SOME OF THE ORIGINAL SINGERS OF THE DIRTY BLUES
Sippie Wallace (born Beulah Belle Thomas, November 1, 1898 – November 1, 1986) was an American singer-songwriter. Her early career in tent shows gained her the billing “The Texas Nightingale”. Between 1923 and 1927, she recorded over 40 songs for Okeh Records, many written by her or her brothers, George and Hersal Thomas. Her accompanists included Louis Armstrong, Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet, King Oliver, and Clarence Williams. Among the top female blues vocalists of her era, Wallace ranked with Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Alberta Hunter, and Bessie Smith. In the 1930s, she left show business to become a church organist, singer, and choir director in Detroit and performed secular music only sporadically until the 1960s, when she resumed her career. Wallace was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1982 and was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. Julia Lee (October 31, 1902 – December 8, 1958) was an American blues and dirty blues musician. Her inclusion in the latter category is mainly due to a few numbers she performed, eg “King Size Papa” and “Snatch and Grab It”. However, it would be misleading to characterize her music as always being in this vein. Born in Boonville, Missouri, Lee was raised in Kansas City, and began her musical career around 1920, singing and playing piano in her brother George Lee’s band, which for a time also included Charlie Parker. She first recorded on the Merritt record label in 1927 with Jesse Stone as pianist and arranger, and launched a solo career in 1935. In 1944 she secured a recording contract with Capitol Records, and a string of R&B hits. As these titles suggest, she became best known for her trademark double entendre songs, or, as she once said, “the songs my mother taught me not to sing”. The records were credited to ‘Julia Lee and Her Boy Friends’, her session musicians including Jay McShann, Vic Dickenson, Benny Carter, Red Norvo, Nappy Lamare, and Red Nichols.
Lil Johnson (fl. 1920s-1930s, dates and places of birth and death unknown) was an African American singer who recorded dirty blues and hokum songs in the 1920s and 1930s.Her origins and early life are not known. She first recorded in Chicago in 1929, accompanied by the pianists Montana Taylor and Charles Avery on five songs, including “Rock That Thing”. She did not return to the recording studio until 1935, when her more risqué songs included “Get ‘Em from the Peanut Man (Hot Nuts)”, “Anybody Want to Buy My Cabbage?”,and “Press My Button (Ring My Bell)” (“Come on baby, let’s have some fun / Just put your hot dog in my bun”). She also recorded a version of “Keep A-Knockin’”, which later became a hit for Little Richard. From her second session onwards, she formed a partnership with the ragtime-influenced pianist “Black Bob” Hudson, who provided ebullient support for her increasingly suggestive lyrics. In 1936 and 1937, she recorded over 40 songs, mostly for Vocalion Records, some featuring Big Bill Broonzy on guitar and Lee Collins on trumpet. Her other songs included “Was I?”, “My Stove’s in Good Condition”, “Take Your Hand Off It” and “Buck Naked Blues”. She sang in a vigorous and sometimes abrasive manner. All her songs have been anthologized on later blues collections. There is no record of what became of Johnson after her recording career ended in 1937.
Mary Jane “Mae” West (August 17, 1893 – November 22, 1980) was an American actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedian, and sex symbol whose entertainment career spanned seven decades. Known for her lighthearted bawdy double entendres, and breezy sexual independence, West made a name for herself in vaudeville and on the stage in New York City before moving to Hollywood to become a comedian, actress, and writer in the motion picture industry, as well as on radio and television. For her contributions to American cinema, the American Film Institute named West 15th among the greatest female stars of classic American cinema. One of the more controversial movie stars of her day, West encountered many problems, especially censorship. She bucked the system, making comedy out of prudish conventional mores, and the Depression-era audience admired her for it. When her cinematic career ended, she wrote books and plays, and continued to perform in Las Vegas, in the United Kingdom, and on radio and television, and to record rock and roll albums. Asked about the various efforts to impede her career, West replied: “I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.” While true, she also suffered greatly because of it, even going to prison for her right to freedom of speech.
