Session is finished.
University Humanities Center and the Miami University Alumni.
The author of the biography, soul on soul, the life and music of Mary Lou Williams, published by the University of Illinois Press.
Professor can nodal was awarded the Miami University's Benjamin Harrison medallion, which is the highest award given to a Miami University faculty member in recognition of their.
Research, teaching, and service.
She is currently president of the Society for American music.
Welcome to dr.
And thank you for taking the time to join us today.
[SPEAKER] Questions were collected during the registration and Dr.
Will address some of those throughout the webinar today.
You'll also have the option.
To ask a question during the webinar by clicking the Ask a Question button.
On the bottom of your screen.
Please note that in the interest of time we have available, we may not get to every question.
Today's webinar will last about an hour, including time for questions and answers.
With that, I will turn it over to Dr.
[SPEAKER] Thank you.
Molly is good to be with you again.
[SPEAKER] And thank you to all who took their day to attend this lecture.
I want to start this conversation with going back in time.
I want to take you back to all this.
Tim's 1920 was on that day.
Harlem singer by the name of mamie Smith, into the studios of okay.
She had been working in the Harlem seeing for quite a while and collaborating with a song writer by the name of Perry Bradford neuron.
That particular human.
Day in August.
She said about recording a song written by Bradford That would be marketed under the title Crazy Blues.
So let's hear this wreck.
Mamie Smith probably could've never know that that day.
Walking into that studio in that moment.
[SPEAKER] And recording proceed.
Perry Bradford song would ignite a cultural revolution.
That would alter not just the way in which the cultural industry of that time would view or engage with black music.
But it would also ignite a cultural revolution that would take black music beyond the insularity of black.
Communities that were being etched out both in the south and the north and create global sounds that would come to mark what was the emerging world and soundscape of post-World iI America.
And the rest of the world.
So in the Tom has been given.
I want to talk about this recording, Crazy Blues in 1920 a recording that is now identifiable.
Both scholars and listeners.
And blues enthusiasts as the first vocal blues record.
[SPEAKER] And talk about its overwhelming influence.
And impact and legacy.
And so I think the best way to talk about that is the talk about the singer.
And then talk about the sound.
And then I will talk about what is the larger cultural implications of this recording.
A sense of the influence of Crazy Blues was largely rooted in its overwhelming popularity.
With first black audiences, but also wide audiences.
Crazy Blues in its first month after its release, sowed.
75 thousand copies within his first month.
It sold over a 100 thousand copies.
And by the end of 1920, it had sold a million copies.
No record before this time, recorded by any black artist.
And let me be clear.
Few black artists that entered the spaces of studios in this emerging recording industry had, was sold this amount of recordings in many ways, what Crazy Blues did was defied this mythology this notion that had permeated the.
The recording industry in terms of whether black people would spend what little money they had to purchase, not only records, but to also play, to also purchase record players.
[SPEAKER] So crazy blue comes at a point where it.
Is that a nexus of emerging technology in terms of leisure culture, the burgeoning of leisure culture in America.
But also the identity politics that we're framing America.
At the end of World War I.
But also at the beginning.
What would become this age of prosperity and modernity.
So WHO WAS mamie Smith?
I think we have to start our conversation by talking about the voice behind the success, behind the movement, behind the revolution.
[SPEAKER] She, like many of the black women who would come to define recorded blues culture in the 19 twenties, had largely developer skills set in her formative years, singing in the church, and that talent becoming a threshold for her too.
What was the monotony of black life in America?
Mamie Smith was actually born mainly Robinson in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1891.
There's very little that is known about her early life.
But what we do know is this by the age of ten.
She was already performing with vaudeville groups here in the Cincinnati area, not just black troops, Mamie Smith's life as a professional musician speaks to us about how there is this racial and cultural.
Engagement that often takes place in border cities like Cincinnati, Ohio, which was a major port city that brought many people.
Here doing the late 19th, early 20th century.
So we have mamie Smith first or Mamie Robinson skews and we first appear.
With a white ball veal troop as a senior.
And then later showing up as a dancer as part of one of the many black, all black Bobby troops that traverse the United States in the early 19.
Early 1900, around 19 18 though, [SPEAKER] What we know is that she has kind of shifted away from the life of these troops and has begun to situate ourselves in the musical cultural life.
