The Playlist • Some May – June 2022 Additions (Free MP3 Transfers)

The Playlist • Some May – June 2022 Additions
(Free MP3 Transfers)

Some favorite new arrivals to the collection, for your listening pleasure.

We’re always looking to acquire top-quality 1920s jazz records in top condition; your lists of disposables — with ruthlessly honest grading and all defects (especially any graininess) noted, along with your asking prices — are always welcome.

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JELLY ROLL MORTON & HIS ORCHESTRA: Pretty Lil  (EE+)

Camden, NJ: July 9, 1929
Victor V-38078  (mx. BVE 49454 – 2)

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KING OLIVER & HIS ORCHESTRA: The Trumpet’s Prayer  (EE+)

New York: February 1, 1929
Victor V-38039  (mx. BVE 48334 – 1)
Oliver present as director, per the Victor files.

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CLARENCE WILLIAMS’ ORCHESTRA: Lazy Mama  (E+)

New York: June 23, 1928
Okeh 8592  (mx. W 400818 – B)

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NEW ORLEANS OWLS: Piccadilly  (E)

New Orleans: April 14, 1926
Columbia 1158-D  (mx. W 142019 – 3)

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CLIFF CARLISLE: That Nasty Swing  (EE–)

Charlotte, NC (Southern Radio Building): June 16, 1936
Bluebird B-6631  (mx. BS 102651 -1)
Cliff Carlisle (steel guitar); other accompanists unlisted in RCA files.

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TED BROUGHTON & ROY RODGERS (as The Hawaiian Songbirds): Happy Hawaiian Blues  (V++ to E–)

Dallas: October 1928
Perfect 11342  (Brunswick mx. DAL 697 – A)

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SOL HOOPII’S NOVELTY TRIO: Alekoki  (E+)

Los Angeles: March 24, 1928
Columbia 1368-D  (mx. W 145908 – 4)

Revisiting Black Swan: Harry Pace, W. E. B. Du Bois, John Fletcher, and the Saga of the Second Black-Owned Record Label

Revisiting Black Swan: The Documented History
Harry Pace, W. E. B. Du Bois, John Fletcher, and the
Saga of the Second Black-Owned Record Label
By Allan Sutton

 

This new account draws on company documents and correspondence between Pace and Du Bois (W. E. B. Du Bois Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries), as well as information newly uncovered while researching John Fletcher’s involvement with Black Swan and the affiliated Fletcher Record Company.

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Founded in December 1920 by Harry Herbert Pace, the Pace Phonograph Corporation was the second black-owned and operated record company (preceded only by George W. Broome’s short-lived venture), and the first to succeed commercially, albeit briefly.

A 1903 graduate of Atlanta University, Pace initially worked in banking, but his interests turned increasingly to music. He and W. C. Handy collaborated on their first song in 1907, and in 1912 the pair formed the Pace & Handy Music Company in Memphis. The company had its first major hit in 1914, with the publication of Handy’s “St. Louis Blues,” and in 1918 it relocated to New York. Pace resigned in late 1920 to launch his recording operation, taking some key personnel with him. Handy recalled, “With Pace went a large number of our employees, persons especially trained for the requirements of our business and therefore hard to replace. Still more confusion and anguish grew out of the fact people did not generally know that I had no stake in the Black Swan record company.”

Harry Pace, W. E. B. Du Bois, and the Birth of Black Swan

On December 27, 1920, Pace wrote to W. E. B. Du Bois that he had formed a corporation to manufacture phonograph records. He held open the possibility of involving others, telling Du Bois, “I made the capital stock elastic enough so as to take others into it if the idea met very favorable consideration.”

The letter also makes clear that it was Du Bois who suggested the name “Black Swan” (in honor of the pioneering African-American diva, Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield). Pace wrote,

I note your suggestion about the name “Black Swan” and it strikes me very favorably indeed. I debated very seriously  whether I should use a fanciful name or whether I should capitalize on my own name and use it… All of this, of course, had been done before I talked with you on the subject.

Pace reported to Du Bois that he had Ford Dabney’s Orchestra under contract and had already made test recordings by the group, which apparently were never issued. He was hoping to do the same, he told Du Bois, with operatic soprano Florence Cole-Talbert, a very young Marian Anderson, and one or two “local folks who are getting in shape, and whom I am trying out with a view of having them record as soon as we are ready to make the permanent masters.”

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W. E. B. Du Bois (left) and Harry Pace (right)

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Pace invited Du Bois to join the new company’s board and provide whatever funding he could. The Pace Phonograph Corporation was formally chartered as a Delaware corporation in January 1921, with Du Bois initially purchasing a single share. The officers at the time of incorporation were Pace (president and treasurer) and D. L. Haynes (secretary). Directors, in addition to Du Bois, included Levi C. Brown, T. K. Gibson, William Lewis, John E. Nail, and Emmett J. Scott. Pace and Du Bois found eager investors not only in Harlem, but in Arkansas, Georgia, Ohio, and other far-flung locations.

Among Pace’s investors was comedian Bert Williams, who according to a misleadingly worded advertisement in The Crisis, “put thousands of dollars into the making of Black Swan records.” It would not be only time that Pace took some liberties in describing Williams’ relationship to Black Swan. Following Williams’ death, Pace took a full-page ad The Crisis, in which he claimed that Williams had intended to move to Black Swan once his Columbia contract expired. Canny businessman that he was, it seems unlikely that Williams would have abandoned a company whose annual sales of his records alone exceeded Black Swan’s total annual sales.

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Pace’s April 1922 ad in The Crisis includes the questionable claim that Bert Williams planned to leave “a White Company” for Black Swan.

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Harry Pace’s townhouse at 257 West 138th Street served as Black Swan’s first office. Among the employees Pace took from Pace & Handy Music was Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Jr., a young pianist from Georgia whom Handy had recently hired as a song demonstrator. Henderson’s defection garnered him the position of recording director and house accompanist, although Pace later admitted he felt that Henderson was not fully qualified for the job. William Grant Still, one of W. C. Handy’s staff arrangers, also made the move.

The studio in which Pace initially recorded remains a subject of debate. The location is not mentioned in any of Pace’s or Du Bois’ known correspondence, nor is there any suggestion in those letters that Pace equipped his own studio or hired a recording engineer. A New York Age article from June 1921 confirms that Pace did not yet have his own studio, reporting that the company was “planning to establish its own laboratory [i.e., studio] in the near future.”

