Black Swan 2005 – Lulu Whidby – 1921

In honor of Black History Month, I present to you a Black Swan phonograph record, from the first line “race records” made by and for African American people, featuring the early sounds of vaudevillian female blues, with an early appearance by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra.

The story of Black Swan began during the Harlem Renaissance in 1920, when few black entertainers were afforded opportunities to record for any of the major record labels.  A man by the name of Harry Herbert Pace, previously a business partner of W.C. Handy, founded the Pace Phonograph Corporation in New York, and began to produce phonographs and records.  Pace also brought in a young song plugger from Handy’s company to serve as recording director and leader of the house orchestra, Fletcher Henderson.  Early on, Pace had difficulty finding a company that would agree to press records from the masters he recorded.  Eventually, Pace was able to contract his record pressing to the Wisconsin Chair Company of Port Washington, Wisconsin, makers of Paramount records.  From 1921 to 1923, Black Swan offered records recorded by black entertainers and intended for black audiences.  Some of the top artists on Black Swan included Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters, and W.C. Handy’s Band.  Unfortunately, the company folded at the end of 1923, and all of their assets were purchased by Paramount Records, who began their 12000 legendary race records series shortly thereafter, reissuing many recordings from Black Swan on some of the earliest releases.

Black Swan 2005 was recorded circa April 1921 in New York City by Lulu Whidby with Henderson’s Novelty Orchestra.  It was later reissued on Paramount 12127, and also appeared on Claxtonola 40055.  The early Fletcher Henderson band includes Chink Johnson or George Brashear on trombone, Edgar Campbell on clarinet, probably Cordy Williams on violin, Fletcher Henderson on piano, and possibly John Mitchell or Sam Speed on banjo; the trumpet and tuba players are unknown.  It has been suggested that Garvin Bushell played clarinet at this session, but he did not recall participating.

It has been suggested that the standard 78.26 RPM is too fast for this record, and I can agree to that.  If anyone has a suggestion as to what the correct speed may be, I’ll add new transfers with it corrected.

First, Lulu Whidby sings the classic Harry Creamer and Turner Layton song, “Strut Miss Lizzie”.

Strut Miss Lizzie

Strut Miss Lizzie, recorded circa April 1921 by Lulu Whidby.

On the reverse, Whidby sings Irving Berlin’s “Home Again Blues”.  Henderson’s orchestra really shines on this one.

HomeAgainBlues

Home Again Blues, recorded circa April 1921 by Lulu Whidby.

Okeh 4296 – Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds – 1921

It seems fitting that the first record posted on this site (the introductory one notwithstanding) is the one that inspired the name: Old Time Blues, played by Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds; an early black jazz record, and a pretty fine one at that.

This disc, recorded February 21, 1921 in New York City for Okeh records, interestingly does not feature Mamie Smith herself, instead her backing group, the Jazz Hounds, play a pair of instrumental tunes.  Rust lists the personnel as being Johnny Dunn on cornet, Buster Bailey on clarinet, Leroy Parker on violin, Phil Worde on piano, and Chink Johnson on tuba.  Brian Rust explicitly notes “not Mort Perry” on xylophone, yet Perry Bradford himself states in his autobiography, “on this date, we used Mort Perry on the xylophone.”  Alternatively, perhaps it could be the famous Green Brothers, Joe and George Hamilton, as suggested in the comments by Uncle Dave Lewis.

The first side is a composition by trumpeter Johnny Dunn, who also plays in the recording along with Buster Bailey on clarinet.  Perhaps one could consider this the theme song of this site.

Old Time Blues, recorded February 21, 1921 by Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds.

The flip-side of that record is an instrumental version of Mamie Smith’s first recording, “That Thing Called Love”, composed by Perry Bradford, which heavily features the  unidentified xylophonist.

That Thing Called Love, recorded February 1, 1921 by Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds.

That Thing Called Love, recorded February 21, 1921 by Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds.

Updated on June 24 and November 24, 2016, with with improved audio on June 26, 2018.