Vaughn DeLeath

Dancing the Devil Away

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America was in constant change in the early 1920s. The automobile had became less of a novelty and more of a necessity, ushering in an era of increased mobility. The first "moving pictures" were causing a sensation, producing the country's first modern entertainment superstars, and the rise of radio opened that can of worms known as mass media, giving personalities and entertainers savvy enough to grasp its impact free entrance into the living rooms and parlors of the American people on a daily basis. One of the first of these new radio stars was the androgynously named Vaughn DeLeath, who was as much, or more, a personality as she was an actual singer. Born in Illinois and raised in California, DeLeath none-the-less adopted a Southern affectation in her public incarnation, perhaps instinctively grasping that in this new media-driven America it was much less important who you were than who you pretended to be. With a musical background in opera rather than jazz, DeLeath had a tendency to over-sing most of her material, stylizing it instead of personalizing it, but she also fully understood the concept of radio microphones, and took to crooning and softening her vocal approach in the middle of songs for dramatic effect, an approach that would have been lost in a large concert hall. Recognizing that personality was what translated best over the radio airwaves, DeLeath became one of the country's best-known singers during the '20s. This collection brings together several of her Edison radio recordings from the era, including the faux Southern "I Love the Land of Old Black Joe," the big band "Dancing the Devil Away," the coy and sexy "Is Ya?," and the bubbly, gender-blurring "Marianna," showing DeLeath to be a joyous radio creation full of sass and spunk. Although the Great Depression eventually sank DeLeath's career, she prefigures the countless singers since who have achieved fame based more on image than substance, although occasionally -- as she does with "Is Ya?" -- DeLeath rose above her calculated affectations to deliver something really special.

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