If any of Pace’s pre-production test recordings have survived, they have not been located for inspection. Most of the early issued masters appear to have been made by the New York Recording Laboratories, based upon some distinctive physical and aural characteristics. (NYRL at that time was recording masters for other small labels as well — most notably Arto and Grey Gull, as confirmed in band manager Ed Kirkeby’s session logs — which were assigned master numbers in each label’s own series).

Black Swan Comes to Market

Black Swan records were in production by the early spring of 1921, with initial releases planned for May. Pressing was to be handled by John Fletcher’s Olympic Disc Record Corporation plant in Long Island City. Newly incorporated, Olympic commenced operations in March 1921, the same month in which the earliest issued Black Swan recordings are believed to have been made. Like Black Swan, Olympic advertised its first records as May releases, and their physical characteristics were identical with those of the earliest Black Swan pressings, confirming Harry Pace’s recollection that they were pressed in what he termed the “Remington factory” (the Remington Phonograph Company being Olympic’s parent corporation).

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(Left) An early first-state Black Swan label, showing the sunken ring around the spindle hole and other tell-tale Olympic pressing-plant characteristics. (Right) A second-state label, pressed by the New York Recording Laboratories. Based upon the typeface, it appears that both labels were supplied by the same printer.

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From the start, Pace found himself torn between two disparate markets within the African-American community — a relatively small, affluent group that championed what it saw as culture and refinement (mirroring Pace’s own background and musical preferences); and a far larger working-class group with a growing appetite for jazz and blues records. In August 1921, Pace told The Talking Machine World, “While it is true that we will feature to a great extent ‘blue’ numbers of the type that are in current favor, we will also release many numbers of a higher standard.” In his attempt to present Black Swan as a respectable operation to potential investors, Pace understandably erred on the side of caution in his choice of artists and repertoire.

The first three Black Swan records were announced as ready for delivery on May 4, 1921. Pace’s preference for “numbers of a “higher standard” was immediately apparent. For the inaugural release (#2001), he chose two old concert war-horses, “At Dawning” and “Thank God for a Garden,” sung by soprano Revella Hughes, with violin, cello, and piano accompaniment. There followed two equally straightforward sides by concert baritone Carroll C. Clark, then two blues-inflected pop tunes by vaudevillian Katie Crippen.

Pace reported first-month sales of 10,300 Black Swan records to Du Bois, who forwarded that figure to The Crisis. The editors, apparently unaware that figure was a minuscule fraction of the major labels’ sales for the same period, seemed impressed.

The black press (particularly The Chicago Defender) cast Pace’s attempt to launch Black Swan as nothing less than an epic struggle between good and evil. The venture had barely been launched when the Defender proclaimed that “a great uproar was caused among white phonograph record companies who resented the idea of having a Race company enter what they felt was an exclusive field.” If there was an uproar, it went unreported in trade journals like The Talking Machine World, which covered Black Swan to the same extent as the other small startups of the period, was positive in its reporting on the company, and readily accepted Pace’s advertising.

Pressing-Plant Woes

One of the Defender‘s most absurd claims, flying in the face of what are now well-established facts, was that the Remington Phonograph Company had purchased the Olympic pressing plant for the sole purpose of denying service to Pace—conveniently glossing over the fact that Olympic had indeed pressed Black Swan records, albeit briefly.

What actually caused Pace and Olympic to part company was a surge in orders that Olympic apparently was not prepared to handle. It was decided instead to contract pressing to the New York Recording Laboratories (Paramount). In a postcard to Du Bois, mailed on June 24, 1921, from Port Washington, Wisconsin (NYRL’s headquarters), Pace reported, “I am here arranging for an increased fall and winter production together with a line of Black Swan Phonographs.”

The NYRL pressing plant, although geographically remote, had the capacity for large-scale record production that Olympic lacked, and the company was actively courting new customers. Since Pace was already using NYRL’s New York studio, the move from Olympic made logistical sense, consolidating all Black Swan production within a single company. Black Swan pressings from the summer of 1921 into the spring of 1922 show the unmistakable characteristics of NYRL’s work.

Ethel Waters Sparks a Surge in Sales

The initial Black Swan releases were received politely enough by the press and public. Carroll Clark’s first offering appears to have been a relatively good seller, based upon the number of surviving copies. But the earliest offerings failed to generate the sort of excitement that would be needed to make Black Swan profitable. The situation changed with Pace’s signing of Ethel Waters in April 1921. Already a veteran of the southern vaudeville circuits, Waters was attracting a strong following at Edmond’s Cellar in Harlem.

Waters had already recorded two titles for Criterion Laboratories, an independent studio that supplied several small labels, but there had been no immediate takers (Cardinal eventually released them in September 1921), and Waters decided to visit Pace. Her first Black Swan release (“Down Home Blues” / “Oh Daddy”) was released in July 1921 and became a sizable hit. In October, Pace signed Waters to an exclusive Black Swan contract that reportedly made her the highest-paid black recording artist at the time. In November, she was sent on an extended tour as the star of the Black Swan Troubadours, eventually playing in twenty-one states.

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Black Swan’s first hit: “Down Home Blues” (here advertised in August 1921) brought national attention to Ethel Water and Black Swan. Pace plugged many of Waters’ subsequent releases as “Another ‘Down Home Blues'” (the example above is from late 1922), but none approached the popularity of the original.

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Thanks largely to Waters’ records, Black Swan developed a small following among white customers, including some stage and film stars. It was widely reported that actress Marilyn Miller had presented a “large selection” of Black Swan records to Jack Pickford (Mary’s brother) on their wedding day. The Dallas Express reported, “It is now becoming quite a fad with many stars of the theatrical profession, who have found something different in these all-Colored records, to have them sent to their friends in various parts of the country.”

Pace, however, failed to capitalize on that momentum. He placed no advertising in the white consumer publications and made little effort to court the important trade publications. His advertisements in The Talking Machine World, which did not begin running until August 1921, often appeared to be halfhearted efforts, sometimes simply listing a few artists’ names, or dwelling on past hits rather than fresh releases.

Trixie Smith, Pace’s next star, was signed in January 1922, shortly after she took first place at the Fifteenth Regiment Blues Contest in Harlem. With Waters and Smith on his roster, Pace found it easier to attract new singers. However, the oft-repeated tale that he auditioned Bessie Smith, and rejected her after she stopped to spit in the midst of her test recording, is apocryphal. It appears to have originated in the 1940s with W. C. Handy, who was prone to spinning colorful tales and is unlikely to have been present at the alleged session, given his strained relationship with Pace.

