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