Brunswick 6162 – Connie Boswell – 1931

We’ve celebrated the anniversary of the incomparable Miss Connie Boswell’s birth several times before here on Old Time Blues, but this time around it’s particularly significant, for it’s her 110th birthday.  Likewise, this is a particularly significant record for the occasion: Connie’s first solo record (excepting her early 1925 straggler).

Connie Boswell around 1932.

Connie was born Constance Foore Boswell—taking her middle name from her mother’s maiden name—in Kansas City, Missouri on December 3, 1907, the third of the Boswell children, and the middle Boswell sister.  They relocated to Birmingham when Connie was about three years old, and it was there where she suffered the incident that would leave her crippled, most likely by a bout of infantile paralysis, though her mother claimed it was the result of an accident involving a toy wagon.  In any event, she was left completely incapacitated, yet in spite of adversity, Connie recovered, even being able to stand up and walk after a fashion for a time, though she would later rely on a wheelchair.  Soon after the accident, the Boswells packed up and moved to New Orleans, where the children were exposed to—and became a part of—the genesis of jazz.

The three Boswell Sisters became a popular musical act around town, singing harmony and playing instruments; when the Victor Talking Machine Company made their first field trip to Houston and New Orleans, the Boswells made their first record.  Several years later, after some setbacks, the trio left for Chicago to embark on a vaudeville tour.  Eventually, they wound up in California, where they settled for a time in Los Angeles and became popular radio personalities.  Then a young hotel clerk they’d met and befriended in a seedy joint in San Francisco—Harry Leedy—came to visit and convinced them to take him on as their manager, and later Connie’s husband.  He succeeded in getting them a contract with Brunswick, and they traveled to New York to make records.  But in spite of his successful management of the trio, Leedy believed that Connie was the only sister with a lick of talent, and that the other two were essentially superfluous.  He pushed for Connie to do more solo work, which she did, and he positioned her to take more leading vocals on the Sisters’ records.  Ultimately, it’s likely that Leedy contributed considerably to the tensions that resulted in the Boswell Sisters 1936 breakup.

After the disintegration of the trio, Connie’s career fell into a bit of a slump, but her runaway swing hit of von Flotow’s “Martha” brought fast to the spotlight.  Throughout the remainder of the 1930s, and into the ’40s, she remained one of the most popular singers in the nation, duetting frequently with Bing Crosby.  She made a number of noteworthy film appearances in It’s All Yours and Artists and Models in 1937, the latter which saw her sing the Academy award nominated “Whispers in the Dark”, Kiss the Boys Goodbye in 1941, Syncopation in 1942, and Swing Parade of 1946.  Around 1942, she altered the spelling of her name to “Connee”, stating that it was easier to sign, but also possibly due to numerological reasons recommended by her sister Martha.  In the years following the Second World War, Connee Boswell’s career began to slow down, and she took a hiatus from her long time association with Decca Records in 1946.  The following year, she made two records for Apollo, and then quieted down for a five year stretch.  In 1952, Connee made a triumphant return to Decca, accompanied by Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five, but her voice was beginning to sound noticeably hoarse in her mid-forties.  Nonetheless, she continued making records and television appearances on programs such as The Ed Sullivan Show through the decade, concluding with her final album in 1958.  Also in ’58, she made an appearance in the movie Senior Prom, and took a recurring role as “Savannah Brown” in the television adaptation of Pete Kelly’s Blues.  Slowing down in the 1960s, Connee made two rock ‘n’ roll-esque 45s for the Charles label in 1962, her last commercial records.  After a fairly quiet decade, Connee Boswell died of stomach cancer on October 12, 1976.

Brunswick 6162 was recorded around July 27, 1931 in New York City.  Connie Boswell is accompanied more-or-less by the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra, consisting of Manny Klein on trumpet, on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet, Harry Hoffman on violin, sister Martha Boswell on piano, Dick McDonough on guitar, Joe Tarto on string bass, and Chauncey Morehouse on drums and vibraphone.

First, Connie sings an upbeat composition by the Harries Tobias and Barris, “What is It?”, with a little swinging going on in the background.

What is It?, recorded July 27, 1931 by Connie Boswell.

Next, Connie sings the lovely “I’m All Dressed Up With a Broken Heart”, a song which, much like Russ Columbo’s “You Call it Madness”, is truly evocative of its era.

I’m All Dressed Up With a Broken Heart, recorded July 27, 1931 by Connie Boswell.

