Thursday, January 14, 2010

Honey Don't Play Me No Opera : the first "blues" records 1914-1916

Marion Harris - Paradise Blues(1916)

Victor Military Band - Joe Turner Blues(1916)

Prince's Band - Hesitating Blues(1915)

Nora Bayes - Homesickness Blues(1915)

All blues scholars and writers have ID'd the first true blues record : "Crazy Blues", by Mamie Smith, recorded in 1920. Every story of the recorded blues starts with this song. But we tend to forget that songs were recorded with the word "blues" in the title before 1920.

While searching for pre-1920material I stumbled upon a list at, a great site dedicated to the history of jazz before 1930. It features a few records, between 1914 and 1916, that were blues before the blues.

The list is made of two different types of recordings : instrumental pieces recorded by military bands that play in the Jim Europe / WC Hadny stle, and songs by famous female (and white) entertainers of the times, like Nora Bayes or Marion Harris.

I've posted four of them, two of each style, just for you. They don't seem to bear a strong resemblance to the blues (maybe in the chord structure), but you'll recognize, in "Hestating Blues", a standard of both blues and hillbilly music of the 20's; and the female singers really sound like the first "classic" blues divas like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith or Alberta Hunter.

Historians probably picked the Mamie Smith recording as the first blues because Mamie was colored and also because that was the first (although unwilling) attempt at reaching the Afro American public. But those recordings I'm posting today have their dated charms, and I'll probably post some more from 1917-1920, especially by the great Al Bernard, the famous "jazz singer".


Record Fiend said...

Interesting stuff, Nic. Keep up the fine research that you do.


Joseph Scott said...

Hello Nic. The Mamie Smith thing basically amounts to a myth -- unless someone's just saying that she was the first known _black female_ to sing blues on record, because that's true.

Categories such as these were recorded before 1920:
-- Twelve-bar blues with male vocal, black artist ("St. Louis Blues" Ciro's Club band)
-- Twelve-bar blues with female vocal, white artist (e.g. opening of "Homesickness Blues" by Nora Bayes)
-- Twelve-bar blues, instrumental saxophone band, white artist (opening of "Bull Frog Blues" Six Brown Brothers)
-- Twelve-bar blues, instrumental saxophone band, black artist ("Joe Turner Blues" Wilbur Sweatman)
-- Twelve-bar blues, instrumental guitar duet, white artist ("Southern Blues" Ferera and Louise)
-- "Blues" without 12-bar, vocal, black artist ("I'm Sorry I Ain't Got It, You Could Have It If I Had It Blues" Bert Williams)
-- "Blues" without 12-bar, vocal, white artist (e.g. "Chinese Blues" Irving Kaufman)