Yet another casualty to the march of time, Dallas singer Ben Norsingle cut two records for the Brunswick company in 1928, yet today he resides among the countless practitioners of the early blues now shrouded in obscurity. What can be gleaned of his life, however, makes for a most interesting story.
Benjamin Norsingle was born in the vicinity of Dallas, Texas, around either 1901 or 1906, the son of Andy and Betty Norsingle. The details surrounding his early life are lost to time, but by his young adulthood, he was singing in Fort Worth with John Henry Bragg and others. There, he was discovered by Dallas blues impresario Hattie Burleson, who signed him up with Ella B. Moore’s “Hot Ella Company” vaudeville troupe, performing at the Park Theater. Burleson also arranged for Norsingle’s sole record date, with Brunswick during their first field trip to Dallas in 1928, resulting in four sides backed by a small jazz band typical for the time and place. When the Hot Ella Company folded and Ella Moore made for Kansas City in 1930, Norsingle went to Cincinnati to perform with Melvin Shannon. By the next year he was in Chicago, where he and a young man named John Reed were accused (whether rightfully or wrongfully I do not know) of slaying a butcher named John Martin during a holdup of his shop on August 3, 1931. Norsingle fled back to Dallas in the aftermath, but was apprehended after a few weeks and confessed to the crime. Brought back to Chicago, he and his accomplice were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Despite a temporary stay of execution from Governor Louis L. Emmerson in December of 1931 for the duo to appeal their case to the Supreme Court, Ben Norsingle was strapped into the electric chair in the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois, and executed at 12:10 A.M. on January 15, 1932, immediately following Reed. In his final moments amongst the living, Norsingle’s accomplice John Reed made a final statement attributing his downfall to “bad company,” and adding that the world would be better if “boys would be obedient to their parents.”
Brunswick 7043 was recorded in Dallas, Texas on October 28, 1928 by Ben Norsingle. He is accompanied by a small band made up mostly of members of Troy Floyd’s Plaza Hotel Orchestra from San Antonio, with Don Albert on trumpet, Allen Vann on piano, John Henry Bragg (or Caffrey Darensbourg) on guitar, and Charlie Dixon on tuba.
Norsingle first sings the low-down “Motherless Blues”, a song which might have been something of a downer if not for his matter-of-fact delivery. While Norsingle possessed decent vocal faculties, and his accompaniment was top-notch, critics have criticized his nearly utter lack of emotion in the songs he sang.
Rather foreshadowing his untimely demise, Norsingle spins a yarn of ill-favor by fate on “Black Cat Blues”. You may note that both songs bear composer’s credit to Hattie Burleson, who was responsible for both “discovering” Norsingle and bringing him to the attention of the Brunswick company.