Trixie Smith (1895 – September 21, 1943) was an African-American blues singer, recording artist, vaudeville entertainer, and actress. She made four dozen recordings. Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Smith came from a middle-class background. She attended Selma University, in Alabama, before moving to New York City at the age of twenty around 1915.Soon after, she began working in a number of different cafés and theaters in Harlem and Philadelphia. She began her career as a vaudeville and minstrel entertainer who performed as a comedian, dancer, actress, and singer in traveling shows. Between 1916 and the early 1920’s, she worked in minstrel shows and toured as a featured singer. She also worked on the Theater Owners Bookers Association vaudeville circuit before making her first recordings for Black Swan Records in 1922,among which was “My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)” (1922),written by J. Berni Barbour, of historical interest as the first secular recording to use the phrase rock and roll. Her record inspired various lyrical elaborations, such as “Rock That Thing” by Lil Johnson and “Rock Me Mama” by Ikey Robinson. Also in 1922, billed as the “southern nightingale,” Smith won first place and a silver cup in a blues singing contest in which she sang her own composition, “Trixie’s Blues”, competing against Alice Leslie Carter, Daisy Martin and Lucille Hegamin, at the Inter-Manhattan Casino in New York, sponsored by the dancer Irene Castle. She is best remembered for “Railroad Blues” (1925), which features one of her most inspired vocal performances on record, and “The World Is Jazz Crazy and So Am I” (1925). Louis Armstrong played the cornet on both songs. Smith was a polished performer, and her records include several outstanding examples of the blues, on which she is accompanied by artists such as James P. Johnson, and Freddie Keppard. She recorded with Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra for Paramount Records in 1924 and 1925. As her career as a blues singer waned, she sustained herself mostly by performing in cabaret revues and starring in musical revues such as New York Revue (1928) and Next Door Neighbors (1928) at the Lincoln Theater in Harlem. She also appeared in Mae West’s shortlived 1931 Broadway show, The Constant Sinner. Two years later, Smith was elevated to the stage of the Theatre Guild for its production of Louisiana. She appeared in four movies: God’s Step Children (1938), Swing! (1938), Drums o’ Voodoo (1934), and The Black King (1932). Two of these films were directed by Oscar Micheaux. She appeared at the concert From Spirituals to Swing, produced by John H. Hammond, in 1938. She recorded seven titles in 1938 and 1939. Most of her later recordings were with Sidney Bechet for Decca Records in 1938. In 1939 she cut “No Good Man” with a band including Red Allen and Barney Bigard.Known in later life as Trixie Muse, she died in New York in 1943, after a brief illness, at the age of 48. Bessie Smith The 1900 census indicates that Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in July 1892, a date provided by her mother. The 1910 census gave her age as 16. A birth date of April 15, 1894, appears on subsequent documents and was observed as her birthday by the Smith family. The 1870 and 1880 censuses report three older half-siblings, but later interviews with Smith’s family and contemporaries did not mention them among her siblings. She was the daughter of Laura (born Owens) and William Smith, a laborer and part-time Baptist preacher (he was listed in the 1870 census as a “minister of the gospel”, in Moulton, Lawrence County, Alabama). He died while his daughter was too young to remember him. By the time Bessie was nine, her mother and a brother had also died. Her older sister Viola took charge of caring for her siblings. To earn money for their impoverished household, Smith and her brother Andrew began busking on the streets of Chattanooga; she sang and danced, and he accompanied her on the guitar. Their favorite location was in front of the White Elephant Saloon at Thirteenth and Elm streets, in the heart of the city’s African-American community. In 1904, her oldest brother, Clarence, left home, joining a small traveling troupe owned by Moses Stokes. “If Bessie had been old enough, she would have gone with him,” said Clarence’s widow, Maud. “That’s why he left without telling her, but Clarence told me she was ready, even then. Of course, she was only a child.” In 1912, Clarence returned to Chattanooga with the Stokes troupe and arranged an audition for his sister with the managers of the troupe, Lonnie and Cora Fisher. She was hired as a dancer rather than a singer, because the company already included the well-known singer Ma Rainey. Smith eventually moved on to performing in various chorus lines, making the “81” Theater in Atlanta her home base. She also performed in shows on the blackowned (Theater Owners Booking Association) (T.O.B.A.) circuit