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.

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.

Okeh 8696 – Ed. Lang and his Orchestra – 1929

October 25 marks the birthday of jazz guitar great Eddie Lang, who was born on that day in 1902.  Eddie Lang was born as Salvatore Massaro in Philedelphia, Pennsylvania.  He initially took up violin, playing with his close school friend Joe Venuti, and later switched to guitar.  In the 1920s, Lang played in various bands and with such luminaries as Frankie Trumbauer, Bix Beiderbecke, Adrian Rollini, and Lonnie Johnson, the latter of whom he recorded with under the name “Blind Willie Dunn”.  Tragically, Eddie Lang died in 1933 at the age of 30 as the result of a botched tonsillectomy.

Okeh 8696 was recorded on May 22, 1929 in New York City, and issued in their race series for some reason.  The band includes the talent of Tommy Dorsey on trumpet, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Arthur Schutt on piano, Eddie Lang on guitar, Joe Tarto on string bass, and Stan King on drums.  This record isn’t in the greatest condition, but I think it’s a great choice to celebrate Eddie’s birthday.

First, the band plays “Freeze an’ Melt”, a Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh composition.

"Freeze an' Melt", recorded May 22, 1929 by Ed. Lang and his Orchestra.

Freeze an’ Melt, recorded May 22, 1929 by Ed. Lang and his Orchestra.

Eddie Lang takes a nice long solo on “Hot Heels”, composed by Jack Pettis and Al Goering.

Hot Heels, recorded May 22, 1929 by Ed. Lang and his Orchestra.

Hot Heels, recorded May 22, 1929 by Ed. Lang and his Orchestra.

Velvet Tone 1859-V – Annette Hanshaw Accomp. by New England Yankees – 1929

October 18 marks the birthday of “Personality Girl” Annette Hanshaw, who was born on this day in 1901.  Hanshaw began recording for Pathé Records in 1926 and recorded for them for two years before moving to Columbia, where most of her records were issued on their Harmony, Velvet Tone, and Diva budget labels, with a small number on Okeh and Columbia.  She remained with Columbia until 1932, when she began a contract with the American Record Company which she maintained until her retirement from music in 1934.  Although her singing was beloved by fans, Hanshaw was not fond of her records, and in her own words “disliked all of them intensely.”

Velvet Tone 1859-V was recorded February 20, 1929 in New York City, and was also issued on Harmony 859-H and Diva 2859-G.  Miss Hanshaw is accompanied by the “New England Yankees”, actually Ben Selvin’s Columbia studio orchestra, which includes Tommy Dorsey and Tommy Gott on trumpets, Charlie Butterfield on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, and Hank Stern or Joe Tarto on tuba, among several others who remain unknown.

First, Miss Hanshaw delivers a delightful performance of the 1929 classic “A Precious Little Thing Called Love” from The Shopworn Angel.

A Precious Little Thing Called Love,

A Precious Little Thing Called Love, recorded February 20, 1929 by Annette Hanshaw Accomp. by New England Yankees.

Next, she sings one of her signature songs, “Mean to Me”.

Mean to Me,

Mean to Me, recorded February 20, 1929 by Annette Hanshaw Accomp. by New England Yankees.

That’s all.

Updated on June 24, 2016.