And she's singing in these halls.
Nightclubs in there that she encounters.
Perry Bradford and also encounters her husband, who actually is a singer and a musician in his own right.
So two years before mamie Smith enters this New York-based studio, we have her honing a sound, a sound that Willie was speaking to.
What was the evolving sense of black culture in the urban north during the height of the Great Migration.
But mamie Smith story, I want you to know is not so unusual for this time.
What we do know is this, that by the time of her birth, 1891, the blues was already beginning to develop.
As an important part of this.
Soundscape of the South and Midwest.
These iconic songs that seem very different from the spirituals and rags and stoams and other song forms.
And instrumental genres that were being cultivated by blacks as they traverse the web.
The South and the Midwest seem to have a subculture of their own belief system, of their own, and most importantly, they documented an aspect of American life that no newspaper saw.
Or thought was important.
[SPEAKER] So the Blues became really I live in newspaper, an incubator for the identity politics as people shifted around this environment, we know that as early as 1906, a singer who originated.
The out of Columbus, Georgia was a part of the Mistral practices of the 18 nineties and made that transition to Bob veal in early 19 hundreds was beginning to integrate these poignant songs into her repertory.
That person was Gertrude.
Who is better know as Ma Rainey.
And my promotion of the blues song.
And her popularizing of the blue song in the early 19 hundreds was significant in shaping the culture and the soundscape of America.
Ma Rainey traverse the United States in the circuit that was first introduced by Mr.
But were taken over and supplanted by Bob feel troops in the summer months, they traveled and played intention.
But in the winter they, they shifted their performances to theaters within larger metro cities and so the Blues became a part of this whitening soundscape that people began to, to identify in the early.
Women, performers more so than male Performers were beginning to really define this practice.
In this foveal circuit.
[SPEAKER] Now I don't want to give the impression that male performers were not important, but when we talk about the sound that we just heard.
With Crazy Blues, it marks for us the emergence in the ascent of the female blues performer.
If you look at early blues scholarship, male performers often privileged and they're often situated as the originators of this culture.
Due in large part to the fact that early country blues culture was really based in the lifestyle of sharecropping.
Oftentimes occupied spaces that were gendered by their nature.
They saying on, street corners, they saying in juke joint.
They saying in Barrow houses.
And these were male centered spaces that framed how men occupied their spatial surrounding juke joints, Barrow houses, chalk houses, all the different names that were used to identify.
These spaces where men would to drink and men with to gamble that men engaged in prostitution.
Sometimes these were all male centered spaces centered around leisure.
Women only occupied those spaces if they were working or if they came as.
As part of a domestic relationship.
And so we closely identify country blues because these were, these men were creators of these sounds that really showed the imprint of their travels.
[SPEAKER] But as Vaud veal.
Began to blend with blues culture in the early 19 hundreds.
Women started to be strong articulators of this culture.
So Mamie Smith's arrival in Harlem is representative or emblematic OF HOW BAD vovio.
Provided added a platform and a doorway for women to engage with the blues culture.
So with that being said, then what about the sound of crazy blue?
And the proximity of the sound of Crazy Blues in relation to this culture that I'm talking about.
Now we'll be honest with you.
I'm using a lot of terminology today that is reflective of how blue scholarship in the 19 sixties sought to identify these different variant strands of Black sound.
Blues as a cultural idiom in is.
Existence at this time, had not been categorized in these different utilizing these different terms.
So if for instance, when we talk about mamie Smith and Crazy Blues as a vocal blues, what we're talking about is a variant sound of the earliest.
Let's form a blues.
So scholars designated this sound as the classic blues or as vaudeville blue.
It's called classic blues because in many cases, the scholars who use this identified this warm as the first form of Negro entertainment music.
And I'm using terms.
Phonology that is rooted in the early 20th century.
Vaudeville blues is what has evolved out of the scholarship of other scholars.
Daphne devolved Brooks.
For instance, uses this terminology because what she identifies in the sound is how the blue.
Whose is being reconceived in the modern environment of urban cities in the north, or border cities like Cincinnati and Memphis in the south.
[SPEAKER] In these urban spaces.
What we have is a blending of white popular song formats with country blues idioms.
And also the meshing.
