Sun 5 Aug 2012
|Bessie Smith||Aggravatin' Papa||The Complete Recordings (Frog)|
|Bessie Smith||Jailhouse Blues||The Complete Recordings (Frog)|
|Bessie Smith||Any Woman's Blues||The Complete Recordings (Frog)|
|Sippie Wallace||A Jealous Woman's Blues||Louis Armstrong & the Blues Singers: 1924-1930|
|Sippie Wallace||Trouble Everywhere I Roam||I Can't Be Satisfied Vol 2|
|Sippie Wallace||Parlor Social De Luxe||I Can't Be Satisfied Vol 2|
|Rosa Henderson||Don't Advertise Your Man||The Essential|
|Rosa Henderson||I'm A Good Gal (But I'm A Thousan' Miles From Home)||The Essential|
|Rosa Henderson||Strut Yo' Puddy||Rosa Henderson Vol. 2 1924|
|Bessie Smith||The St. Louis Blues||The Complete Recordings (Frog)|
|Bessie Smith||Careless Love||The Complete Recordings (Frog)|
|Bessie Smith||I Ain't Goin' To Play No Second Fiddle||The Complete Recordings (Frog)|
|Sippie Wallace||Lazy Woman Blues||Louis Armstrong & the Blues Singers: 1924-1930|
|Sippie Wallace||Dead Drunk Blues||Louis Armstrong & the Blues Singers: 1924-1930|
|Rosa Henderson||Back Woods Blues||Rosa Henderson Vol. 2 1924|
|Rosa Henderson||Do Right Blues||The Essential|
|Rosa Henderson||Poplar Bluff Blues||The Essential|
|Bessie Smith||Reckless Blues||The Complete Recordings (Frog)|
|Bessie Smith||Send Me To The 'Lectric Chair||The Complete Recordings (Frog)|
|Bessie Smith||Trombone Cholly||The Complete Recordings (Frog)|
|Sippie Wallace||I'm A Mighty Tight Woman||When The Sun Goes Down|
|Sippie Wallace||Bedroom Blues||Albert Ammons: His Best Recordings 1936-1947|
|Rosa Henderson||Rough House Blues (A Reckless Woman's Lament)||Rosa Henderson Vol. 4 1926-1931|
|Rosa Henderson||Chicago Policeman Blues||Rosa Henderson Vol. 4 1926-1931|
|Rosa Henderson||Can't Be Bothered With No Sheik||The Essential|
|Bessie Smith||A Good Man Is Hard To Find||The Complete Recordings (Frog)|
|Bessie Smith||I'd Rather Be Dead And Buried In My Grave||The Complete Recordings (Frog)|
|Bessie Smith||Me And My Gin||The Complete Recordings (Frog)|
|Sippie Wallace||Up The Country Blues||Woman Be Wise|
|Sippie Wallace||Woman Be Wise||Woman Be Wise|
|Bessie Smith||Poor Man's Blues||The Complete Recordings (Frog)|
|Bessie Smith||Empty Bed Blues Part 1||The Complete Recordings (Frog)|
|Bessie Smith||Gimme A Pigfoot||The Complete Recordings (Frog)|
The Classic Female Blues era as it's generally called spanned from 1920 to 1929 with its peak from 1923 to 1925 and resulted in an impressive body of work that's often neglected. As Derrick Stewart Baxter wrote in 1968: "…It is unfortunate that this important side of jazz and blues has been neglected. I do not think that many people realise just how important this era was. It was from the music hall, the travelling show and the Negro circuits, such as T.O.B.A. that many of our jazz musicians sprang What a wealth of talent started in this way. Once you can accept the vaudeville style (and even Bessie Smith showed what she owed to vaudeville), you find yourself in a fascinating world of song and instrumental music. Some of the songs with their amusing titles, very blues based, have gone into the melting pot and influenced our music quite considerably."
Although officially introduced by Mamie Smith with her hit Okeh recording of "Crazy Blues" in 1920, vaudeville entertainers such as "coon shouter" Sophie Tucker and comedienne Marie Cahill anticipated some aspects of the style on record prior to World War I. Most of the women were from the South and toured on the TOBA booking circuit. In the past we've spotlighted many of the blues ladies but not in any real depth. I think it's hard for modern listeners to appreciate some of these early woman singers. The problem is twofold; the earliest records, before 1925, were recorded acoustically which doesn't make for a great listening experience and the other problem is that unless the singer was one of the big names, like Bessie Smith or Ma Rainey, the available recordings are usually presented in pretty rough shape, with little or no mastering done to spruce them up. Today's show is the first installment spotlighting some of the era's bigger names. None were bigger than Bessie Smith who we feature today. In addition we feature recordings by Sippie Wallace and Rosa Henderson.
