Shelton Brooks

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Shelton Brooks was raised in Detroit and began his career as a ragtime piano player, initially entertaining the public in Detroit's cafes and nightclubs, then expanding his territory to include Chicago.…
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Shelton Brooks was raised in Detroit and began his career as a ragtime piano player, initially entertaining the public in Detroit's cafes and nightclubs, then expanding his territory to include Chicago. It was right around 1909 that Brooks began to compose his own material. By this time he had also developed into an accomplished vaudeville entertainer. Brooks toured the United States of America, Canada, and the British Isles. His act was largely based upon a gift for mimicry; he apparently did such a convincing Bert Williams imitation that Williams himself is said to have remarked: "If I'm as funny as he is, I got nothin' to worry about." Shelton Brooks established himself as a songwriter in the following manner: he had been walking around captivated by a melody in a minor key that had been dancing around between his ears, but could not come up with any words to go with the tones he kept hearing. One day, seated at a restaurant, he found himself listening in on a heated disagreement between a black woman and her male companion. Sharply warning him not to abandon her, the lady spoke these words: "...some of these days, you're gonna miss me, honey." Stunned, Brooks realized that her phrase matched his tune perfectly. The rest of the song then wrote itself through him. He went out and got it printed up, then took the score directly to Sophie Tucker, who, according to Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, was often remarkably helpful to aspiring Afro-American composers. Tucker got right behind the song, in fact she was already performing it the very next day! Ultimately the tune became so closely associated with her that she made it into her theme song and even copped the title when she published her autobiography. "Some of These Days" was published in 1910 and eventually sold more than two million units on the sheet music market. It was also destined to become a jazz standard. Barry Singer, in his biography of lyricist Andy Razaf, claims that this number was "...perhaps the landmark song of this Tin Pan Alley epoch, whereby Brooks, with sophisticated lyric colloquialism and heartfelt passion, elevated the coon song into the realm of expressive emotion." Brooks wrote "All Night Long" in 1912 and "Walkin' the Dog" in 1916. He should also be remembered as the composer of "I Wonder Where My Easy Rider's Gone."

But it was "The Darktown Strutter's Ball" that constituted Brooks' next big hit. First circulated on the vaudeville circuit, this rowdy syncopated novelty just happened to get utilized by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band at their first recording session on January 30, 1917. This first nominal jazz record sold like hotcakes, and the sheet music sales exceeded three million. Brooks wrote a song called "Jean" in 1919, which was popularized by Isham Jones. Shelton Brooks also composed "There'll Come a Time," "Honey Gal, You Aint Talkin' to Me," and "If I Were A Bee and You Were a Red, Red Rose." It was as a performer on-stage, in movies, and on the radio that Brooks continued to circulate after he stopped composing great melodies. He appeared in the cast of Lew Leslie's Plantation Revue, which opened at the 48th Street Theatre on Broadway in 1922. It was the first "all-colored" production to be scored entirely by white men (J. Russell Robinson and Roy Turk). The star of this show was Florence Mills. More from Barry Singer: "In July 1923 the Jack Mills Publishing Company...confirmed that in addition to having recently acquired the publishing rights for at least 60 'blues' numbers, it also had now signed to exclusive contracts a very impressive stable of black songwriters, including...Shelton Brooks." There was a progressive aspect to this entire policy; they intended to encourage younger black songwriters by organizing a well-defined business environment for existing composers of color. What Singer describes as "this activism" actually caused other white publishing houses to compete in order to secure contracts with black songwriters. The effect was ultimately quite positive. Phonograph records do exist of Shelton Brooks performing as a vaudeville comedian. He seems to have recorded exclusively for the Okeh label. Titles include "Darktown Court Room," "Chicken Thieves," "You Got to Go," "That's Enough," and "Work Don't Bother Me." Shelton Brooks, who also sang and provided piano accompaniments on records with vocalists Ethel Waters and Sara Martin, passed away in Los Angeles, CA on September 6, 1975.