Victor 22866 – Blanche Calloway and her Joy Boys – 1931

Blanche Calloway. late 1920s or early ’30s. Pictured in Of Minnie the Moocher and Me.

We last heard from Cab’s underappreciated sister Blanche Calloway the previous time we celebrated her birthday, with her “There’s Rhythm In the River”/”I Need Lovin'” with Andy Kirk’s band.  Now the time of year has come around once again that we celebrate the birthday of the late Blanche with her music.  As I’ve already gone in to some detail on Blanche’s life in the aforementioned post, I won’t rewrite my biography of her here.

When the band calling themselves “Blanche Calloway and her Joy Boys” began recording for the RCA Victor Company on March 2, 1931, it was essentially as a pseudonym for Andy Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy, fronted by vocalist Blanche.  Not long after that session, before their next, Blanche tried to take over leadership of the Twelve Clouds of Joy for her own.  Andy Kirk however, would have none of that, and so Blanche was left to put together a band of her own, and that she did.  With Kirk band trumpeters Edgar Battle and Clarence Smith still along, Blanche assembled a new “Joy Boys”, with a few future swing era stars—Cozy Cole and Ben Webster most notably—sitting in along the way.  The new Joy Boys, with occasional changes in personnel, continued to record into the middle of the 1930s, cutting seventeen sides for Victor in 1931, four for the American Record Corporation in 1934, followed by a fifth unissued recording the next year, and four more for Vocalion in 1935.  The organization come to an end in 1936, when Blanche and a band member were locked up for disorderly conduct in Yazoo, Mississippi after trying to use a whites only restroom, and another bandmate ran off with all their money.

Victor 22866 was recorded on November 18, 1931 at the Church Building studio in Camden, New Jersey.  It sold a mere 3,233 copies.  Blanche’s Joy Boys are made up of Henry Mason, Clarence E. Smith, and Edgar Battle on trumpets, Alton Moore on trombone, Ernest Purce on clarinet and alto sax, Leroy Hardy on alto sax, Charlie Frazer on tenor sax, Clyde Hart on piano, Andy Jackson on banjo, Joe Durham on tuba, and Cozy Cole on drums.

First, Blanche sings one of her characteristic songs, her own composition, “Growling Dan”, featuring a mention of her brother’s famous Minnie the Moocher.

Growling Dan

Growling Dan, recorded November 18, 1931 by Blanche Calloway and her Joy Boys.

On the flip, she sings a blues song popularized by Bessie Smith, the Clarence Williams and Hezekiah Jenkins composition, “I Got What it Takes (But it Breaks My Heart to Give it Away)”.

I Got What It Takes

I Got What It Takes (But it Breaks My Heart to Give it Away), recorded November 18, 1931 by Blanche Calloway and her Joy Boys.

Victor 22641 – Blanche Calloway and her Joy Boys – 1931

Blanche Calloway. From Cab's autobiography.

Blanche Calloway. From Cab’s autobiography.

On February 9, 1902, 114 years ago to the day, Blanche Calloway came into this world.  Her career is overshadowed by the fame of her brother, Cab Calloway, but she easily possessed just as much musical talent as her better known sibling.  Here are two first-rate jazz songs in honor of Ms. Calloway.

Born into a middle class family of Baltimore, Maryland, Blanche Calloway made her first professional appearance in the local production of Sissle and Blake’s Shuffle Along, against the wishes of her parents.  Beginning in 1923, she toured in Plantation Days, starring Florence Mills, which wound her up in Chicago.  Sometime during her time with Plantation Days, she was joined by her brother Cab.  In 1925, Blanche made her recording debut on Okeh records, singing a pair of blues songs with accompaniment by Louis Armstrong and Richard M. Jones.  Later in the 1920s, she recorded several songs with Ruben Reeves’ River Boys before joining Andy Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy as a vocalist.  After attempting and failing to take control of the Twelve Clouds of Joy (Andy would have none of that), Blanche formed her own band, the Joy Boys, with some of Kirk’s former band mates, and at times had in her ranks Ben Webster and Cozy Cole.  The Joy Boys toured and recorded sporadically throughout the 1930s until she and a band member were arrested in Yazoo, Mississippi for using a whites-only restroom, and while incarcerated, another member of the band absconded with all the group’s money and hightailed it.  After retiring from music in the late 1930s, Blanche went on to a variety of occupations, including founding a cosmetics company in the late 1960s.  Blanche Calloway died of breast cancer on December 16, 1978, at the age of seventy-six.

Victor 22641 was recorded March 2, 1931 in Camden, New Jersey, at Blanche Calloway’s first Victor session.  The band is actually Andy Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy under Blanche’s name, and consists of Harry Lawson, Edgar Battle, and Clarence E. Smith on trumpets, Floyd Brady on trombone, John Harrington on clarinet and alto sax, John Williams on alto sax, Lawrence Freeman on tenor sax, Mary Lou Williams on piano, Bill Dirvin on banjo, Andy Kirk on tuba, and Ben Thigpen on drums.  Blanche Calloway of course provides the vocals on both sides.

First, Blanche sings “There’s Rhythm in the River”, with Andy Kirk’s always excellent Twelve Clouds of Joy backing her.

There's Rhythm in the River

There’s Rhythm in the River, recorded March 2, 1931 by Blanche Calloway and her Joy Boys.

On the flip she sings “I Need Lovin'”, with an even better performance by both Blanche and the band.  Interestingly, this issue has the song incorrectly listed as “All I Need is Lovin'” though some labels show the correct title.

All I Need Is Lovin'

I Need Lovin’, recorded March 2, 1931 by Blanche Calloway and her Joy Boys.