Victor 19639 – Connie Boswell/Boswell Sisters – 1925

In 1925, the Boswell Sisters had made quite a name for themselves in their hometown of New Orleans.  Three years prior, they had won a talent contest for WAAB radio, which earned them a three day gig at the Palace Theatre.  They were regularly engaged around town, particularly at functions of the Young Men’s Gymnastic Club, whose promotive director had taken a shine to the Bozzies.  It was a YMGC function where the sisters were noticed by vaudeville headliners Van and Schenck, who were at the time playing at the Orpheum.  They loved the Boswells’ act, and promised to pull some strings in their favor when they returned to New York.  Very soon after that, they cut their first record.  E.T. King of the Victor Talking Machine Company was in town with mobile recording equipment, just in from Houston on the first such “field trip” they ever made (though not the first recording session held in New Orleans).  The Boswell Sisters were the first artists to record for Victor in New Orleans, they cut three sides, “You Can Call Me Baby All the Time”, “I’m Gonna Cry (The Cryin’ Blues)”, and “Pal o’ Mine” on March 22, 1925, followed by “Dad” and “Nights When I Am Lonely” on the 25th.  Only two of those five were issued.  Other artists to record on the historic New Orleans field trip were Tony Parenti’s Famous Melody Boys, Piron’s New Orleans Orchestra, and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings.  Reportedly the Boswells’ record was mistaken for a “race” record, and as a result kept out of many record stores.  Nonetheless, the sisters were eager to head to Camden and cut a few more, though fate held them in New Orleans until 1928.

Victor 19639 was recorded on March 22 and 25, 1925 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  These recordings were made acoustically, shortly before Victor commenced mainstream electrical recording (though they had made several prior to these).  It is the Boswell Sisters first record, as well as their only record made in the 1920s.

Tragically, this record arrived in my possession broken in three pieces, the result of incompetent packing (one of the worst jobs I’ve ever seen), and can be seen on the “wall of shame” on Old Time Blues’ guide to packing 78s.  I couldn’t allow a record this rare and this great to remain in pieces however, so I set about repairing it.  After warming up by repairing two other broken discs, I carefully lined up the grooves, setting the pieces as tightly together as possible, and superglued the edges and run-out to hold it together.  Fortunately, it tracked, and played with clicks.  After transferring, I painstakingly removed every click the cracks caused, and equalized out the rest of the thumps.  The end result exceeded my every expectation of what this broken record could sound like.  A few slight clicks still remain, but I believe you’ll find that it sounds quite clean, all things considered (seeing as it has the equivalent of four cracks to the label in it).

First, in the style of her idol Mamie Smith, seventeen-year-old Connie belts out “I’m Gonna Cry (Cryin’ Blues)”, accompanied on piano by her sister Martha.  Young Vet joins in later on to help Connie vocally imitate a hot instrumental break.

I'm Gonna Cry (Cryin' Blues)

I’m Gonna Cry (Cryin’ Blues), recorded March 22, 1925 by Connie Boswell.

Next, all the sisters join in on “Nights When I Am Lonely”, which features the Bozzies’ trademark style of scat known as “-ggling” (that’s pronounced “gulling”).  On this side, they are accompanied on piano by Vitaly Lubowski, who had recorded the previous day with Tony Parenti’s Famous Melody Boys.

Nights When I Am Lonely

Nights When I Am Lonely, recorded March 25, 1925 by the Boswell Sisters.

Decca 1600 – Connie Boswell with Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats – 1937

Connie Boswell with ceramic cats, late 1930s.

Connie Boswell with ceramic cats, late 1930s.

The time has come once again to remember Miss Connie Boswell of the famous Boswell Sisters on the anniversary of her birth.  Last time, we celebrated the occasion with her “Washboard Blues”.  Since I’ve already covered Connie’s life, let’s instead take a look at a very important record in her career.

In 1936, the Boswell Sisters had taken their last curtain call.  Connie was the only one still singing professionally, and the Andrews Sisters came to fill the role once occupied by the Bozzies.   Though already a popular recording artist, the following year, Connie came up with something that was to make hers one of the biggest names in popular music through the 1940s.  Inspired by her childhood love for Caruso, as well as that for her sister Martha, Connie wanted to swing Friedrich von Flotow’s “M’appari tutt’amor” from the opera Martha.  At first, Decca was hesitant to release the swinging tune, worried that desecrating the operatic piece as jazz would spark outrage, but she convinced them, assuring the company that she would assume full responsibility if things turned sour.  On the contrary, “Martha” was Connie’s biggest hit since the breakup of the Boswell Sisters, and made her one of the biggest things of 1938, earning her a newspaper interview with famed reporter Ernie Pyle.  The attention Connie received even caused bandleader Larry Clinton to send an irritated letter accusing her of ripping off the idea from him.  After “Martha”, Connie held her position, making a series of hits, including a number of duets with Bing Crosby, until a 1947 hiatus took her out of the Hit Parade until her return to recording in 1951, at which point she revived “Martha” in “soundie” format for Snader Telescriptions.

