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.

Sentry 4011 – Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals – 1927

Generally, I hesitate to post reissues, I really do.  They’re often dubs, which offer lowers fidelity than the original, and let’s face it: original issues are just more desirable as collectors items.  Sometimes, however, original pressings may be exceedingly difficult to track down, and as nice as it might be have an original, it’s simply more practical to take the reissue.  They have the music on them, after all, and that’s what matters the most.

I’d wanted this record for quite a number of years, on any issue.  The Gennett originals are notoriously rare (and notoriously expensive)—at one time, the 78 Quarterly estimated fewer than five copies in existence—and even the reissue proved for me to be quite hard to find.  Finally, one of my favorite eBay sellers posted this one for sale, so I jumped on it.  I’d go as far as to place it as one of my favorites (though that list could easily run into the hundreds, or thousands).  Much as I’d love to own the original, this circa 1950s reissue is a quite decent dub, and in excellent condition, so it provides beautiful playback.

Hoagy Carmichael pictured in Eddie Condon’s Scrapbook of Jazz.

What makes this one remarkable, and worthy of reissue, is that it contains the first ever recording of Hoagy Carmichael’s now renowned composition “Stardust”.  That Stardust melody first haunted Carmichael while he was on the campus of Indiana University, his alma mater—inspired by the jazz music of Bix Beiderbecke, he began whistling the tune, and ran to get it written down.  After polishing it up a bit, he took it to the Starr Piano Company in Richmond, Indiana, where he recorded it for their Gennett label with Emil Seidel’s orchestra.  It’s said that Gennett found the recording to be of lesser quality, and considered destroying the masters.  Fortunately, they didn’t and it was released, though the success of “Stardust” was yet to come, the record didn’t sell too well.  Two years later, Carmichael published the song as “Star Dust” (the title has appeared as both one and two words throughout its history) through Mills Music, with lyrics added by Mitchell Parrish.  McKinney’s Cotton Pickers made an early recording in 1928, and Mills’ Hotsy Totsy Gang cut one in ’29, around the time Carmichael published it.  Isham Jones’ orchestra made a popular recording of the tune in 1930, followed closely by the smash success of the budding Bing Crosby’s rendition in 1931.  The Crosby hit inspired a wave of new recordings of “Star Dust” in 1931.  Since then, that Star Dust melody has haunted our reverie countless times, as it elevated to become one of the most successful songs of the twentieth century.

Sentry 4011 was originally issued on Gennett 6311, recorded on October 28 and 31, 1927 in Richmond, Indiana.  The two sessions featured different bands using the identity of “Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals”: the former included Hoagy Carmichael on piano, doubling on cornet, Andy Secrest and Bob Mayhew on cornet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Nye Mayhew on tenor sax, Mischa Russell on violin, and three unidentified players of guitar, tuba, and drums; the latter session features Emil Seidel’s Orchestra with Carmichael sitting in, made up of Byron Smart on trumpet, Oscar Rossberg on trombone, Gene Woods or Dick Kent on alto sax, Maurice Bennett on tenor sax, Don Kimmell on guitar, Hoagy on piano, Paul Brown on tuba, and Cliff Williams on drums.

Although it was the “B” side of the original issue, “Stardust”, is effectively the “A” side of this reissue (it has the lower matrix number)—understandably so, as it is the tune that made the biggest hit, not only of the two on this record but practically of any two on any record.  This has always been—and I feel I can safely say always will be—my favorite version of the classic.  The original label called this a “stomp,” and while I’m not sure I’d agree with that, it is really a lovely recording, and possesses an almost dreamlike quality that is very seldom paralleled in recorded music.

Stardust, recorded October 31, 1927 by Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals.

On the other side, Hoagy’s “One Night in Havana”, recorded at the earlier date with the Dorsey brothers in the band, is another really delightful tune, with a similar dreamy air to the previous.  Though it never made quite as much of a hit as “Stardust”, Hoagy thought enough of it to record it a further three times, only one of which was released on the flip-side of the original issue of his “Georgia (On My Mind)”.  This one was also issued on Champion 15420 at the time, but since then, it seems to have received little attention.

One Night in Havana, recorded October 28, 1927 by Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals.

Columbia 2183-D – Charles (Buddy) Rogers “America’s Boyfriend” – 1930

August 13 marks the birthday of actor, jazz musician, and occasional bandleader Charles “Buddy” Rogers, known for a period as “America’s Boyfriend.”  Though his main claim to fame was as an actor, Rogers made a fair number of records throughout the 1930s, of which this one was the first.