Of early jazz culture to create a specific idiom that not only spoke to the evolving consciousness of these black people and listeners and entertainers, but also to Whites who inhabited sometimes.
The same geographic spaces based on their economics, or who had an interest in this music, because of the biracial cultural roots of Southern culture.
So when we talk about Crazy Blues, Crazy Blues in 19 twenties is a representation of a type of modernity of American modernity in some ways.
But more importantly, black modernity.
And this black modernity is being routed or crafted.
Or defined in a series of things that are taking place in the years prior to this recording.
One is the Great Migration, the mass exodus of southern blacks till the North, that takes place.
At his height between 1 1819, you literally have thousands and some scholars estimate close to a million southern blacks who are beginning to move to urban cities, seeking not only new opportunity, socially, but also heating the call.
Of industry in its me to continue its level of production and proliferation.
Due as we are entering World War I.
And the influx of European immigrant workers being in some way shut off the second thing then.
This modernity in this sound is the racial that began to emerge as this migration is taking place.
These racial tensions hit a high point in 1919 when we have.
We experience what is called the Red Summer.
And the red summer is marked by a series of race riots that are taking place throughout the country.
Most people point specifically to the race riot that happens in Chicago during this period in time, which is precipitated.
The killing of a young boy who innocently drift into the white section of a beam area there.
And so finding lot of demarcation in water and what signifies why.
I space in black space creates one of these violent moments of insurrection where the black community is violently targeted.
So there is trauma.
That is birthing this modernity in the black community.
It is one that is centered also in the rise or the resurrection of the Ku Klux Klan.
And this notion of America first being part of the political ideology of the time.
The third thing that this mowed MODERNITY anti is going to be rooted in is the cultural and social reaction that is taking place to all of these events within the black community, particularly amongst the black intelligencia, which by 1919.
Is seeking to counter what is this public narrative of the black threat?
And these racial tensions, which are exasperated by the movie Birth of a Nation as well as the propaganda that arises out of.
The resurrection of the Ku Klux Klan.
[SPEAKER] As a byproduct of this.
There's a cultural movement that is beginning simultaneously that we identify as the Harlem Renaissance.
But it is really a negro renaissance because, while, it is strongly.
Incubated first in Harlem, we have congruent movements that are emerging in Chicago and Washington DC, in Philadelphia.
And later LA, in other spaces.
So this modernity is wrapped in all of these things, trauma and violence and., and opportunity and access, resistance.
But also new political ideologies that are seeking to redefine black.
Not only in a physical lived way, and in what is projected as a lived experience.
Also being sonically presented to the world as blackness.
[SPEAKER] So in order to understand what made ME Smith's sound seemed so radical.
And what made it attract the type of attention that indeed.
I think we have to go back and we have to listen to what the blues was in a vocal form before we get Mamie Smith in order to do this, I want to go back tomorrow raining.
Now, let me be let me be transparent.
Although Ma Rainey.
Is first woman to perform the blues on stages and to popularize the blues as part of this repertory that vaudeville performers are extracting farm.
She does not record until much later in her career, harvard cording career does not start until..
So Ma Rainey is important in terms of her framing.
Live blues performance aesthetic.
So by the time shes recording, mamie Smith, Bessie Smith, Alberta, hunter they're all of these women who are who have utilized.
The recording studio and the record to create another contexts of blues culture.
Ma Rainey is in many ways a bridge musically and ideologically in terms of the Blues.
She bridges what was that country blues sale.
That was incubated in the south and all the regional variance that took on from the Mississippi Delta Blues, the Memphis Blues, the Piedmont traditions, which she emanated out.
And all the various approaches to the blues.
And she bridges What is this?
Generation of blues artists that will be identified with this sound that we hear in Crazy Blues that will eventually be called blues are classic blues.
So to give you a sample example of the variations are the differences and somewhat the similarity.
In their Sal.
I want to play my rainy.
So here we have mall rainy and name of this song is hustling blue.
So this is Mark.
Drawing on what was the lived experience of women that she encountered in her many travels, hustling blues is essentially talking about a woman who is economically supporting her family and her household, through prostitution, social.
Hustling and this Blues.
It is about the fact that she's not made any money.
And what tensions that creates in her household.
But there's some key things that we here in this example that a hallmarks of the style.