April 1922 saw Harry Pace’s quixotic attempt to cast Black Swan as a contender in the classical field with the introduction of a Red Label series, an obvious play on Victor’s prestigious Red Seals. Victor, which for years had taken legal action against competitors’ use of red labels on classical records, does not appear to have taken any such action in Black Swan’s case, casting further doubt on the Defender‘s claims that the white recording establishment was out to destroy Pace.

The Red Label listing included operatic arias by Florence Cole-Talbert and Antoinette Garnes, and concert selections by Hattie King Reavis. In December 1922, Pace tried to secure concert tenor Roland Hayes for Black Swan, only to be informed by Hayes that he was under contract to Aeolian in England. The series sputtered along until being discontinued in May 1923, marking the end of Pace’s production of original classical recordings.

Marketing Black Swan

With demand for Black Swan records growing steadily, spotty marketing and distribution were hobbling sales. Pace was unable to obtain national coverage through the major jobbers. Although racial prejudice was likely a factor in some cases, small white-owned startups had experienced the same problem for many years. In Pace’s case, however, the major distributors’ lack of confidence probably was compounded by his inexperience in the record business and Black Swan’s targeting of a still-unproven market.

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Lacking a national distributor, Harry Pace recruited small-time retailers and enterprising individuals to sell his records wherever and however they could.

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Pace countered by recruiting small-time retailers and enterprising individuals to sell the records wherever and however they could. In June 1921, he hired Paul Robeson (who was then a student at Rutgers) as a part-time salesman, but missed the opportunity to record him. That autumn, Pace hired C. Udell Turpin (spelled Turpine in some accounts, but Turpin in company correspondence) as his sales manager. A Columbia University business school graduate, Turpin brought along several professional salesmen from a previous venture, but he continued to build Pace’s network of small retailers and individual salespeople as well, advertising in The Crisis, “We want men and women with a backbone and a desire to earn $100 a week…men and women who don’t care what $20 a week people think.”

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Pace depended heavily on heavily on independent salespeople, like Mrs. L. A. Shaw of Dallas, Texas.

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In March 1922, Pace published a Black Swan distributor map in The Crisis that looked impressive at first glance, with all forty-eight states covered to varying degrees. The heaviest concentrations were east of the Mississippi, but many states had a distributor or jobber, and at least a few retail dealers. However, the largest number of dots on the map represented “agents,” those independent salespeople who peddled the records door-to-door, from their homes, or wherever else they could.

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Black Swan record distribution, as depicted in The Crisis
for March 1922.

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In January 1922, The New York Age perhaps unintentionally revealed the company’s financial fragility when it reported that Black Swan had made a profit of slightly more than $3,300 on sales of $104,628.74 in 1921. Although the reporter seemed impressed by the latter figure, it was minuscule by industry standards of the day. Given that Black Swan records initially retailed for $1 (reduced to 85¢ late in the year), and normal wholesale rates were 50% of list price, Black Swan’s 1921 sales probably amounted to between a quarter- and a half-million records, depending upon the ratio of wholesale to direct retail sales. In the same year, Victor sold nearly fifty-five million records.

Enter John Fletcher

On March 25, 1922, assets of John Fletcher’s bankrupt Olympic Disc Record Corporation were auctioned by order of the company’s receiver. The purchaser was Fletcher himself, in partnership with Harry Pace and Michael Naughton. For their winning bid, they acquired ownership of Olympic’s trademarks and masters, but more importantly for Pace, the company’s Long Island City studio and pressing plant.

The Fletcher Record Company was incorporated in New York on May 26, 1922. Fletcher, Pace, and Naughton were listed as directors of the new company, which was chartered simply to “deal in merchandise.” With Fletcher serving as president, and Pace as vice-president and treasurer, the Fletcher Record Company was the first American record company to have a racially integrated executive team, although there appears to have been only minimal interaction between Pace and Fletcher.

The Fletcher Record Company initially served only as a supplier to Pace, providing Black Swan masters and pressings to order; its name never appeared on a Black Swan label. The Pace Phonograph Corporation continued to function as an autonomous entity, with a separate board of directors, and with Harry Pace still largely in control of who and what appeared on Black Swan. It would not be long however, before disguised Olympic recordings began turning up in the Black Swan catalog.

Initially, at least, the arrangement eliminated the production bottlenecks that has plagued Black Swan from the start. Pace was soon able to report, “We are now issuing ten numbers a month instead of three…. We do our own recording, plating, pressing, as well as printing of every description, in the above plant.” However, the operation soon proved to be unprofitable.

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Fletcher-era Black Swan pressings; note the return of the sunken ring surrounding the spindle hole, which is absent on the New York Record Laboratories’ and Bridgeport Die & Machine Company’s Black Swan pressings. Black Swan 60006 is a reissue from Fletcher’s all-white Olympic catalog, with xylophonist George Hamilton Green disguised as “Raymond Green.”

Pace Breaks his Pledge to Use Only Black Artists

Fletcher revived his Olympic label later that year, with an all-white artist roster. Pace had already reissued some older Olympic recordings on Black Swan, under pseudonyms, breaking his pledge to use only black artists.

By July 1922, so much outside material was being released under the Black Swan label that the catalog was split into ten separately numbered series. Of those, only the 14000 race series (replacing the original 2000s) and 7100 operatic series remained purely Pace productions, employing only black artists. The remainder (which included Hawaiian, novelty, sacred, novelty, and classical series) were made up almost entirely of pseudonymous reissues from Fletcher’s Olympic catalog. In an ironic twist, the nation’s first successful race-record label was now producing its own racially segregated catalog, while continuing to falsely claim that it employed only black talent.

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Pace broke his pledge to use only black artists even before going into partnership with John Fletcher. By the time this ad appeared in The Crisis in late 1922, the Black Swan catalog contained many pseudonymous reissues from Fletcher’s all-white Olympic catalog, including the “Xmas records” advertised here.

