone), they are not known to have been issued.
The Pittsburgh Courier on Deppe’s and Hines’ recording activities
Deppe instead went the private-issue route, paying Gennett records to record his band in their Richmond, Indiana, studio in October 1923. The presumably correct personnel as listed by the Courier, which differs from Brian Rust’s anecdotal listing, appear below, with the personnel from Rust’s Jazz Records (sixth edition) for comparison.
Discrepancies in Rust are shown in red italics. Brassfield is known to have left the band by the time these recordings were made. It’s certainly possible that some changes occurred between the July photo and the October recording session, but since he listed no source (as was usual in his work), Rust’s personnel are questionable at best:
Gennett “specials” of this type were not listed in the company’s catalogs. Recording and production were paid for entirely by the artists, who were responsible for their own marketing and sales. A few specials are known to have been placed in the Starr Piano Company’s various retail outlets, but most often they were hawked directly by the artists, or were sold by independent dealers (as was the case with Deppe):
November 1923 announcement of the first Deppe disc (Pittsburgh Courier)
Only two titles by the full band were released. “Falling” is of little interest, but “Congaine” (Hines’ own composition) features a lengthy piano solo. The record is a rarity, so a dubbed reissue will have to suffice until something better comes along:
DEPPE’S SERENADERS: Congaine
Richmond, Indiana: October 3, 1923
Gennett (special) 20012 (mx. 11630-A)
Of more interest are Deppe’s vocal sides, not for the singing (a frankly awful attempt in the Noble Sissle vein), but for Earl Hines’ accompaniments. Again made as Gennett “specials,” on November 6, 1923, they reveal a young Hines still very much under the influence of James P. Johnson.
“Southland,” posted here, is a mash-up of the Harry T. Burleigh’s adaptation of the old spiritual “Deep River,” and “Dear Old Southland,” a popular 1921 rip-off by the black vaudeville team of Creamer & Layton, which added a second strain and retrofitted some cornball “mammy-and-home-on-the levee”–type lyrics to the original melody. We’ve had to rely on a particularly bad dubbed reissue here:
LOIS DEPPE (EARL HINES, piano): Southland [“Deep River” and “Dear Old Southland”]
While we’re on the topic, there’s a reference to someone listed simply as Deppe in band manager Ed Kirkeby’s log for May 2, 1922. (No coverage of Lois Deppe in the Pittsburgh papers has been found from mid-April through mid-May 1922, so it’s possible that he could have visited New York at that time.) The occasion was an Arto remake session for the song “Georgia,” and the cryptic notation reads simply,
10:30 [a.m.] – Remake – Jazz Band
11 [a.m.] – Deppe – Georgia.
So — Did the Deppe band remake this title, and/or did Deppe record it as a vocal for Arto? If so, it was never released. The issued version was credited to the Superior Jazz Band, an obviously white band that played in the style of the Original Memphis Five (although they were not the same band, as has been erroneously stated in some discographies).
Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra: A Few Newspaper Highlights from Our Ongoing Henderson Research (1923 – 1931)
An even earlier example of a Henderson satellite band (see previous post) — a November 15, 1924 appearance in Watsonville, California. The actual Henderson band recorded in Columbia’s New York studio on November 14. Given the state of American transportation at the time, the band could not possibly have reached California by the following day, and then returned to New York in time for its November 17 Plaza date. (There is no connection to the “Tennessee Ten” on Victor records, which was a white band.)
Henderson was a prolific broadcaster (this relatively early example is from August 1923). He accompanied Emma Gover and Edna Hicks on some of their recordings during this period. The 1923 Gover–Henderson Pathé sides were brokered by band manager Ed Kirkekby (whose California Ramblers did not yet occupy him full-time), as confirmed in Kirkeby’s logbook.
As one of several headliners with the Club Alabam’ show
A plug for Henderson in a 1924 popularity contest. In the early 1930s he was bested by Blanche Calloway in a similar contest, but only by a few votes. (New York, November 1924)
Sam Lanin sharing the bill with Henderson at the Roseland, during Louis Armstrong’s tenure with the Henderson band (New York, December 1924)
Romano’s was one of several white bands, besides Lanin’s, to share the bill with Henderson at the Roseland. (New York, September 1924)
The Henderson orchestra, or a small unit from it (depending upon the session), masqueraded as The Dixie Stompers for Columbia’s low-priced Harmony line. (June 1926 ad for an April recording)
“The white man of colored musicians” — a supposed compliment? (Pottsville, Pennsylvania, July 1926)
Henderson and cutting-edge phonographic technology — the Brunswick Panatrope, the first all-electric phonograph for the consumer market (although the Henderson orchestra had not made any electrical recordings for Brunswick at that time). Scranton, Pennsylvania, June 1926.