First of all, is the instrumentation.
So we've got muted trumpet.
We've got piano.
But you're also here.
If you listen to the complete recording, you will hear the jug is well.
So my rainy wouldn't move fluidly between different instrumental combinations based on what she felt or what she visualized as part of that, aesthetic.
This is her really reflecting what jug man traditions that were very prominent in Memphis, in the Midwest.
But oftentimes she would perform a just solo piano, or sometimes as you see, visual lost in this particular picture, she.
Would perform with instrumentation that was emblematic of early jazz band.
So you see the trumpet, and trombone, and a saxophone, and the piano play.
I'm going to come back and talk about the pianist in this example.
[SPEAKER] But we also hear the hallmarks of the vocal.
Polity of the blues in which these blue women really q saying in this belting style that was, that was centered around filling a space and overcoming what was the volume of the instruments around them.
So it's a very controlled.
It's very focuses on the warm aspects of the tamper.
So very different sound that we equate with femininity, especially if we are listening to white singers who are performing at this.
Time so this is where a transgressive in many ways.
In terms of the projection of what is a female sound in American popular music.
But we also hear it more rainy and sometimes in some respects, is dealing with content and dealing with language and dialect that would have been.
Would have been understandable to the audiences.
The Southern audiences that came to hear her.
But not necessarily broader more diverse audiences.
And when I mean broad and diverse on meaning, not just white audiences, but no other than blacks who many of which had no context in terms of.
Southern vernacular language, as well as Southern culture.
Now, I want to go back to offer another Sonic, because I want you to hear it somewhat.
The differences in this because these things are salient in terms of the legacy of Crazy Blues.
A recording that mamie Smith made six months prior to crazy, because most people focus on Crazy Blues as being this first significant record.
But she actually made two records in early 1920 that were really.
Emblematic of Bradford Coke seeing of okay.
Records to record a black singer.
So this is very much rooted in this classic sound.
And so I want you to hear a little bit..
[SPEAKER] [...] [...] [...] no.
That's a thing called love that is.
As I said, with just a few months before, Crazy Blues and I wanted to play this record because it remain dormant on the shales of okay.
For several months before it was released in the summer of 19.
And upon its release, it immediately, so 10 thousand copies without any marketing or any fanfare whatsoever.
And so on one hand, what it indicates.
Was the viability, the economic viability of black life.
But what it also represents for us is just how misleading the use of certain terminology during this period in time can be.
In reference to what is actually happening musically.
So this is called the blues and will be marketed as blues.
But really this is more of a conventional pop song that brings in some elements of jazz culture.
And in some ways, some of the ethos of the blues in that you know, there's a narrative story that is being told without, but some of the classic elements of the blues that make the blues and unique and identify blue saw idiom aren't there.
We don't have that same 12-bar blues scale.
Skeleton formula, harmonic formula being emphasize.
We also don't hear what is oftentimes viewed as Blues poetry in the way that we heard a rumor, rainy.
[SPEAKER] So what I'm trying to get to saying is that this terminology really in the use.
Use of the term the blues was in many ways representative of how record companies began to realize with the growing popularity of of mamie Smith.
And these records, just how viable black music would be.
Particularly in the decade of the 19 twenties.
So let me get to the heart of all of this.
Because Crazy Blues, a thing called love.
And its success, growing success, inspired a marketing strategy that was enacted first by okay.
But begins to proliferate to other record companies doing a d twenties.
And that strategy would be called race records or race music.
So it represented the commodification of this culture, but it also represented.
The industry creating real categories that were racialized.
So this contexts of racialized sound begins to be promoted and defined in the 19.
Twenties [SPEAKER] So much so that.
The records of artists like mamie Smith, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, those singers, and then that spreading to jazz.
The jazz recordings of joking Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, or Louis Armstrong later on.
Are densified by the label.
And white performers who are going to also, in many ways be racialized and categorized after a series of recording sessions in Bristol, Tennessee in 1927, you will bear this mark of sudden, right.
So southern on a label is denoting white rule traditions.
And that's a sound that is going to be about framing whiteness, sonic whiteness in America, different fun Caruso, and the opera that is dominating the recording industry at this time.
And then we get crazy blues and all of these jazz recordings and all the subsequent recordings, creating this contexts of black sound.
