THE GREAT BLUES SINGERS
BESSIE SMITH, MA RAINEY, IDA COX & CHIPPIE HILL
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
BESSIE SMITH (on #1) with James P. Johnson (p) the Hall Choir; and members of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra (including Joe smith, cornet; Charlie Green, trombone; buster Bailey, clarinet; Happy Caldwell, tenor sax; Charlie Dixon, banjo; Kaiser Marshall, drums). Probably New York; 1929
MA RAINEY: with Cow-Cow Davenport (p) B.T. Wingfield (cnt) possibly Johnny Dodds (cl) (on #4) – Jimmy Blythe (p) (on #5) Chicago; 1928
CHIPPIE HILL (on 6&7): with Lovie Austin (p) Lee collins (tp) John Lindsay (b) Baby Dodds (drs) Chicago; Feb., 1946
IDA COX (on #2 and 3): with unknown accompaniment Chicago; 1929
1. St. Louis Blues (3:38) (QW. C. Handy)
2. Jail House Blues (3:23) (Ida Cox)
3. I'm So Glad (3:15) (Ida Cox)
4. Soon This Morning (2:50) (Charlie Spand)
5. Don't Fish In My Sea (2:54) (Bessie Smith – Ma Rainey)
6. Troubled In Mind Blues (2:46) (Richard M. Jones)
7. Careless Love (3:05) (traditional)
These are the great blues singers - in the fullest, proudest sense of that word.
Considering how many women have sung in the remarkable blues tradition of the American Negro, this is admittedly a strong statement. But these voices are quite capable of supporting the claim. There can be no question that the rich-voiced Bessie Smith, and the superb artist who was to an extent her teacher - Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, stand far above the crowd, by virtue of their remarkable talents and, as well, because of their complete grasp of the unique emotional content of this music. The two others featured with them on this LP must be ranked a full stride below Ma and Bessie, but this is hardly a damaging confession, for the plain fact is that no other singers of the blues (and very few singers of any sort) deserve equal status with them. But among all the rest, Bertha "Chippie" Hill and Ida Cox - two performers with very dissimilar personal approaches to the blues - can most readily be compared with Smith and Rainey without apologies.
All four were headliners during the same period: the late 1920s, when the blues reached its highest peak of artistry and also of popularity, particularly with the Negro audiences for whom, after all, this music was primarily intended and for whom it carried the most meaning. It was a time when the blues had emerged from the crudeness and simplicity of its earliest years into a well-defined and mature form, yet before commercial considerations and white, Tin-Pan-Alley dilutions had been able to rob it of any of its vitality and honesty.
Although they were contemporaries in greatness, it can be noted that this LP marks the first time that these four singers - who were, in their day, the jealously guarded properties of different record companies - can be presented together. Riverside is proud to be able to join examples of the work of these major artists into a collection that can come close to being a definitive portrait of the classic blues.
BESSIE SMITH was known as "Empress of the Blues," the sort of billing that might have been a press agent's creation, but which in this case happens also to be the simple truth. Born in the South, and a professional singer when little more than a girl, Bessie graduated from the minstrel tent shows to a phenomenal recording and vaudeville career. she was famous, and for a while most prosperous, but her music remained true to what the blues are concerned with; the joys and bitterness, the earthiness and the irony of a deprived people. She was a striking figure of a woman, with a sound and a personality that commanded attention and in return gave her listeners and understanding of the meaning and impact of the blues. Her treatment of St. Louis Blues is taken from the sound track of a movie short of that name, her only film appearance. The movie was made in 1929, and dealt with a basic blues theme: a woman's troubles with her man. Running into troubles of its own, with the censors, the film was apparently never widely shown and soon disappeared from sight. Many years later, a print was turned up. From its sound track, as edited, excerpted and reprocessed here, there emerges what amounts to a "new" performance by the Empress of the Blues.
MA RAINEY, according to legend, came across a child named Bessie Smith and helped her get her start. It's pleasing story, but whether or not it's fully accurate. It rests on her deep and resonant voice, on the amazingly pure, direct, relaxed and untricky manner in which she sang. She never reached a white audience, as Bessie did, and so remained much less widely known. But she was tremendously popular among the Negroes of the South and Midwest throughout a career that began not long after the turn of the century, and she exerted a strong influence on every blues singer of her day. Thus she played a major role in the development of the blues from their early form into the rich and complex music of such numbers as Don't Fish in My Sea (whose lyrics are credited to Bessie Smith) and Soon This Morning, both originally issued on Paramount 12843.
CHIPPIE HILL had two careers. The first began in Harlem clubs and included blues stardom in Chicago; she recorded with Louis Armstrong, among others, and worked in a Ma Rainey tent show. Then came a retirement of almost twenty years, ending when she was coaxed back to work by the Circle label, for whom she recorded, supported by other veterans of the golden era of the '20s, these versions of her earlier hits, Careless Love and Troubles in Mind Blues (that being the original and rather more coherent title of the tune that's invariably sung and listed as "Trouble in Mind"). The records were followed by success in New York clubs, where her forceful and rhythmic shouting recreated the past quite effectively, until her sudden death in an automobile accident in 1950.
IDA COX lacked some of the sheer power of the others, but her greatness lies in an unexcelled ability as an interpreter of the blues. On Ida's records, the content of the lyrics (many of them written by her), take on the importance they deserve; her delivery, her twists of phrase, convey pathos or cynicism or what must be called the pure folk-poetry of the blues with vast impressiveness and beauty. Like Ma Rainey, she recorded almost entirely for the Chicago "race" label. Paramount, usually accompanied by the best available jazz names, although the fine backing on I'm So Glad/ Jail House Blues (Para 12965), which are probably her last records for that company, is by an unidentified group.
Ma Rainey can also heard on three other Riverside LPs: in three selections on Louis Armstrong Plays the Blues (RLP1001), and on Ma Rainey, Volume 1 and 2 (RLPs 1003 and 1016). Ida Cox is featured on RLP1019, and on four selections in King Oliver Plays the Blues (RLP1007).
This material reissued by special arrangement with Paramount Records and with Circle Sound. The slight surface noise audible on this LP is due to the limitations of early recording processes; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity and to give more faithful reproduction of original to qualities.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Paul Bacon
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19. N.Y.