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The aliases employed by Black Swan for Olympics’ white artists were obviously contrived to suggest black performers. Various Harry Yerkes groups became “Joe Brown’s Alabama Band” or “Sammy Swift’s Jazz Band,” Rudy Wiedeoft’s Californians became “Haynes’ Harlem Syncopators,” and novelty whistler Margaret McKee was renamed “Bessie Johnson.” Recordings
by Irving Weiss’ Ritz-Carlton Orchestra, Fred Van Eps’ Quartet, and Wiedoeft’s Palace Trio were released as “Ethel Waters’ Jazz Masters” while Waters was on tour and likely unaware of the use of her name on records with which she nothing to do. Some Olympic recordings by conventional white dance bands were credited to “Henderson’s Dance Orchestra” or “Henderson’s Novelty Orchestra,” with no first name given but obviously meant to imply Fletcher Henderson’s involvement, even after Henderson had left the company.

At least one newspaper was taken in by the bogus artist credits. A reporter for The Chicago Defender praised the Baltimore Blues Orchestra, “a new musical organization…doing exclusive recording for Black Swan records,” unaware that name was simply a disguise for several white dance bands from the Olympic roster. Whether record buyers were more savvy than that reporter is unknown, but Black Swan sales began to stall.

Black Swan in Decline

Pace reported sales of only 256,202 Black Swan records for fiscal year 1922. In his November 1922 financial statement, he disclosed that Black Swan had experienced “the greatest slump since we began business” during July.

The slump persisted into early October, by which time Pace seemed resigned to average monthly sales of only 25,000 records. “I am trying to devise some sales plan whereby this figure can be greatly increased,” he wrote to Du Bois, “but regret to say that I have not yet hit upon it.” In the same month, Pace set up a dummy collection agency to handle delinquent accounts. Although the operation netted only $544 in its first month, Pace seemed pleased with that figure and reported that the operation was “still pulling them in.”

Pace advertised a new stock issue in October 1922, promising a “certain” 6% return in three years, plus 6% dividends.” But the stock would soon be virtually worthless, and no dividends were forthcoming.

Exit John Fletcher

By late 1922, it was clear to Harry Pace that he needed to disentangle himself from John Fletcher’s pressing plant. Pace Phonograph’s financial report of November 8, 1922, noted, “The factory has been a severe drain on our cash.” On January 20, 1923, he reorganized the Pace Phonograph Corporation as the Black Swan Record Company, ending what had become an unprofitable relationship with John Fletcher. Fletcher carried on alone, but his revived Olympic label failed to attract much attention.

With the Fletcher connection severed, Pace returned to the New York Recording Laboratories for pressings, using the affiliated Bridgeport Die & Machine Company in Connecticut as a secondary supplier. A new three-color label design and the release of a new catalog in May 1923 apparently did little to boost sales.

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Letterheads for the original Pace Phonograph Corporation (above) and the Black Swan Phonograph Company (below), a 1923 reorganization of the original corporation following Pace’s split with John Fletcher.

Artist Exodus

The problems at Black Swan had not gone unnoticed by Pace’s artists. Alberta Hunter was the first star of any magnitude to leave the label. Reportedly unhappy with Pace’s lackluster marketing efforts, she left to sign with Paramount in July 1922. Fletcher Henderson departed that autumn. His replacement was William Grant Still, who took over as Black Swan’s new recording director on November 13. Pace, who later stated that he had not been satisfied with Henderson’s work, predicted that “Still will bring wider experience and more technical musical knowledge than Henderson has had, and I believe will greatly improve the work of the records.” Preoccupied with his theatrical work and growing stature as a serious composer, Still brought about no apparent improvement in Black Swan’s recorded output.

The company’s reorganization and declining fortunes spurred a second and far more damaging artist exodus that began with Trixie Smith’s defection to Paramount in March 1923. Smith was followed in short order by Josie Miles, Julia Moody, Lena Wilson, and others. Many subsequently signed on as free-lance recording artists with music publisher and booking agent Joe Davis, who shopped them around to whatever labels would have them.

In the meantime, Ethel Waters had foregone membership in the Black Swan Troubadours and was now touring independently, in what could only be seen as an ominous sign for Black Swan. When the Troubadours embarked on their 1923 tour, Josie Miles took her place. Waters quit the label in June, after returning from a transcontinental tour to discover that Black Swan was barely operating.

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Ethel Waters returned from her 1923 Black Swan tour to find the company barely operating. She left the label a short time later.

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The Black Swan office hosted a second-anniversary celebration during the first week of June 1923, with little to celebrate. In or around early August, Fae Barnes filled what is believed to have been the last Black Swan recording session.

Only a handful of new Black Swan releases would be forthcoming after July, and some that were advertised are not known to have been released. The label’s final release (Ethel Waters’ “Sweet Man Blues” / “Ethel Sings ‘Em,” recorded in June at her final Black Swan session) was advertised in The Chicago Defender on  December 22, 1923. Black Swan advertised in the Defender for the last time on February 23, 1924. Even then, Pace was still soliciting “agents in every community.”

“Every Effort Should Be Made to Dispose of the Assets”

By the autumn of 1923, Du Bois was looking to cash out of the failing operation. On October 1, he wrote to Pace,

Is there any market for Black Swan stock? I have got to be out of the country attending the Pan-African Conference for three months and I want to finance my house payments while I am gone. If you think of any way I can help myself by the sale or a hypothecation of any part of my stock, kindly let me know.

Pace offered no aid, noting that “summer has been very dull for us.” By then the company had gone dormant for all practical purposes, and its stock was virtually worthless. Its debts, which reportedly included a substantial sum due the New York Recording Laboratories for pressing services, were accumulating at an alarming rate. At year’s end, Black Swan’s board of directors approved a resolution that read, in part,

To make the corporation successful..will require not simply time, but the uninterrupted and undivided services of all the executive officers. We believe that any division of time or of interest will be fatal to the interest of this corporation. If, however, the president and other officials feel that the present condition of the corporation does not warrant them in giving their full services, we think that every effort should be made to dispose of the assets of the organization… .

Paramount Takes Over

In January 1924, Maurice Supper traveled to New York from Paramount’s Wisconsin headquarters to negotiate a buyout of Black Swan. On April 2, The Port Washington Herald reported that Pace had agreed to sell. With Pace’s abandonment of Black Swan, the race-record business was now entirely in the hands of white-owned record companies.

Under terms of the agreement with Paramount, the Black Swan Record Company was to remain in existence, but only on paper, to serve as a holding company for the protection of its shareholders. It would have no further involvement in recording or production. NYRL would take over the Black Swan trade name, trademark,  and goodwill, and it would continue to manufacture and distribute the existing Black Swan recordings. The Black Swan masters would be leased to NYRL, rather than being sold outright, in return for which Pace would be paid a monthly royalty on sales.

