Columbia Race Record Shipments (1921 – 1923)
Compiled from the Original Columbia Documentation
by Allan Sutton
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
A3511 • Stafford: Down Home Blues / Monday Morning Blues
A3537 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: West Texas Blues / I Don’t Want Nobody
A3541 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Bugle Blues / Birmingham Blues
A3579 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Put and Take / Moanful Blues *
A3653 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: He May Be Your Man / Rules and Regulations
A3696 • L. Williams: Sugar Blues / The Meanest Man in the World
A3736 • L. Williams: Uncle Bud / Mexican Blues
A3739 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Four O’Clock Blues / Hawaiian Blues
A3746 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Evil Blues / Pensacola Blues
A3787 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Dixie Blues / He Used to Be Your Man
A3815 • L. Williams: I’m Going Away / Bring It with You When You Come
A3835 • L. Williams: If Your Man Is Like My Man / That Teasin’ Squeezin’ Man
A3839 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Hallelujah Blues / Spanish Dreams
A3844 • B. Smith: Down Hearted Blues / Gulf Coast Blues
A3888 • B. Smith: Baby Won’t You Please Come Home / Oh Papa Blues
A3893 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Vampin’ Sal / Sweet Lovin’ Mama
A3897 • L. Miles: Sweet Smelling’ Mama / Haitian Blues
A3910 • B. Smith: Mama’s Got the Blues / Outside of That
A3915 • Gulf Coast Seven: Daybreak Blues / Fade Away Blues
A3915 • L. Wilson w/ Jazz Hounds: Deceitful Blues / Memphis Tennessee
A3920 • L. Miles: Family Trouble Blues / Triflin’ Man
A3921 • A. Brown: Michigan Water Blues / Tired o’ Waitin’ Blues
A3922 • Baxter: You Got Ev’rything / Taylor: My Pillow and Me
A3936 • B. Smith: Bleeding Hearted Blues / Midnight Blues **
A3939 • B. Smith: Yodling Blues / Lady Luck Blues
A3942 • B. Smith: Nobody in Town / If You Don’t I Know Who Will
A3950 • J. P. Johnson: Worried and Lonesome Blues / Weeping Blues
A3951 • Henderson’s Hot Six: Gulf Coast Blues / Midnight Blues
A3958 • R. Henderson: Afternoon Blues / I Need You
A3959 • Fowler: Blues Mixture / Satisfied Blues
A3965 • Ridley: I Don’t Let No One Man Worry Me / Alabama Bound Blues
A3966 • C. Smith: Play It / All Night Blues
A3978 • Gulf Coast Seven: Papa Better Watch Your Step / Memphis Tennessee
A3992 • C. Smith: I Want My Sweet Daddy Now / Irresistible Blues
A3995 • Henderson’s Orch: Dicty Blues / Doo Doodle Oom
A4000 • C. Smith: I Never Miss the Sunshine / Awful Moanin’ Blues
A4001 • B. Smith: Graveyard Dream Blues / Jail House Blues
* 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.
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.