Blanche Calloway & Her Joy Boys

1925-1935

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Cab Calloway's big sister was born in Baltimore, Maryland back in 1902. "Little Cabell" was born in 1907. Eventually the family moved west to Illinois. Blanche was the first to pursue a musical career, singing at clubs in both Chicago and New York. Brother and sister appeared together in the Plantation Days show, live on-stage at Chicago's Loop Theater. Theirs must have been a dynamite act. Blanche sounded like Cab only stronger and more visceral, which is to say: female. Blanche's recording career was brief but brilliantly successful. Her earlier recordings with Reuben Reeves and Andy Kirk have been issued under those artists' names on the Classics Chronological series. Blanche's own chronology as presented here begins with two musty old blues records from November of 1925. Accompanied by Louis Armstrong and Richard M. Jones, Blanche sings her heart out, but some listeners will probably find these two sides most interesting on account of the cornet player. A little over five years later, Blanche is belting it out in front of her own 11-piece orchestra. The "Joy Boys" included several young men who were destined to have quite an impact on jazz. Their names were Cozy Cole, Clyde Hart, Vic Dickenson and Ben Webster. "Just a Crazy Song" might be familiar to some jazz collectors as it was issued on one of many topical collections by the Stash label back in the 1970s. Blanche sounds a bit like Lil Hardin Armstrong as she hollers her way through this novelty exercise in scat. Rather than emulating her brother, Blanche seems to be strutting her own stuff, and one cannot help but wonder how much of his famous style was developed in emulation of hers. The exact dynamics of their relationship have not been explained or understood, and probably never will be. What is known is that even though Cab was headed for relative superstardom, Blanche made a lot more money at first than her brother did. She would always sound like a boisterous vaudevillian, with a rambunctious, burlesque quality that is bracing. Audiences loved her but her unconventional vocals might very well have frightened off recording executives, for this was not your typical "girl singer" but a rowdy woman who sang however the hell she felt like singing. The repertoire is excellent. "It's Right Here for You" is magnificent, and "Make Me Know It" compares nicely with Evelyn Preer's lovely 1926 recording, backed by the great Thomas Morris. Blanche's band picks up the tempo and makes it trot like the pop tune "Just Because You're You," as premiered in 1921 by Yerkes S.S. Flotilla Orchestra. Blanche really works each song for everything it's worth. "I've Got What It Takes" is as tough as Bessie Smith and swings really hard. "Growlin' Dan" was Blanche's theme song, more or less. It is obviously patterned after her brother's biggest hit record, and she even mentions "Minnie the Moocher" in passing. Blanche does wonderful things with Fats Waller's forgotten masterpiece, "Concentratin' on You," allowing us to enjoy Andy Razaf's funny lyrics. This is Blanche at her very best, peppered with enthusiastic shouts from her band. Other highlights are the call-and-response stomp "Catch On," a frantic music hall number called "I Need Some Lovin'" and "What's A Poor Girl Gonna Do?." This last tune could pass for Sophie Tucker material. Lonesome, Blanche is confronted with a bloodless mechanical man, one who is "neither Democrat nor Republican." In the midst of this socio-psycho-sexual dilemma, the band sizzles away with the gas turned all the way up.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 3:00
2 2:50
3 2:57
4 3:08
5 3:02
6 3:01
7 3:21
8 3:00
9 3:03
10 3:32
11 3:02
12 2:25
13 3:24
14 3:14
15 3:07
16 2:57
17 3:16
18 2:45
19 2:32
20 2:42
21 2:30
22 2:40
23 2:47
24 2:43
25 2:31
blue highlight denotes track pick