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A redesigned Black Swan label appeared in early 1923 (left), following Pace’s split with John Fletcher. Pressings bearing this label were produced by both the New York Recording Laboratories and the Bridgeport Die & Machine Company (the example pictured here came from the latter). The ill-fated Paramount – Black Swan reissue label was introduced in June 1924 by NYRL, which leased Pace’s masters.

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Consumers saw the first evidence of the new arrangement in May 1924, when Paramount’s advertising logo was changed to read “Paramount Records (Combined with Black Swan).” A hybrid Paramount – Black Swan label, combining both companies’ trademarks, was introduced with some fanfare a month later, but it never developed into anything more than a reissue vehicle for previously released Black Swan recordings. Having failed to attract much interest after ninety-nine releases, the Paramount – Black Swan label stalled. The licensing agreement was finally terminated in January 1926, by which time the Paramount – Black Swan label had already been discontinued.

Winding Down Black Swan

Pace spent the next several years attempting to liquidate Black Swan’s remaining debt of $18,006, at one point asking stockholders to contribute $10 for each share they owned. He recalled, “I did not get even the courtesy of a reply from one percent  of the stockholders, and not a dollar were they willing to risk to safeguard $100 invested.”

Pace contributed a few thousand dollars of his own money and made vague allusions to engaging in “other activities” with the potential to raise some funds. The company’s only other significant revue was coming from the heavily mortgaged Seventh Avenue building, which was netting just $2,500 annually in rent.The masters were deemed worthless; a message to stockholders noted “it is doubtful if anything is going to be realized” from their sale.

In a final January 1927 appeal to Du Bois and other investors, Pace characterized his efforts as a “worry for me and punishing effort which appears to be wholly unappreciated by some.” He then turned his back on the recording industry, went on earn a law degree from the University of Chicago, and in later years operated an insurance business.

 

Selected References

“A Consolidation.” Chicago Defender (Apr 19, 1924), p. 6.

“A New York Incorporation.” Talking Machine World (Feb 15, 1921), p. 157.

Allen, Walter C. “Report on Black Swan.” Unpublished manuscript (Jun 12, 1961). William R. Bryant Papers, Mainspring Press Collection.

“Black Swan Artists Broadcast.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1922), p. 43.

“Black Swan Takes Over Company.” Chicago Defender (Apr 1922).

“Black Swan Records—New Firm Announces First List of Productions.” Chicago Defender (May 4, 1921), p. 8.

“C. Udell Turpin Takes Charge.” Talking Machine World (Oct 15, 1921), p. 46.

“Demand for Ethel Waters Record.” Talking Machine World (Aug 15, 1921), p. 89.

“Distribution System of Black Swan Phonograph Records.” The Crisis (Mar 1922), p 221.

Du Bois, W. E. B. Letter to Roland Hayes (New York, Nov 24, 1922), re: Invitation to record for Black Swan. W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries).

— . Letter to Harry Pace (New York, Oct 1, 1923), re: sale of stock.

Du Bois, W. E. B., et al. “To the Stockholders of the Black Swan Phonograph Company” (New York, Jan 2, 1926). Du Bois Papers.

“Gives Jack Pickford Black Swan Records as Wedding Present.” Dallas Express (Nov 11, 1922), p. 1.

Handy, W. C. (Arna Bomtemps, editor). Father of the Blues—An Autobiography, pp. 202–203. New York: Macmillan (1941).

“New Incorporations.” New York Times (May 26, 1922), p. 34.

“New Incorporations—Capital Increases.” New York Times (Feb 1, 1923), p. 28

“New Incorporations—Delaware Charters.” New York Times (Feb 5, 1921), p. 22

“New York Charters—Name Changes.” New York Times (Jan 30, 1923), p. 27

“New Incorporations—New York Charters.” New York Times (Jun 25, 1921), p. 13.

“Now the Fletcher Record Company—Plant of Olympic Disc Record Corp. Purchased by Harry Pace and John Fletcher and Will Be Operated by a New ­Corporation.” Talking Machine World (Jul 15, 1922), p. 57.

Pace, Harry H. Letter to W. E. B. Du Bois (New York, Dec 27, 1920), re: Company launch and Du Bois’ proposal of the Black Swan name. Du Bois Papers.

— . Letter to W. E. B. Du Bois (New York, Mar 21, 1922), re: Financial statement through Dec 31, 1921.

 — . Letter to W. E. B. Du Bois (New York, Dec 23, 1922), re: Roland Hayes, and proposal to press imported Caruso masters. Du Bois Papers.

 — . Letter to Du Bois, et al. (New York, Jan 19, 1927), re: Ongoing attempts to liquidate Black Swan debt.

— . Postcard to W. E. B. Du Bois (Port Washington, WI, Jun 24, 1921), re: Preparations for increased record production. Du Bois Papers.

— . Stockholder Notice (New York, Jan 1, 1923), re: Organization of Black Swan Phonograph Company. Du Bois Papers.

Pace Phonograph Corp. “Black Swan Records.” U.S. trademark filing #149,558 (Jun 23, 1921).

“Pace Phonograph Corp. Changes Name.” Talking Machine World (Feb 15, 1923), p. 124.

“Phonograph Company Making Rapid Progress.” New York Age (Jun 18, 1921), p. 6.

“Purchase Black Swan Business.” Talking Machine World (Apr 15, 1924), p. 168.

“Report of Pace Phonograph Corporation” (Nov 8, 1922). Du Bois Papers.

“Robeson Casts His Chances with Pace Phonograph Co.” Chicago Defender (Jun 18, 1921), p. 9.

“Sales by Class of Record and Total Sales of Records by Units,
Years 1901 and 1941 Inclusive” (Exhibit: Victor record sales). U.S. District Court, S.D. of N.Y., Jan. 26 1943

“The Horizon” (re: First-month Black Swan record sales). The Crisis (Aug 1921), p. 176.

“The Horizon” (re: Black Swan distribution and record sales). The Crisis (Mar 1922), p. 220.

“The Swanola—A New Phonograph” (ad). The Crisis (Oct 1921), p. 284.

Thygesen, Helge, et al. Black Swan: The Record Label of the Harlem Renaissance. Nottingham, UK: VJM Publications (1996).

“To the Investing Public.” The Crisis (Nov 1922), p. 282.

“White Phonograph Record Companies Object to Colored Men Making Phonograph Records.” Dallas Express (Feb 26, 1921), p. 3.