So this strategy.
Erase Records was very lucrative.
You know, rather than just simply releasing material you had recording companies like okay, who put out advertisements such as this.
And if you look, this is an actual advertisement.
The jazz hounds were actually initially just the code.
Lack of instrumentalists who worked on the Syracuse of recordings.
But they get rebranded as ME, Smith's band.
And their personnel.
This constantly changing.
And so again, this is the record company.
Capitalizing on what is a growing appetite for black music in America in the twenties.
And how that is also going to be important in terms of framing white modernity, not just black modernity in this time.
I don't want to have time to talk about that today.
That is something to take in consideration.
One of the reasons why we have F.
His work, his literary work, and his lived experience, embodying this kind of engagement with black.
Culture and the sounds of Black America.
At this time.
I would be remiss if I didn't say that this marketing strategy did not impact how the black community also viewed the viability of this music and culture out of this.
This will storm of race.
Music and race records.
We see the emergence of the first black-owned recording company, Black Swan Records, which was in existence from 1921 to 1923, and what Black Swan really was trying.
To do was to not just recall blues, but to elevate black culture as part of this larger ideological focus of the Negro Renaissance.
[SPEAKER] So they recorded black console artist is opera singers, black ensembles, not just.
Jazz, but also classical ensembles, string quartets, and whatever was short-lived, largely because it did not have the same financial and economic base as a paramount or an okay.
Or, you know, or RCA Victor or any of these other major companies.
That really began to grow in their grow economically, but grow in their influence over the race market.
Let me just say this is big bucks for the recording.
In fact, is the blue.
Craze of the 19 twenties that really progresses the industry.
It is a it is estimated that these labels between 1920 up until 1933, 34 when we started to see a decline in recording.
So an estimate, 5 million records a year.
So here we are talking about a $1 million, if not a $1 billion industry that is being scripted out of the success of this first record.
So the question is, what is the legacy of Crazy Blues and how crazy blues changed the world.
[SPEAKER] While Crazy Blues in many ways, open the soundscape of different variant forms a black music engaging with the new technology of the studio and the.
In time, record companies moved beyond just simply these vault via blues inspired songs that we've heard.
And began to reclaim the country blues traditions of not just Ma Rainey, but other male performers like Charlie Popper, trolley, Jackson.
Robert Johnson, Willie Brown, Son House.
The list goes on and it would also expand to include jazz recordings and preaching.
So the legacy of crazy Blues, it, farmers son.
Point of view is far stretching from a cultural stone view.
It is also important because these recordings are also going to influence a generation of artists who are going to define different estab, approaches in genres.
[SPEAKER] So if we Tucker Why singer drawing on these early blues women to create her own idiom.
But also gospel performers like my Hey ma hailey you Jackson, drawing very strongly on what she hears in the records of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith.
Billy holiday, listening to these records, Louis Armstrong, the man who pushes jazz into a more modern aesthetic, not only listening to these records, but also playing on these records.
So one song writers push.
To have black vocalist featured as part of this growing soundscape of recorded music in America, would ignite a cultural revolution, whose by-products, whose legacy steel ripples and what we hear.
[SPEAKER] Thank you.
That was awesome.
Like [SPEAKER] Really listened to you talk all day long.
We actually have some really good questions.
Let's see, I'm going to start with, let's see.
So this one was one I was wondering myself, with Mamie Smith related to or was there any relationship with Bessie Smith?
I mean, I know it's a common last name, but was very good question.
No, they weren't they were not related at all.
But what happens is as a result.
Mamie Smith's popularity because she goes on to record a great deal.
Just in the year 1920 to 1921, she's recording almost 40 sides as 40 records, a lot, especially a lot considering that we are dealing with acoustic recording.
This is not electric recording.
We don't have the ability in this early practice to be able to edit, to be able to overdub.
So it's a very archaic and it's very odd in terms of the production of these records, right?
So her popularity and the growing popularity.
Of Bessie Smith, who actually ironically gets a recording contract before mall Rainey, The Woman Who mentors her, scribes a certain value to the last name Smith.
So what promoter started doing was that, you know, anybody with the last name is Smith.
You go into attention.
Show, you know, I might be Trixie Smith, but Trixie would be this B.
