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.

Paramount 14012 – Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra – 1927

In celebration of the 118th anniversary of Smack Henderson’s birth, here is a record I searched for long and hard, before I was fortunate enough to find this 1940s John Steiner reissue.  This near mint dub trades some of its audio fidelity for a much cleaner and smoother surface than I’d be likely to find on the original Paramount issue, which was once speculated in 78 Quarterly to have “less than ten copies.”

Paramount 14012 was recorded May 11, 1927 in New York City and was originally issued on Paramount 12486. This issue is a 1948 dub made by record collector and producer John Steiner. The band features the talent of Joe and Russell Smith on trumpet, Benny Morton on trombone, Buster Bailey and Don Redman on clarinet and alto sax, Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax and clarinet, Fletcher Henderson on piano, Charlie Dixon on banjo, June Cole on tuba, and Kaiser Marshall on drums. The label erroneously credits Tommy Ladnier, who does not play on this record.

“Swamp Blues” tops my list of all-time favorite jazz recordings, and was the reason for my purchasing the record.

Swamp Blues,

Swamp Blues, recorded May 11, 1927 by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra.

Perhaps even hotter than the previous, “Off to Buffalo” is another superb jazz side, not to be confused with the similarly titled Warren and Dubin song “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” from Forty-Second Street.

Off To Buffalo, recorded May 11, 1927 by Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra.

Off To Buffalo, recorded May 11, 1927 by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra.

Updated with Improved audio on June 19, 2017.

Victor 20944 – Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra – 1927

Accompanying this record is a tale of tragedy.  After long searching far and wide for an original Victor issue of Fletcher Henderson’s “Variety Stomp”, I was thrilled when a promising copy turned up on eBay, and I was able to win for an excellent price.  When the record was finally delivered, I opened the package to discover in horror that it was woefully insufficient to protect the contents from careless postal workers, and what would have been a nice V+ record was snapped in two pieces, just about through the middle.  The seller very kindly refunded the cost, and the record sat dejectedly for months on my broken record pile.

It wasn’t doing any good just sitting there, so eventually I decided to try my hand at repairing it, and with the remains of Victor 20944 and a tube of superglue, I carefully lined up the two halves of the record, and put a dollop of glue on the outside edges, and in the runout area on both sides.  After the glue dried came the moment of truth, I brought the repaired record to my turntable and to my surprise and relief, it tracked perfectly, and played through with only two surprisingly minor background clicks.

I have since acquired Henderson’s Bluebird issue of take 2 of “Variety”, and his acoustical recording on Harmony, but my heart still yearns for a better copy of this record.  Maybe someday.

Below, you can hear the results of my efforts, straight from the turntable, with no cleaning up or modification of any sort to the audio.

Victor 20944 was recorded April 27, 1927 at the Victor studios in New York City, and released in November of ’27.  Besides Henderson on piano and directing, the all-star lineup includes Joe and Russell Smith, and possibly Tommy Ladnier on trumpet, Benny Morton and Jimmy Harrison on trombones, Buster Bailey and Don Redman on clarinet and alto sax, Coleman Hawkins playing his famous tenor sax, Charlie Dixon on banjo, and June Cole and Kaiser Marshall on tuba and drums, respectively.

On “A”, Henderson’s Orchestra plays hot on “St. Louis Shuffle” (take 2), composed by Jack Pettis and Thomas “Fats” Waller.

St. Louis Shuffle, recorded April 27, 1927 in New York by Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra.

St. Louis Shuffle, recorded April 27, 1927 by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra.

On “B”, they play one of my favorites, take 3 of “Variety Stomp”, which was only issued here, composed by Jo Trent, Ray Henderson, and Bud Green.

Variety Stomp, recorded April 27, 1927 in New York by Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra.

Variety Stomp, recorded April 27, 1927 by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra.

I don’t think it sounds too bad for a record that was broken in half, myself!

Columbia A3943 – Clara Smith – 1923

This particular record is one of a group that got me started in collecting, a group originally owned by my great-grandmother and her father.  I believe this one in particular was my great-great-grandfather’s, and like many from that bunch, it has seen better days.  If you ever wondered whether a white family from Texas in the 1920s would buy vaudeville blues records, there’s your answer.

This record also has the great distinction of being the first record by “Queen of the Moaners” Clara Smith.  Smith, of no relation to Bessie or Mamie, was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1893, and most details regarding her early life remain a mystery.  In the late 1910s, she toured the TOBA circuit in vaudeville before moving to Harlem in 1923, where she began recording with Columbia Records.  While in vaudeville, Smith gave a young Josephine Baker her first break in 1920, and she was good friends with Bessie Smith until a night in 1925 when Bessie got drunk and beat her up.  Clara Smith continued to record until 1932, and died of a heart attack three years later in 1935.

Columbia A3943, made several months before Columbia’s race series began, was recorded exactly 92 years ago on June 26, 1923 and features “I Got Everything a Woman Needs” and “Every Woman’s Blues” performed by Clara Smith with piano accompaniment by the great Fletcher Henderson.  Rejected takes of these tunes were recorded a month earlier on May 31.

First up, Clara moans Stanley S. Miller’s “I Got Everything a Woman Needs”, about Emmaline down in South Caroline who was “a vampire through and through.”  This is the sixth take of the recording, the only one issued, according to the DAHR.

"I Got Everything a Woman Needs" recorded by Clara Smith, June 1923.

I Got Everything a Woman Needs, recorded June 26, 1923 by Clara Smith.

On the flip, Smith sings “Every Woman’s Blues”, also written by Miller.  This one is take five out of six, also the only one issued.

"Every Woman's Blues" recorded June 26, 1923 by Clara Smith.

Every Woman’s Blues, recorded June 26, 1923 by Clara Smith.