and became its biggest star after she signed a recording contract with Columbia Records. Smith’s recordiing ing career began in 1923. She was then living in Philadelphia, where she met Jack Gee, a security guard, whom she married on June 7, 1923, just as her first record was being released. During the marriage—a stormy one, with infidelity by both partners—Smith became the highest-paid black entertainer of the day, heading her own shows, which sometimes featured as many as 40 troupers, and touring in her own custom-built railroad car. Gee was impressed by the money but never adjusted to show business life or to Smith’s bisexuality. In 1929, when she learned of his affair with another singer, Gertrude Saunders, Smith ended the relationship, although neither of them sought a divorce. Smith later entered a common-law marriage with an old friend, Richard Morgan, who was Lionel Hampton’s uncle. She stayed with him until her death. Meri Wilson Edgmon (June 15, 1949 – December 28, 2002), known professionally as Meri Wilson, was a model and singer-songwriter, best known for singing double entendre novelty songs. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, at a United States military base, but raised in Marietta, Georgia. Her father played trumpet, her mother taught piano, and her siblings could all sing and play an instrument. At the age of two Meri began singing, learned piano, cello, and eventually the guitar and flute. She went on to earn a BS in music at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, and later earned a Masters degree in music education at Georgia State University. In the early 1970s, she moved to Dallas, Texas, where she sang and played guitar. Initially a guitar soloist, she later fronted a trio in such popular clubs as Daddy’s Money, Arthur’s, and Papillion. After a car accident in 1975, she was forced to wear a body cast for months. After her recovery, she began performing at a club in Underground Atlanta and made ends meet by working as a model and singing for commercial jingles]
Ethel Waterss (October 31, 1896 – September 1, 1977) was an American blues, jazz and gospel singer and actress. She frequently performed jazz, big band, and pop music, on the Broadway stage and in concerts, but she began her career in the 1920s singing blues. Her best-known recordings include “Dinah,” “Stormy Weather,” “Taking a Chance on Love,” “Heat Wave,” “Supper Time,” “Am I Blue?” and “Cabin in the Sky,” as well as her version of the spiritual “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” Waters was the second African American, after Hattie McDaniel, to be nominated for an Academy Award. She was also the first African-American woman to be nominated for an Emmy Award, in 1962. Waters was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, on October 31, 1896, as a result of the rape of her teenaged mother, Louise Anderson (believed to have been 13 years old at the time, although some sources indicate she may have been slightly older), by John Waters, a pianist and family acquaintance from a mixedrace middle-class background. He played no role in raising Ethel. Soon after she was born, her mother married railroad worker Norman Howard. Ethel used the surname Howard as a child, before reverting to her father’s name of Waters.She was raised in poverty and never lived in the same place for more than 15 months. She said of her difficult childhood, “I never was a child. I never was cuddled, or liked, or understood by my family.” Waters married at the age of 13, but her husband was abusive, and she soon left the marriage and became a maid in a Philadelphia hotel, working for $4.75 per week. On her 17th birthday, she attended a costume party at a nightclub on Juniper Street. She was persuaded to sing two songs and impressed the audience so much that she was offered professional work at the Lincoln Theatre in Baltimore. She later recalled that she earned the rich sum of ten dollars a week, but her managers cheated her out of the tips her admirers threw on the stage. After her start in Baltimore, Waters toured on the black vaudeville circuit. As she described it later, “I used to work from nine until unconscious.” Despite her early success, she fell on hard times and joined a carnival, traveling in freight cars along the carnival circuit and eventually reaching Chicago. Waters enjoyed her time with the carnival and recalled, “the roustabouts and the concessionaires were the kind of people I’d grown up with, rough, tough, full of larceny towards strangers, but sentimental and loyal to their friends and co-workers.” She did not last long with them, though, and soon headed south to Atlanta, where she worked in the same club with Bessie Smith. Smith demanded that Waters not compete in singing blues opposite her. Waters conceded and sang ballads and popular songs. Around 1919, Waters moved to Harlem and there became a celebrity performer in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.
