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 Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds (2 Albums, 2 Tracks)

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CURATOR:

Mamie Smith was what you might call in modern parlance a "Breakthrough Artist." You see, back in 1919, record companies didn't have a whole lot of interest in that primitive blues stuff that black folks were slinging down South in roadhouses and squawking up North in speakeasys. Too raw, too gutbucket. White people won't buy it, and everybody knows that blacks don't have enough money to be buying records. But! Along came this fellow named Perry Bradford, and Perry had this notion that people of all stripes would buy this music if they could just hear some of it. Eventually, Mr. Bradford annoyed his bosses at OKeh Records enough that the old German who ran the place agreed to put some of it out. Good ol' Ralph Peer, who also had a big hand in getting country music onto phonograph records, made some recordings of Mamie Smith, a versatile vaudeville gal who could sing just about anything, doing something Perry Bradford wrote called "Crazy Blues."

Next thing you know, it sold a million copies.

What kind of surprised the record companies was that whites and blacks both bought the record, and within a couple of years, OKeh hired its own in-house black producer, the snappy Clarence Williams, to bring in and record new black talent. After that development, it was pretty much guaranteed that a lot of great music was going to be coming down the pipe mighty fast, music that would have otherwise gone unrecorded.

"Mem'ries of You Mammy" is a pretty early effort by Mamie, recorded in November of 1920, only a few months after her breakthrough hit. Blues at that time was sentimental just as often as it was down 'n' dirty, and this one is as misty-eyed as they come. The interesting thing about it is that she's singing the song from the point of view of someone now living up north who's missing her mom down south. As everyone knows, the big post-war migration of blacks to northern cities is why we ended up with such great music in Chicago and New York in the 20s. But that's a whole other blather session, and the feeling of being far away from people you love is universal, ain't it? So even if you have a mommy or a mumsy instead of a mammy, you can understand the feeling.

Mamie Smith was apparently quite an entertainer. No "give me a beer and a pigfoot" performer was she; her shows had dancing, funny bits, and even a trapeze act! She also had good taste in musicians, her Jazz Hounds at different points employing the amazing James "Bubber" Miley (the man whose trumpet made early Ellington records sing) and tenor legend Coleman Hawkins, who was billed as "Saxophone Boy" (which he was, since his mom hadn't even gotten him his first razor yet).

Later on, once sound came to movies, Mamie made some. Here is a song from one of them (it's pretty much "Crazy Blues," although it's not called that and the arrangement is more swingy). She's a little past her heyday here, but she still sounds pretty good. -JoeMc


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