Charles Edward Rogers was born in Kansas on August 13, 1904.  After attending the University of Kansas, “Buddy” wound up in Hollywood by the middle part of the 1920s, where he began his acting career.  His greatest fame came in 1927, only shortly after his career had begun, when he appeared in Wings, with Richard Arlen and Clara Bow, the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.  Also in 1927, Rogers had a success with Mary Pickford in My Best Girl, which marked the beginning of a relationship that saw Rogers and Pickford marry ten years later, after her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks fell apart.  The two remained married until Pickford’s death in 1979, and the couple adopted two children.  The peak of Rogers’ popularity coincided with the rise of talkies, and he was most prolific from 1928 through 1933, making only sporadic film appearances into the 1950s and 1960s.  In addition to his acting, Rogers played a number of instruments, primarily trombone, and in the 1930s made a series of phonograph records, starting in 1930 with four songs he recorded for Columbia, with a hot accompaniment.  In 1932, he fronted a dance band, the “California Cavaliers”, for Victor, and led a swing band in 1938, recording for the American Record Corporation.  In the second World War, Rogers served as a flight instructor for the United States Navy.  Following Mary Pickford’s death in 1979, Rogers married real estate agent philanthropist Beverly Ricondo in 1981.  Buddy Rogers died in 1999 at the age 94.

Columbia 2183-D was recorded in New York City on February 27 and March 4, 1930.  Buddy Rogers’ outstanding accompaniment includes Tommy Dorsey on trumpet, Charlie Butterfield on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Adrian Rollini on bass sax, Bruce Yantis on violin, Frank Signorelli on piano, Carl Kress on guitar, and Stan King on drums on the first side.  On the second side, the band is made up of Bob Effros on trumpet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, possibly Pete Pumiglio on alto sax, Ben Selvin on violin, possibly Frank Signorelli on piano Carl Kress on guitar, and possibly Joe Tarto on string bass.  Both songs are from the motion picture Safety in Numbers.

First, Buddy Rogers sings the rather humorous “(I’d Like to Be) A Bee in Your Boudoir”, with a hot accompaniment.

(I'd Like to Be) A Bee in Your Boudoir

(I’d Like to Be) A Bee in Your Boudoir, recorded February 27, 1930 by Charles (Buddy) Rogers.

On the reverse, he introduces “My Future Just Passed”, which would become something of a standard, its own popularity most certainly outstripping that of the movie from which it originated.

My Future Just Passed

My Future Just Passed, recorded March 5, 1930 by Charles (Buddy) Rogers.

Brunswick 4535 – Bill Robinson Accompanied by Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang – 1929

Bill Robinson in the Hot Mikado.

Bill Robinson in the Hot Mikado (1939).

May 25 is National Tap Dance Day.  It’s also the 138th anniversary of the birth of the great tap dancer and consummate entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.  (The two falling on the same day is far from a coincidence.)  With his characteristic dancing and charismatic persona, Robinson broke numerous color barriers in the show business, and likely introduced the word “copacetic” into the popular lexicon.

Bill Robinson was born Luther Robinson in Richmond, Virginia on May 25, 1878, at some point, he switched names with his brother and became “Bill”.  Robinson began dancing in front of theaters for tips at the age of five, and was eventually offered work inside the theater.  At one point, he had an act with Al Jolson.  His career as an entertainer was interrupted when the Spanish-American War broke out, and he enlisted in the Army.  Once out of the Army, Robinson embarked on a long and groundbreaking career in vaudeville.  After Bert Williams’ death in 1922, Robinson succeeded him as the top black entertainer in the United States.  Somewhere along the way, he picked up the nickname “Bojangles”.  In 1928, Robinson appeared in Lew Leslies Blackbirds of 1928, and in 1939, he had a successful run in Michael Todd’s Hot Mikado.  Today, Robinson is likely best remembered for his film appearances with Shirley Temple, beginning with The Little Colonel in 1935.  Also in 1935, he appeared in Will Rogers’ last film, In Old Kentucky.  In his own final movie, in 1943, Robinson starred in Stormy Weather, with Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, and the Nicholas Brothers.  Bill Robinson died of heart failure on November 25, 1949.