Maria Muldaur was born Maria Grazia Rosa Domenica D’Amato in Greenwich Village, New York City, where she attended Hunter College High School. Muldaur began her career in the early 1960s as Maria D’Amato, performing with John Sebastian, David Grisman, and Stefan Grossman as a member of the Even Dozen Jug Band. She then joined Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band as a featured vocalist and occasional violinist. During this time, she was part of the Greenwich Village scene that included Bob Dylan, and some of her recollections of the period, particularly with respect to Dylan, appear in Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary film No Direction Home. She married fellow Jug Band member Geoff Muldaur, and after the Kweskin outfit broke up, the two of them produced two albums. She began her solo career when their marriage ended in 1972, but retained her married name. Her first solo album,
Maria Muldaur, released in 1973, contained her hit single “Midnight at the Oasis”, which reached number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974. It also peaked at number 21 in the UK Singles Chart.Later that year, she released her second album, Waitress in a Donut Shop. This included a re-recording of “I’m a Woman”, the Leiber and Stoller number first associated with Peggy Lee and a standout feature from her Jug Band days. The title of this album is taken from a line in another song on the album, “Sweetheart”, by Ken Burgan. Around this time, Muldaur established a relationship with the Grateful Dead. Opening for some Grateful Dead shows in the summer of 1974, with John Kahn, bassist of the Jerry Garcia Band, eventually earned her a seat in that group as a backing vocalist in the late 1970s. Around the same time Muldaur met and eventually collaborated with bluegrass icon Peter Rowan. The two became close, and she was chosen to be the godmother of his daughterAmanda Rowan. She appeared on Super Jam (1989), the live recording of the German TV series Villa Fantastica, with Brian Auger on piano, Pete York on drums, Dick Morrissey on tenor saxophone, Roy Williams ontrombone, Harvey Weston on bass and Zoot Money, also on vocals. Muldaur continued to perform, tour, and record after her success in the mid-1970s, including a turn at the Teatro ZinZanni in 2001. Her 2005 release Sweet Lovin’ Ol’ Soul was nominated for both a Blues Music Award (formerly the W.C. Handy Award) and a Grammy Award in the Traditional Blues category. In 2013, she was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the Koko Taylor Award (Traditional Blues Female) category.
Ida Cox1886- 1967 Ida Cox sang in church choirs as a child in Georgia. She ran away from home in 1910 when she was a teenager and performed in minstrel and tent shows as a comedienne and singer. Sometime during this period she married a performer minstrel named Alder Cox. Ida worked her way into vaudeville and eventually became a headliner. She toured the country throughout the Teens and 1920s sometimes singing with Jazz greats like Jelly Roll Morton and with King Oliver at the Plantation Cafe in Chicago. In 1923 she began her recording contract with the Paramount label, who billed her as the Uncrowned Queen of the Blues. She recorded extensively throughout the 1920s often using pseudonyms such as Kate Lewis, Velma Bradley, Julia Powers and Jane Smith. Cox wrote many of her own songs, and had several of her own touring companies such as Raisin’ Cain and Darktown Scandals which criss-crossed the country during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Unlike many of the Classic Blues singers of the 1920s Cox continued to perform and occasionally record during the Depression. She was married to Blues pianist Jesse Crump during the 1920s and 1930s. They recorded together often for Paramount. In 1934 Cox and Bessie Smith appeared together in the musical revue Fan Waves at the Apollo Theatre. She spent most of the rest of the decade on the road until 1939 when she performed regularly at the Cafe Society night club in New York City. She also appeared in John Hammond’s Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall in 1939. Which briefly revitalized her recording career. She released records under the name of Ida Cox and her Allstar Band and Ida Cox and her Allstar Orchestra during this time period. In the mid 1940’s she had a stroke and passed out during a performance in New York. She left show business and moved to Knoxville, Tennessee where she lived with her daughter. Sometime in the 1950s she began performing again sporadically. In 1961, Cox recorded for the last time on the Riverside label. The album was called “Blues for Rampart Street”. She was accompanied by the Coleman Hawkins Quintet on this record. She died
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