 

Of Related Interest

This new addition to the Mainspring Press Online Reference Library includes listings for all Black Swan records using Olympic masters. It is free to download for personal, non-commercial use.

 

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© 2022 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved. Please contact  Mainspring Press for information on reproducing of any portion of this work in excess of customary fair-use standards.

 

Happy Holidays! • Coming Attractions for Early 2022

Happy Holidays….

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… and best wishes for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2022!
Here a few things we’ll be bringing you in the new year, as part of the free Mainspring Press Online Reference Library:

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THE OLYMPIC DISCOGRAPHY (1921 – 1924)

The first deeply detailed discography of John Fletcher’s ill-fated label — including all the derivative Black Swan, BD&M, and client-label issues; pseudonym unmaskings; release dates; and even some exact recording dates from the files of Ed Kirkeby (who in his pre–California Ramblers days booked Olympic sessions for artists ranging from Nevada van der Veer to Fred Van Eps).

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HERBERT BERLINER AND THE COMPO COMPANY IN NEW YORK: The Compo-Series Masters (1926–1927)

For two years, Herbert Berliner’s New York studio produced electrically recorded masters for Pathé and Gennett while those companies lagged in converting to the new technology. You’ll find all the details here, compiled from the original Compo Company documentation.

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THE EMERSON DISCOGRAPHY (1915 – 1928)
Second Edition

A thoroughly revised and greatly expanded edition of Mainspring’s 2013 best-seller, in a free new downloadable edition that now includes the small-diameter pressings, client labels, and special issues not included in the original print version.

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See Victor Emerson at work and play, in personal photos from the Emerson family collection

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The Playlist • Some October Additions to the Collection

The Playlist • Some October Additions to the Collection

 

A few of this month’s new favorite finds, for your enjoyment. Always looking to acquire similar material in fine condition (true E– minimum, with exceptions made only for real rarities). You are welcome to email your lists of disposables. Please be brutally honest in your assessment of condition, and use standard VJM grading; note all defects, including grainy surfaces and any label discoloration or damage; and state your asking price (no trade offers, please).

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REV. A. W. NIX & CONGREGATION: Pay Your Honest Debts  (EE+)

Chicago: c. January 1930
Vocalion 1470  (mx. C 5197 – )
The take selected is not shown in the pressing, and the surviving Brunswick documentation for this period is largely missing or incomplete.

 

 

JIM JACKSON: Bootlegging Blues  (EE+)

Memphis Auditorium: February 14, 1928
Unissued Victor mx. BVE 41904 – 1  (test pressing)
This take is unlisted in Blues and Gospel Records (Dixon, Godrich & Rye), although it is documented in the Victor files. Take 2 was issued on Victor 21268 in April 1928.

 

 

MEMPHIS MINNIE: New Caught Me Wrong Again  (E)

Chicago: June 22, 1937
Vocalion 03966  (mx. C 2056 – 1)
Accompanying personnel are unlisted in the surviving American Record Corporation documentation. Blues and Gospel Records suggests Blind John Davis as the probable pianist but doesn’t hazard a guess on the bassist.

 

 

CAROLINA TAR HEELS: Shanghai in China  (E+)

Charlotte NC: August 11, 1927
Victor 20941  (mx. BVE 39795 – 2)
Contains racist lyrics, but an otherwise great record. Personnel per Victor ledger: Gwen Foster (vocal, guitar, harmonica); Dock Walsh (vocal, banjo). Victor’s dealer-stock tag describes this as a clarinet polka!

 

 

 

CARROLL DICKERSON’S SAVOY ORCHESTRA: Black Maria  (EE+)

Chicago: May 25, 1928
Brunswick 3990  (mx. C 1977 – A)

 

 

RED NICHOLS & HIS FIVE PENNIES: Back Beats  (E)

New York: March 3, 1927
Brunswick 3490  (mx. E 21721 – 2)

 

 

HOPI INDIAN CHANTERS (GROUP OF M. W. BILLINGSLEY):
Chant of the Snake Dance
  (E+)

New York: March 30, 1926
Victor 20043  (mx. BVE 35252 – 2)

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Columbia Race Record Shipments (1921 – 1923)

Columbia Race Record Shipments (1921 – 1923)

Compiled from the Original Columbia Documentation
by Allan Sutton

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Columbia did a healthy business with its jazz and “blues” records by Black artists in the early 1920s, as this representative sampling from Columbia’s files confirms. On average, shipments were on a par with many records by Columbia’s White pop performers of the period, and they far exceeded those of some prestigious Symphony Series artists. Columbia at the time was marketing these records across racial lines, but that would soon change, with its introduction of the segregated 13000-D / 14000-D series.

Not surprisingly, Bessie Smith was Columbia’s sales champ in this category, although none of her records came close to the million-seller mark, as some pop-culture writers have claimed (nor did any Columbia record during the early 1920s). Columbia underestimated the sale potential of her first release, with an initial pressing run of only 20,000 copies, which turned out to be insufficient to even fill the advance orders. During 1923, she handily outsold such White headliners as Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson, as will be seen in a future installment.

Most of these records had a relatively short life in the catalog, averaging a little over two years. As with ephemeral material in general, the largest sales occurred within the first few months of release, then dropped steadily. Most of the records listed here, if not already deleted, were cut from the catalog during the summer of 1925, when Columbia began purging its acoustically recorded material. The most notable exception was Bessie Smith’s A3844, which managed to avoid the axe until November 1929.

The following is a representative sampling from the Columbia files. It is important to note that these are the number of records shipped, not the actual number sold (actual sales statistics for this period have not survived).

Not reflected in these figures are unsold copies that were returned for credit, although those numbers likely would not have been large, since Columbia placed strict limits on such transactions. And it is not known if these figures include sample, review, and other complimentary copies, which would not count as sales. Nevertheless, they provide a good gauge of relative sales and, by projection, the degree of relative scarcity today. None are true rarities, of course (and a few, like A3844, are still downright common), but some can be surprisingly elusive, especially in decent condition.