Brunswick 4535 was recorded September 4, 1929 in New York by Bill Robinson, whose tap-dancing is accompanied by Irving Mills’ Hotsy Totsy Gang.  The personnel of the band seems to be undetermined, it is most likely a white studio group possibly consisting Mannie Klein and Phil Napoleon on trumpets, Miff Mole on trombone, Pee Wee Russell, Arnold Brilhart and/or Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Larry Binyon on tenor sax, Joe Tarto on tuba, Chauncey Morehouse on drums and an unknown piano and guitar player.  Some other sources however, including Robinson himself, cite it as Duke Ellington’s band.  I would be inclined to believe it’s more likely the former of the two.

On the first side of this very entertaining disc, Robinson patters with his feet and with his mouth on “Doin’ the New Low Down”, a song he introduced in Blackbirds of 1928.

Doin' the New Low Down

Doin’ the New Low Down, recorded September 4, 1929 by Bill Robinson Accompanied by Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang.

On the reverse, Bojangles seems a little more exuberant on his performance of Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin'”.  “This is the way I walk when I got plenty money on Broad-way!”

Ain't Misbehavin'

Ain’t Misbehavin’, recorded September 4, 1929 by Bill Robinson Accompanied by Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang.

Brunswick 6291 – The Boswell Sisters – 1932

Vet Boswell in the early 1930s.

Vet Boswell in the early 1930s.

May 20 marks a most important occasion, the 105th birthday of most underappreciated of the three Boswell Sisters, Helvetia “Vet” Boswell, whose quiet disposition and propensity to avoid solos would lead to her later being remembered as (and I quote verbatim from a 1938 newspaper article) “the other sister.”

Helvetia George Boswell was born on May 20, 1911 in Birmingham, Alabama.  Vet had the misfortune of entering this world around the time her sister Connie was afflicted with the ailment that left her completely paralyzed for a period of time, and without proper use of her legs for the rest of her life.  Mother Meldania devoted most of her time in that period to Connie’s rehabilitation, and could not attend to the new (as yet unnamed) infant.  The new Boswell baby was soon named Helvetia, after the condensed milk on which she was reared.  In 1914, the Boswells moved to New Orleans, out of the cradle and into the cradle of jazz.  When she started school, Helvetia was upset that the kids had nicknamed her “Hel”. Mother Boswell would have none of that, and from then on she was “Vet”.  Later, her father came to call her “Iron Horse Vet”, and she was noted for her fondness for “pig sandwiches.”  As her sisters Martha and Connie pursued their musical ambitions with vigor, Vet was along for the ride, supporting the sister act, though she preferred other artistic endeavors such as painting and drawing.  Though she never took a solo part, she was an integral part of the harmony, and every bit as talented as her more gregarious older sisters.

After touring ’round the world and then some, Vet secretly married Texas oilman John Paul Jones in 1934. They would not make the marriage known until the next year.  Vet’s marriage, combined with Martha’s soon after, created tension within the group surrounding the sisters ability to balance their professional and married lives, which was aggravated (and potentially incited) by their manager and Connie’s soon-to-be husband Harry Leedy.  Tensions came to a head in 1936, and the group disbanded.  Taking up residence in Ontario, and later on in New York, adjustment to home life was not easy for Vet, who found her new life as a housewife lonesome compared to show business.  In 1936, she gave birth to her daughter, Vet Boswell Jones, or “Chica”.  Vet never returned to the show business, though she had one final stage reunion with her sisters in 1955.  Many years later, Vet made a celebrated homecoming to New Orleans.  She passed away at the age of 77 in 1988, the last surviving and longest lived of the Boswell Sisters.

Brunswick 6291 was recorded March 21, 1932 in New York City.  The Boswell Sisters are accompanied by the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra, consisting of Mannie Klein on trumpet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Babe Russin on tenor sax, Martha Boswell on piano, Eddie Lang on guitar, Artie Bernstein on string bass, and Stan King on drums.

I carefully selected “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” for this occasion for one reason, it’s the only one I’m aware of that features anything resembling a solo vocal by Vet Boswell.  She can be heard singing the line “you’ve got me in between…”  If you want to hear a rare recording of Vet singing solo, I recommend picking up a copy of Their Music Goes Round and Round, featuring a rare home recording of Vet singing “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love”, available at the official Boswell Sisters Store.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, recorded March 21, 1932 by the Boswell Sisters.

On the flip-side, the Bozzies perform one of their classic songs, the jazz standard “There’ll Be Some Changes Made”.

There'll Be Some Changes Made

There’ll Be Some Changes Made, recorded March 21, 1932 by the Boswell Sisters.