Smith would be extra large because, you know, they would try and pull you in to make you think you even hear ME MY or Bessie or one over their sisters.
So they had no biological relationship, but that shared name.
Help propel the popularity of the blue.
I see a lucky break for sharing.
So I also to was curious about the same question I'm so glad I got asked what kind of reception.
It made me get in Cincinnati after the success of Crazy Blues.
And [inaudible] anything to celebrate, her now,.
[SPEAKER] You know what that is, the part of the conversation I really want to know.
I'm not sure she ever made it back.
And I'm not sure how much of her family was actually steal.
It wasn't until recently that her actual birth was corroborated because early literature, she is rumored to be to be born much earlier than 1891.
The scholar, a few years ago found, actually found her birth certificate that said 1891.
Now, a couple of years ago, arts work.
The non-profit arts agency here in Cincinnati started a mural project highlighting.
Famous people from Cincinnati.
And there's a James Brown mirror, but there's a mamie Smith Miro noun.
And now that actually has her super imposed on the sheet music for Crazy Blues.
So there's been this reclamation of Mamie Smith's legacy.
But It's people steal teasing out.
What is the real connection with Cincinnati?
Oh bless her heart.
No, woman really wants to share what her birth year is.
She a good secret?
Mark actually mentioned in the comments he says he just discovered that.
Mamie Smith's movies are available in the public domain and can be viewed on YouTube.
He says he had plans to watch murder on the Lenox Avenue.
The this evening.
I had no idea that she was also an actress.
Do you know much much about her as an actress?
I know she made that tree as I did not know that.
Thank you for that.
I did not know they were in the public domain because her career, at least, you know, an early pores of the twenties really, correlated with the emergence of this black centered industry in terms of.
So the film, the stage show, the nightclub, the recordings were all about.
And she was able to really make that transition in a way that a Ma Rainey was not was much older.
Really didn't like the North.
Bessie Smith does make the transition to one movie.
She's in one film.
But in many ways, mamie Smith embody the Renaissance woman.
She embodied the modernity.
Black woman that was being projected by the room.
So she gets, she, transitions into some of these other areas.
I actually read a little plot synopsis, murder on Linux.
It seems like something I might wanted to into as well.
Steve asks, did Crazy Blues or other records by Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and or other black artists.
Did they get much play on radio station?
At all during their peak time?.
[SPEAKER] Not No.
That's a very good question.
Because radio is coming into its infancy in the twenties.
And radio at that point was doing more lie performances than it was.
So recordings were used for two purposes, during this period in time for artists.
So recordings were extension of these live performance is because the live performance, or more lucrative.
So many artists really didn't even see the value.
Ma Rainey was one of those people.
It also to allow people to take that experience of the theater in [inaudible] home.
But the recording technology was very limited with, you've got a three minute or less record.
So you know.
It wasn't feasible for many artists.
They didn't they didn't like the limitations that are placed upon them.
But also, you don't have radio stations who are engaging with recording culture in the same way that we see in the later in the 20th century.
So artists were more apt.
Perform lab in the radio studio.
Now, what ultimately happens?
I didn't get to talk about is that the recording boom, that Crazy Blues, you know, ignite, begins to dissipate with the Great Depression because people can't afford to valving trollers.
People can afford to buy., records cost anywhere from $0.75 to a $1.25 cents depending on which when you're buying a record that's a lot of money, that's a lot of money in the South.
If you're making $0.25 per 100 pounds of cotton, that that's a week's wages, in some cases.
Says right, depending on who you are and your productivity.
But radio starts to supplant these records.
So people start to buy radios versus these victrola.
So these performances, many people.
Begin to collect them.
But really radio becomes the focal point.
Now there'll be played for a while, but the culture is changing.
So that these records become passe as we move into the 19th and they're giving way to a new jazz aesthetic of singing.
So you know, this.
Is why people often talk about Billie Holiday as being an extension of this tradition, because she utilize, she took on the blues ethos.
She wrote so modern blue songs.
But she really modernized the songs in a way, the blues aesthetic in a way.
It palatable to the changing audience of that.
I think I answered your question.
Temi you answered in a perfect way because you actually answered Lydia's question and sort of she's asked with the great migration and better economic situation for black Americans held calm.
Was the phonograph player and households and communities, you, i know