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, June 1926
Pottsville, Pennsylvania (July 1926)
A Henderson band and Ed Kirkekby’s California Ramblers made several joint appearances during their summer 1926 tours. Earlier, while still a freelance band manager and talent broker, Kirkeby had secured some recording sessions for Henderson, as confirmed in his logbooks. (Scranton, Pennsylvania, August 1926)
Pittsburgh, July 1926
Battle of the bands at the Roseland, with Henderson facing off against Jean Goldkette’s newly arrived orchestra (New York, October 11, 1926)
Chillicothe, Ohio, July 1927
Henderson’s auto accident in August 1928 took a heavy toll on him,
as well as on his band (September 1 report)
New York, June 1929. The mention of “classical airs” bears out reports that the band’s full repertoire was not represented on its records.
Henderson’s orchestra had been a mainstay of Columbia’s standard pop catalog since 1923, but for reasons unknown, the company assigned his December 1928 recordings of “Come On, Baby!” (a commercial hit tune) and “Easy Money” to the segregated 14000-D Race series. He was quickly returned to the pop series.
If the Victor contract referenced in this June 1931 blurb was truly exclusive, it’s not reflected in Henderson’s actual Victor output for 1931–1932, which was intermixed with releases on several competing labels and fell far short of the twenty records per year mentioned here.
One aspect of Fletcher Henderson’s career that’s been generally overlooked by most of his biographers is his use of “satellite” bands — those second-string groups that busy bandleaders dispatched under their names to tour the boondocks or play low-prestige events like college and civic-group dances. This was a common practice in the 1920s, known to have been engaged in by Harry A. Yerkes*, Ed Kirkeby, and other popular band leaders and managers.
The first mention of a suspected Henderson satellite band appeared in March 1925. Henderson’s Rainbow Orchestra, it was reported, was a new unit that would “bid for popular favor against Mr. Henderson’s original Roseland Orchestra.”
An early mention of Henderson’s Rainbow Orchestra (March 1925)
Whether Henderson’s Rainbow Orchestra was a separate unit, as the article suggests, or perhaps just a small group drawn from the main band, remains unclear. No recordings credited to Fletcher Henderson’s Rainbow Orchestra are known. The name (sometimes spelled “Rainbo”) appeared in newspaper ads off-and-on for a few months, mostly in connection with a touring band that played the smaller cities in Pennsylvania and central New York state.
There is far more certainty surrounding Fletcher Henderson’s Collegians. This appears to have been a group of younger musicians who were employed primarily as a touring band. The name first appeared in the autumn of 1925, with one advertisement describing the group as “A Fletcher Henderson unit of young colored boys full of ‘pep.’”
Altoona, Pennsylvania (October 2, 1925)
Based on strong circumstantial and aural evidence, it seems virtually certain that the Collegians were a Henderson satellite band. There are confirmed instances of the group appearing in far-flung locations on the same dates that Henderson’s main band is known to have been performing, recording, or broadcasting in New York city. The Plaza Music Company released three very un-Hendersonlike sides credited to Fletcher Henderson’s Collegians, and they can come as a bitter disappointment to unwary collectors. The mundane stock arrangements and total absence of Henderson’s own readily recognizable soloists strongly suggest that these recordings were the work of a band that was his in name only:
FLETCHER HENDERSON’S COLLEGIANS (Andy Razaf, vocal):
Dear, On a Night Like This
New York (Independent Recording Laboratory): November 26, 1927 Regal 8441 (mx. 7622 – 3)
Ads for Henderson’s Collegians vanished in early 1928. In the meantime, another apparent satellite band had surfaced — Fletcher Henderson’s Stompers (not to be confused with The Dixie Stompers, an alias that Columbia used to mask the actual Henderson band, or a small unit derived from it, on its low-priced Harmony and Velvet Tone labels). Ads for the Stompers began appearing in the autumn of 1927. An article from October of that year reported that Henderson’s brother Horace was directing the group:
Horace Henderson as director of Fletcher Henderson’s Stompers (Pittsburgh, October 1927)
The Stompers’ itinerary is well documented in newspapers of the period. Like the Collegians, they are known to have been traveling on some dates when the main Henderson band was performing or recording in New York or Chicago. Occasional ads declaring that “Fletcher Henderson himself” would appear suggest that his presence with the group might have been something out of the ordinary. The Stompers spent the autumn of 1927 and early winter of 1928 crisscrossing Pennsylvania and parts of New York state. Aside from Pittsburgh, the band played mostly smaller cities and college towns.
Benny Carter as director of Fletcher Henderson’s Stompers (Mansfield, Ohio, September 1928). Several months later, Horace Henderson took over the Stompers name for his own band.
One Bennett Carter took over direction of the Stompers in the summer of 1928. Better known to modern listeners as saxophonist and arranger Benny Carter, he began working with Fletcher Henderson’s main band later that year, playing a key role in reshaping what had become a rather slipshod outfit following Henderson’s late-August auto accident.
Horace Henderson subsequently appropriated the Stompers name for his own band, ads for which began running in early 1929. Occasional ads for Fletcher Henderson’s Stompers continued to appear into mid-1930, intermixed with a larger number for Horace Henderson’s Stompers, mostly involving one- or two-night stands in Pittsburgh and some smaller Pennsylvania cities.
* Not the same individual as Hulbert A. Yerkes, a Columbia records executive who went by the initials “H. A,” causing some writers to conflate the two.