"Bessie was a queen" said Ruby Walker, her niece by marriage. "I mean, the people looked up to her and worshiped her like she was a queen. You know, she would walk into a room or out on a stage and people couldn't help but notice her-she was that kind of woman, a strong, beautiful woman with a personality as big as a house. No hanging around in the corner, not Bessie! She'd let you know she was there, and she didn't have to open her mouth to do it:' As Bessie's biographer, Chris Albertson wrote in the notes to the groundbreaking The Complete Recordings: "Of course, Bessie took her commanding presence with her to the grave, but her artistry-captured on one 17-minute film and 160 3-minute recordings-has made her immortal. For decades, Bessie also lived on in the memories of those who knew her and heard her perform, but they are a dwindling number as this century draws to a close. 'I don't ever remember any artist in my long, long years who could evoke the response from her listeners that Bessie Smith did" said the late Frank Schiffman, who owned Harlem's Lafayette and Apollo theatres when Bessie was a headliner there. 'Whatever pathos there is in the world, whatever sadness she had, was brought out in her singing-and the audience knew it and responded to it."'
"It has been suggested that Ma Rainey was Bessie's mentor, the person from whom she learned everything she knew, but Bessie's style contradicts that theory, as do the recollections of people who heard her sing in those formative years. '[Ma Rainey] may have taught her a few dance steps, or showed her how to walk onstage,' said the late character actor Leigh Whipper, who first heard Bessie in 1913, when he managed Atlanta's "81" Theatre, 'but Bessie was born with that voice and she had a style of her own when I first heard her in Atlanta. She was just a teenager, and she obviously didn't know she was the artist she was. She didn't know how to dress, she just sang in her street clothes, but she was such a natural that she could wreck anybody's show. She onIy made ten dollars a week, but people would throw money on the stage, and the stagehands would pick up about three or four dollars for her after every performance, especially when she sang the 'Weary Blues'-that was her big number.' Ma Rainey probably]y helped to groom Bessie for life on the road, and she may have introduced her to the blues, but there is general agreement among those who experienced her performances that Bessie had her own style by 1913. Revered gospel composer and former Ma Rainey accompanist Thomas A. Dorsey sold soft drinks at Atlanta's "81" Theatre when Bessie first ventured out on her own. It was about 1913 or 1914" he recalled some fifty years later, 'and Bessie was already a star in her own right, but she really got her start there at the 81 and I don't recall Ma Rainey ever having taken credit for helping her.'"
The major breakthrough for Bessie, and for the recording industry, came in 1923. Mamie Smith in 1920 had recorded "Crazy Blues" in 1920, which sold so well (against all expectations) that Columbia set up a separate division for "race" records. Frank Walker, in charge of the division, had been so impressed years earlier by Bessie’s singing, that he sent the pianist Clarence Williams to bring her to New York. As she arrived, Columbia was on the verge of bankruptcy. Her debut record, "Downhearted Blues" and "Gulf Coast Blues" , sold 780,000 copies in the six months after she recorded the pieces, and helped save Columbia. Over the years she made 160 recordings. At that stage Bessie was receiving an outright $125 per recording; at her height a few years later, she was receiving $2,000/week, and owned her own traveling railway car. During the following ten years she was the foremost recording artist in the world. A widely published contemporary newspaper account gives us some idea of her popularity:
"Streets blocked, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds were unable to gain entrance to this performance…Bessie Smith with lrvin Johns at the piano before their own special drop opened full stage with 'Nobody's Bizness if I Do' with the Gulf Coast Blues' following, which received heavy applause, leaving the house in a riot."
For some reason, many of Bessie’s recordings were accompanied by piano only, which was, presumably, to put all the focus on the voice. But although that might have worked in live performance, on records the results were often disappointing. Her career on record lasted ten years and later she recorded with some of the best musicians around—Louis Armstrong, James P. Johnson, Don Redman, Charlie Green, Coleman Hawkins, and many more—but many of the songs are in the popular form rather than blues. Columbia dropped her in 1931. She recorded once more in a John Hammond all-star session in 1933 with Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden, and Chu Berry.
