The Kingfish Files

Author: host Created: 1/30/2011 12:59 PM
Celebrating the music and musicians of early jazz.
By host on 12/23/2010 12:00 AM
  Judy Garland introduced this classic in the 1944 MGM musical "Meet Me in St. Louis". As is so often the case, the original is the best, not just for the recording but for the lyrics. 1944 wasn't the happiest of times -- victory in WWII was hardly a foregone conclusion and the depression was still in recent memory. So it's only appropriate that the song's lyrics include the line: Someday soon we all will be together If the fates allow. Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow, So have yourself a merry little Christmas now. Isn't that much better than "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough"? Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight. ...
By host on 11/21/2010 12:00 AM
Some songs just refuse to go away. They may not have made it to the top of the list of great American songs, yet they continue to be played, mostly by musicians who appreciate their beauty. "Alice Blue Gown" is one of those songs. Introduced by Edith Day in the 1919 Broadway show "Irene", the song has a universal appeal. First, of course, is the music itself -- an unassuming yet memorable waltz. But then there are the lyrics that tell the story of a young woman who clearly was not well-off enough to afford a new dress. But the "nearly new" gown of Alice Blue was her pride and joy. And my favorite part is this: And it wore, and it wore, and it wore 'Til it went, and it wasn't no more Pure poetry. Edith Day (1896 - 1971) had a successful career in the...
By host on 10/31/2010 12:00 AM
Popular music in the 1920s was very accepting of odd and idosyncratic performers. And nobody demonstrates that better than Lee Morse. Lee was very popular and very quirky -- her vocal style was truly unique. Some would say thankfully so, but I find it charming and authentic. This recording demonstrates Lee's style in all its glory. ...
By host on 10/24/2010 3:00 AM
  Eva Taylor is one of the many forgotten singers of the 1920s despite all the many recordings she made. She was a child actor who came to Harlem, sang in nightclubs, married the great jazz pianist Clarence Williams (also pretty much forgotten) and had a long and successful career. This recording of West End Blues is my favorite version of the tune, performed with simplicity, directness, and plenty of feeling. ...
By host on 10/17/2010 3:00 AM
In the 1920s and early 1930s Ruth Etting was as big a singing star as ever existed. Here's a nice recording of her singing "I'm Happy". What a great scene - Ruth sharing the backseat of a limo with the chauffeur, listening to the newest technology -- car radio!

UPDATE: The lawyers win again.  The short excerpt from a 1930s film was removed from youtube for copyright violation.  Copyright laws have been extended to the point that just about nothing can be shown without paying someone.  Just another sign of the decline of our culture.  If you can't view this video, thank a lawyer.

By host on 9/25/2010 3:00 AM
  When a song continues to be recorded for 100 years, you know it must be good. And "Chinatown, My Chinatown" is one of the best. Of course the tune is infectious, but the lyrics are also special in their expression of affection for "Chinatown": Chinatown, my Chinatown, Where the lights are low, Hearts that know no other land, Drifting to and fro, Dreamy, dreamy Chinatown, Almond eyes of brown, Hearts seem light and life seems bright In dreamy Chinatown.Neither condescending nor offensive, the writers convey the "otherness" of Chinatown as a dreamlike place that held as much fascination to westerners then as it does today. The American fascination with China in the 1910s and 1920s was not limited to Chinatown -- I remember well my grandmother's...
By host on 9/19/2010 3:00 AM
  In the 1920s, collaboration between black and white musicians had to be done behind the scenes. One of the most famous instances of this was the collaboration between guitarists Eddie Lang (white) and Lonnie Johnson (black). They recorded a number of memorable sides with Eddie adopting the pseudonym "Blind Willie Dunn". "Blue Blood Blues" is a particularly significant recording not only for the great playing of Lonnie and Eddie, but for the fact that Joe "King" Oliver appears as a sideman and Hoagy Carmichael provides rhythm and scat vocals. What a scene that must have been. ...
By host on 9/12/2010 3:00 AM
  Alberta Hunter started recording in the 1920s but had one of her biggest hits in 1940 with "My Castle's Rockin'". Alberta is known for her earthy style and the often earthier lyrics of her recordings. But she always carried it off with class. This tune features the piano playing of Eddie Haywood. Eddie was one of the early masters of the boogie woogie style, but here's a really interesting item. Eddie also wrote the standard "Canadian Sunset" which, if you listen to it carefully, is really a slowed-down boogie woogie tune. In fact, you can hear the bass riff of "Canadian Sunset" in Eddie's solo on this recording. ...
By host on 8/22/2010 3:00 AM
  After his smash hit "My Blue Heaven", song writer Walter Donaldson established his own music publishing company. While he never matched the success of his big hit, he did pen a number of lovely tunes, including "Lazy Lou'siana Moon". This recording by Annette Hanshaw features the Hawaiian guitar stylings of Frank Ferera, the father of Hawaiian slide guitar. Slide guitar was incredibly popular in the 1920s in many forms, from blues to country to jazz but especially in it's "Hawaiian" form typified by staccato articulation and broad vibrato. ...
By host on 8/15/2010 3:00 AM
Bing Crosby and Al Jolson shared a two interesting similarities. They both performed frequently in blackface. And they both recorded with the Mills Brothers. One might shake one's head at the seemingly preposterous incongruity. Why, after all, would the Mills Brothers agree to record with artists who employed a stage character associated with denigration and racism? The answer is simple, I believe. First, by the early 1930s blackface was still an accepted, if fading, form of stage presentation. Second, Jolson and Crosby, despite their use of blackface, could hardly be considered racist (at least by the standards of the time). Crosby in particular was quite public that Louis Armstrong was his biggest influence as a singer....

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