 

A3365 • Stafford: Crazy Blues / Royal Garden Blues
Shipped: 116,188

A3511 • Stafford: Down Home Blues / Monday Morning Blues
Shipped: 18,482

A3537 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: West Texas Blues / I Don’t Want Nobody
Shipped: 25,800

A3541 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Bugle Blues / Birmingham Blues
Shipped: 16,870

A3579 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Put and Take / Moanful Blues *
Shipped: 23,582

A3653 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: He May Be Your Man / Rules and Regulations
Shipped: 56,819

A3696 • L. Williams: Sugar Blues / The Meanest Man in the World
Shipped: 40,553

A3736 • L. Williams: Uncle Bud / Mexican Blues
Shipped: 18,568

A3739 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Four O’Clock Blues / Hawaiian Blues
Shipped: 100,872

A3746 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Evil Blues / Pensacola Blues
Shipped: 62,979

A3787 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Dixie Blues / He Used to Be Your Man
Shipped: 50,661

A3815 • L. Williams: I’m Going Away / Bring It with You When You Come
Shipped: 26,885

A3835 • L. Williams: If Your Man Is Like My Man / That Teasin’ Squeezin’ Man
Shipped: 18,004

A3839 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Hallelujah Blues / Spanish Dreams
Shipped: 26,080

A3844 • B. Smith: Down Hearted Blues / Gulf Coast Blues
Shipped: 276,990

A3888 • B. Smith: Baby Won’t You Please Come Home / Oh Papa Blues
Shipped: 152,7679

A3893 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Vampin’ Sal / Sweet Lovin’ Mama
Shipped: 16,899

A3897 • L. Miles: Sweet Smelling’ Mama / Haitian Blues
Shipped: 14,765

A3910 • B. Smith: Mama’s Got the Blues / Outside of That
Shipped: 96,413

A3915 • Gulf Coast Seven: Daybreak Blues / Fade Away Blues
Shipped: 28,425

A3915 • L. Wilson w/ Jazz Hounds: Deceitful Blues / Memphis Tennessee
Shipped: 15,701

A3920 • L. Miles: Family Trouble Blues / Triflin’ Man
Shipped: 9,629

A3921 • A. Brown: Michigan Water Blues / Tired o’ Waitin’ Blues
Shipped: 17,098

A3922 • Baxter: You Got Ev’rything / Taylor: My Pillow and Me
Shipped: 13,624

A3936 • B. Smith: Bleeding Hearted Blues / Midnight Blues **
Shipped: 133,626+

A3939 • B. Smith: Yodling Blues / Lady Luck Blues
Shipped: 45,664

A3942 • B. Smith: Nobody in Town / If You Don’t I Know Who Will
Shipped: 65,887

A3950 • J. P. Johnson: Worried and Lonesome Blues / Weeping Blues
Shipped: 13,447

A3951 • Henderson’s Hot Six: Gulf Coast Blues / Midnight Blues
Shipped: 14,536

A3958 • R. Henderson: Afternoon Blues / I Need You
Shipped: 10,716

A3959 • Fowler: Blues Mixture / Satisfied Blues
Shipped: 7,388

A3965 • Ridley: I Don’t Let No One Man Worry Me / Alabama Bound Blues
Shipped: 18,504

A3966 • C. Smith: Play It / All Night Blues
Shipped: 25,778

A3978 • Gulf Coast Seven: Papa Better Watch Your Step / Memphis Tennessee
Shipped: 20,084

A3992 • C. Smith: I Want My Sweet Daddy Now / Irresistible Blues
Shipped: 20,734

A3995 • Henderson’s Orch: Dicty Blues / Doo Doodle Oom
Shipped: 21,155

A4000 • C. Smith: I Never Miss the Sunshine / Awful Moanin’ Blues
Shipped: 62,435

A4001 • B. Smith: Graveyard Dream Blues / Jail House Blues
Shipped: 206,293

 

* Although some discographies question whether this was a Dunn recording, it is credited to Johnny Dunn’s Original Jazz Hounds on the Columbia accounting sheet.

** Total sales at time of first deletion in Aug 1925. The record was reinstated in the catalog from Jan 1926 to Mar 1928; sales figures for that period are not noted.

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In upcoming installments, we’ll be looking at Columbia shipping figures for pop, ethnic, and classical releases.

 

© 2021 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

 

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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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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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

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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Jabbo Smith: Newspaper Highlights (1928 – 1991)

Jabbo Smith: Newspaper Highlights (1928 – 1991)

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Jabbo Smith with Fats Waller and James P. Johnson in Keep Shufflin’ (New York, February 1928). With the addition of reed man Garvin Bushell, this group cut four remarkable sides for Victor on March 27, 1928, as the Louisiana Sugar Babes.

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The Rhythm Aces records were a musical triumph, but a
sales bust (Chicago Defender, August 1929)

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A battle of the bands in Lansing, Michigan, August 1929. Particularly interesting is the note in the newspaper story concerning Smith’s full eleven-piece orchestra, which is not known to have recorded. The “famous quintet known as ‘Four Aces and a Joker'” mentioned in the article was the small unit that made the Brunswick recordings.

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Jabbo Smith after his move to the Midwest, playing in Racine, Wisconsin
(top, May 1932) and Sheboygan, Wisconsin (bottom, May 1933).

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Jabbo Smith performs to save his home (January 1977). The benefit raised only $700 of the $10,000 he needed, but the concert marked the beginning of a remarkable comeback.

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Hobnobbing with Benny Goodman (February 1980) and
Dizzy Gillespie (November 1979)

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Jabbo in California: Los Angeles (top, December 1980)
and San Francisco (August 1981)

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New York (January 19, 1991)

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And a couple of masterpieces from the Rhythm Aces series —  Personnel, as given by Jabbo Smith to researcher Dick Spottswood in 1966 (and bearing little resemblance to the undocumented, apparently fabricated listings in Rust’s Jazz Records and derivative works), are: Smith (trumpet, vocal), Willard Brown (reeds), Earl Frazer (piano), Ikey Robinson (banjo), Lawson Buford (brass bass).

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JABBO SMITH & HIS RHYTHM ACES – “Four Aces and the Joker” (Jabbo Smith, vocal): Decatur Street Tutti

Chicago: April 4, 1929
Brunswick 7078 (mx. C 3233 – A)

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JABBO SMITH & HIS RHYTHM ACES – “Four Aces and the Joker”: Band Box Stomp

Chicago: August 22, 1929
Brunswick 7111 (mx. C 4100 – A)

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Fletcher Henderson: Some Newspaper Highlights (1923 – 1931)

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
(April 1924)

 

 

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.

 

 

The “Great Day” debacle of 1929. For a detailed account of this unfortunate turning point in Henderson’s career, see Jeffrey Magee’s The Uncrowned King of Swing: Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz (Oxford University Press), available from amazon.com and many libraries.

 

 

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.