Decca 1600 was recorded on November 13, 1937 in Los Angeles, California.  Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats are made up of Yank Lawson on trumpet, Warren Smith on trombone, Matty Matlock on clarinet, Eddie Miller on tenor sax, Bob Zurke on piano, Nappy Lamare on guitar, Bob Haggart on string bass, and Ray Bauduc on drums.

Below, taking up more space on this page than I’d like, you can see Connie Boswell’s own lyric sheet, most likely a rough draft, for “Martha”, presumably typed by Connie herself.  It is typed on a letterhead bearing the name of Harry Leedy, Connie’s husband and manager, as can be seen through the paper near the bottom.  Evidently, she made a mistake and flipped the sheet over to type on the other side.

Lyrics for "Martha" hand typed, presumably, by Connie herself, on Harry Leedy letterhead.

Lyrics for “Martha” hand typed, presumably, by Connie herself.

Now, the much anticipated, and unfortunately under-appreciated today, “Martha (Ah So Pure [M’appari tutt’amor])” really swings, thanks in no small part to the top-of-the-line accompaniment by Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats.  As you can see, Decca took special care to label it “Swing Vocal” rather than simply “Vocal”

Martha

Martha, recorded November 13, 1937 by Connie Boswell with Bob Cats.

On the reverse, Connie swings another tune, this time the old cowboy song “Home On the Range”.  “I like the nightclub with its swinging saxes, but when it comes to payin’ taxes, I’ll take my home on the range.”

Home On the Range

Home On the Range, recorded November 13, 1937 by Connie Boswell with Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats.

Brunswick 20108 – Casa Loma Orchestra with Connie Boswell – 1932

Connee Boswell in the late 1930s (autographed in 1940).

Connee Boswell in the late 1930s (autographed in 1940).

December 3 marks the 108th anniversary of the incomparable Connie (or Connee) Boswell’s birth, she was born on that day in 1907.

Connie Boswell, the second born of the Boswell Sisters, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, moving with her family to Birmingham, Alabama around 1910, then to New Orleans shortly thereafter.  As a young child, she was either involved in a coaster wagon accident or stricken with polio, leaving her completely paralyzed for a short time, and unable to walk properly for the rest of her life, requiring the use of a wheelchair for most of her life.  She and her sisters were immersed in the world of music from a very young age, Connie learning to play cello, and later saxophone (she also claimed to be able to play trumpet and “could pick up most any instrument with a little practice”).

Connie began recording with her sisters as a vocal group in 1925, and after a five year hiatus, they returned to recording in 1930.  Connie began recording solo in 1931 while still performing with her sisters, and continued to record by herself after the act broke up in 1936.  Around 1942, Connie changed the spelling of her name to “Connee”, with potential reasons ranging from it being easier to sign autographs that way to her sister Martha, who studied numerology, telling her it would bring her better luck that way.  She continued to sing throughout the 1940s and 1950s, making a few movie and television appearances along the way, before mostly retiring by the beginning of the 1960s.  Connie Boswell died of stomach cancer in 1976, a year after her husband’s passing.

Brunswick 20108 was recorded March 16, 1932 in New York City by the Casa Loma Orchestra with Connie singing the vocal on the first side.  This twelve inch 78 boasts nearly double the playing time of an ordinary ten inch record, and allows for a more concert-like performance.  On these sides, the Casa Loma Orchestra consists of Sonny Dunham, Grady Watts, and Bobby Jones on trumpets, Pee Wee Hunt and Billy Rauch on trombones, Clarence Hutchinrider on clarinet and alto sax, Kenny Sargent and Glen Gray on alto sax, Pat Davis on tenor sax, Mel Jenssen on violin, Joe Hall on piano and celeste, Gene Gifford on banjo and guitar, Stanley Dennis on string bass, and Tony Briglia on drums.

Accompanied by the always outstanding Casa Loma Orchestra, Connie sings a heartfelt rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Washboard Blues”.

Washboard Blues, recorded March , 1932 by the Casa Loma Orchestra with Connie Boswell.

Washboard Blues, recorded March 16, 1932 by the Casa Loma Orchestra with Connie Boswell.

On the flip-side, Connie unfortunately does not sing, instead, the Casa Loma Orchestra plays an instrumental, “Four Indian Love Lyrics”, which are “Kashmiri Song”, “Less Than the Dust”, “The Temple Bells”, and “Till I Wake”.

Four Indian Love Lyrics, recorded March 16, 1932 by the Casa Loma Orchestra.

Four Indian Love Lyrics, recorded March 16, 1932 by the Casa Loma Orchestra.

Updated on June 24, 2016.