Decca 1840 – Chick Webb and his Orchestra – 1938

Ella Fitzgerald in the late 1930s. From Jazzmen, 1938.

Ella Fitzgerald in the late 1930s. From Jazzmen, 1939.

In the mood for a bit of swing?  I hope so, because today we celebrate birthday of the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald.

Ella was born April 25, 1917 in Newport News, Virginia.  She moved north to Yonkers during the Great Migration.  After falling on hard times as a teenager during the Great Depression, she entered an amateur night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.  Though she originally intended to dance at the show, after feeling intimidated by another dance act, she sang instead, imitating the style of her favorite singer, Connie Boswell, and won the twenty-five dollar prize.  In 1935, Chick Webb reluctantly took her on as a vocalist in his band, which she stayed with for the remainder of the decade.  When Webb succumbed to his illness in 1939, Ella took over the band, recording under her own name.  After Webb’s band broke up, she continued to record as a solo artist, and the rest as they say, is history.  After a life of music, her health declined in the 1980s, and Ella Fitzgerald died comfortably in her home on June 15, 1996, her final words were, “I’m ready to go now.”

Decca 1840 was recorded in two sessions in May of 1938, the first on the second and the second on the third.  The band consists of Mario Bauza, Bobby Stark, and Taft Jordan on trumpet, George Matthews, Nat Story, and Sandy Williams on trombone, Garvin Bushell on clarinet and alto sax, Louis Jordan (yes, that Louis Jordan) on alto sax, Teddy McRae, and Wayman Carver on tenor sax, Tommy Fulford on piano, Bobby Johnson on guitar, Beverly Peer on string bass, and Chick Webb on drums.

Ella’s first big hit was “A-Tisket A-Tasket”, which she and Al Feldman adapted as a pop tune.  The arrangement was written by the recently departed Van Alexander.

A-Tisket A-Tasket

A-Tisket A-Tasket, recorded May 2, 1938 by Chick Webb and his Orchestra.

The label of the flip-side “Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away)” bears the inscription “”To a Swell Kid, Camilla.”  Unseen in the scan is “To Marilyn From Camilla Adams 1938” engraved in the run-out with some sharp instrument.

Liza (All the Clouds'll Roll Away)

Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away), recorded May 3, 1938 by Chick Webb and his Orchestra.

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.