 

 

Hard times — New York (July 1931)

 

 

The Louisville Jug Band Gets Arrested (1914), and Other Earl McDonald Snippets

The earliest known personnel listing for the Louisville Jug Band, 1914. “Colvin” presumably is a typo for Ben Calvin, who worked on-and-off with McDonald for many years; could “John Smith” be a typo for Cal Smith, a long-time McDonald associate? (Louisville Courier-Journal, October 20, 1914)

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A 1918 iteration of the Louisville Jug Band, interrupting their Chicago engagement for a week’s appearance at the Antler cabaret in Dayton, Ohio. Can anyone identify the members? (Dayton Daily News, April 14, 1918)

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McDonald and company fared far better than most race-record artists during the early Depression years, thanks to their popular “Ballard Chefs” broadcasts. Originating in Louisville, the program aired in many major cities. (What’s on the Air, April 1930)

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Earl McDonald entertains at the University Kentucky. (Louisville Courier-Journal, February 15, 1948)

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(Louisville Courier-Journal, April 29, 1949)

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SARA MARTIN & HER JUG BAND: I’m Gonna Be a Lovin’ Old Soul

New York: September 1924
Okeh 8211 (mx. S 72837-b)

Clifford Hayes, violin; Curtis Hayes, banjo; Earl McDonald, jug

 

From the “Gennett Record Gazette” – Joie Lichter, Bob Tamm, and the Questionable “Gene Bailey” (1924)

The Gennett Record Gazette was a nifty promo publication filled with photos, release lists, facts, and “alternative facts.” Here are a couple of excepts from Vol. I, No. 4 (April 1924) — one correcting a likely error in Johnson & Shirley’s American Dance Bands on Records and Film, and the other opening a discographical can of worms.

Joie Lichter’s and Bob Tamm’s Milwaukee orchestras visited Gennett’s Richmond, Indiana, studio on March 4, 1924 — Lichter recording five sides, with Tamm squeezing in a single title midway through the session, according to the Gennett ledgers. (“Tamm” or “Tamms”? It appears both ways in press reports and ads of the period, but “Tamm” is favored by a good margin.)

For god-only-knows what reason (since its compilers give none), ADBRF lists the Tamm side as a pseudonymous Lichter recording, even though the ledger, and the detailed information reported below, make that seem unlikely. For what it’s worth, Brian Rust credited the Tamm side to Tamm in his earlier  American Dance Band Discography, from which ADBRF was largely taken. If anyone can offer any credible reason for the change in ADBRF (credible excluding things like “so-and-so is sure he hears such-and-such” or “Joe Blow remembers that somebody said…”), please let us know, and of course be sure to cite the source. If it checks out, we’ll be happy to post it.

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Our next excerpt involves the ubiquitous Bailey’s Lucky Seven. For years it’s been taken for granted that this was a Sam Lanin group, and aural evidence does strongly suggest that was the case on many sides. Many others, however, are more generic-sounding. Unfortunately, the Gennett ledgers offer no clues in either case. (Note that the Bailey’s personnel listings in the various Rust and Johnson & Shirley discographies are all conjectural, even if the authors don’t make that clear. None of it is from file data or other primary-source documentation.)

But here we have one “Gene Bailey, of Bailey’s Lucky Seven” running a question-and-answer column in the Gennett Record Gazette. Not surprisingly, “Bailey” gave no answer whatsoever to the fan’s question concerning the Lucky Seven’s personnel, or where the band was performing, other than a vague reference later in the column to one “Saxophone Joe.”

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So, was there a real Gene Bailey involved with these recordings, and if so, in what capacity? Or was this just yet another case of the Gennett folks having fun with pseudonyms? We favor the latter, since we’ve found no trace of a Gene Bailey having been  active on the New York-area musical scene, either as a musician or a manager, at the time. (These were all New York recordings.  The cartoon above, by the way, is based on a well-known 1923 photo taken in the New York studio, which was configured differently than the Indiana facility).

There’s an old anecdote about Gennett borrowing the names of employees or other locals for its artist pseudonyms. And a Gene Bailey does turns up in the social notices of several eastern Indiana newspapers at the time, although with no mention of any musical connection. But just to muck things up a bit, Gennett once issued a record credited to “Jene Bailey’s Orchestra,” claiming (in the ledger as well as in their ads) that Mr. Bailey personally conducted the side:

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Of course, much of Gennett’s promotional material should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. This was, after all, a  company whose “Colored Records” catalog included a photo of an unknown black band that was captioned “Ladd’s Black Aces” — a confirmed pseudonym on Gennett for the all-white Original Memphis Five.

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While we’re on subject, here’s a terrific book that all Gennett fans should own, by Charlie Dahan and Linda Gennett Irmscher (Arcadia Publishing). It’s available on Amazon.com, and a real  bargain at just $21.99 — crammed with rare photos and little-known facts, and covering a much broader scope than the earlier Kennedy tome. Highly recommended!
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(That’s Art Landry’s Call of the North Orchestra on the cover. At the top, you can see the heavy drapes that contributed to the Indiana studio’s notoriously muddy acoustics.)

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“Race Records” Nominated for 2017 ARSC Award

We’re pleased to announce that Race Records and the American Recording Industry, 1919–1945 (Allan Sutton, Mainspring Press) has been nominated for a 2017 Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded-Sound Research by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections. Winners will be announced later this year.

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Race Records
is available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries. Here’s a peek inside the book, at some of our favorite race-record ads:

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More Early Okeh “Race” Talent Ads (and a Note on the Identity of “Milo Rega”)

A couple more early Okeh race-artist ads, from 1921 editions of The Talking Machine World. Okeh spared no expense for these ads, which were specially printed as single-sided color inserts.

Incidentally, “Milo Rega,” the purported composer of “Sax-o-Phoney Blues,” was not a real person, contrary to some discographies. He was a fictional character, created by cobbling-together two other pseudonyms — “F. Wallace Rega” (actually Fred Hager) and “Justin Milo” (actually Justin Ring). The poor fellow sometimes suffered a split personality, appearing in some Okeh composer credits as “Milo – Rega.” (For more on these and 6,200 other aliases, be sure to check out the new expanded edition of Pseudonyms on American Records.)

These pseudonyms were used in Hager’s publishing business as well as in his and Ring’s work for Okeh. The actual identities of both are confirmed in multiple early-’20s listings in the U.S. Catalog of Copyright Entries, the official federal registry of copyright filings.

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