Bessie continued to perform in the South but in September 1937 was involved in a car accident close to Clarksdale, Mississippi. John Hammond claimed she bled to death because she was refused treatment because of racial prejudice but later admitted he was wrong. In fact, she was treated by a doctor on the spot and in hospital but was too badly hurt to survive.
Beulah "Sippie" Thomas grew up in Houston, Texas where she sang and played the piano in her father's church. While still in her early teens she and her younger brother Hersal and older brother George began playing and singing the Blues in tent shows that travelled throughout Texas. In 1915 she moved to New Orleans and lived with her older brother George. During her stay there she met many of the great Jazz musicians like King Oliver and Louis Armstrong who were friends of her brother George. During the early 1920s she toured the TOBA vaudeville circuit where she was billed as "The Texas Nightingale". In 1923 she followed her brothers to Chicago and began performing in the cafes and cabarets around town.
In 1923 Wallace recorded her first records for Okeh and went on to record over forty songs for them between 1923 and 1929. The sidemen who played on her recording sessions were always excellent and included the cream of New Orleans Jazz musicians, like King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Clarence Williams, Sidney Bechet and Johnny Dodds among others. Sippie moved to Detroit in 1929 and left show business in the early 1930s as the Blues craze ran its course. During the next forty years she was a singer and organ player at the Leland Baptist Church in Detroit. She occasionally performed over the years, but did little in the Blues until she launched a comeback in 1966 . Wallace's next album was called Sippie Wallace Sings the Blues for the Storyville label in 1966. Wallace suffered a stroke in 1970 but managed to keep recording and performing. With the help of Bonnie Raitt she landed a recording deal with Atlantic Records and recorded the album, Sippie, which featured Raitt, was nominated for a Grammy in 1983 and won a W.C. Handy Award for best blues album in 1984.
Rosa Henderson is the least known of today's featured blues queens but was quite popular in her day, cutting some one hundred sides. As Derrick Stewart Baxter wrote: "Her voice was strong, but at the same time possessed a sweet tone. The material she recorded varied from typical vaudeville numbers as He May Be Your Dog, But He's Wearing My Collar, and Hey, Hey, and He, He, I'm Charles ton Crazy to blues like Penitentiary Bound Blues and Back Wood Blues. Also many of her accompanists were of no mean status, including the complete Fletcher Henderson band, and such names as Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Green, Louis Metcalf, James P. Johnson, and countless others. Proof of her popularity with the record buying public was made clear by the number of titles released, and the only reason her recording career was cut short was the death of her husband Slim."
In 1963 Len Kunstadt tracked down Henderson and wrote a feature on her in Record Research: "She speaks glowingly of Fletcher Henderson who helped her out immeasurably with her recordings. She can still remember Fletcher busily scoring her music for her on a noisy subway train as they were studio bound. She remembers veteran pioneer P & B publisher, Joe Davis, musicians: Cliff Jackson, Louis Metcalf, Rex Stewart, Coleman Hawkins, Wendell Talbert, Bub Miley and James P. Johnson. She mentioned that she never feared the great Bessie Smith, professionally, but she had a great deal of respect for Mattie Hite.
"…She began her career about 1913 in her uncle's carnival show. She played tent and plantation shows all over the South with one long streak of 5 years in Texas. She sang nothing but the blues. During this period she married Slim Henderson, a great comedian and showman, and she became professionally, ROSA HENDERSON. Slim joined up with John Mason and from this association a troupe was born which included Rosa. They played the country from one end to the other. In the mid 20s the Mason Henderson troupe really began to hit big time with headline attraction billing in many of the larger theatres. Rosa also received star billing in some independent ventures. …From May 1927 through September 1927 Rosa Henderson was a top race blues recurring artist. She was on Victor, Vocalion, Ajax, Perfect, Pathe, Brunswick, Paramount, Emerson, Edison, Columbia, Banner, Domino, Regal, Oriole, English Oriole, Silvertone and others. Besides her own name she was Flora Dale on Domino; Mamie Harris and Josephine Thomas on Pathe and Perfect; Sally Ritz (her sister's name) on Banner; and probably Sarah Johnson and Gladys White on other labels….In 1927 Rosa was hitting her real stride as a single but just a year later Rosa quit in her prime due to the unexpected death of husband, Slim." She made her final recordings in 1931.