Leona Williams

Complete Recorded Works (1922-1927)

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During the 1990s, the Document label reissued enormous quantities of rare early blues and jazz on chronologically calibrated retrospectives. Recordings by artists with small discographies were compiled in sedimentary anthologies or used as filler to round off "complete" editions in need of additional ballast which were devoted to better-known artists. In the case of vocalists Leona Williams and Edna Winston, their combined output fit nicely onto one compact disc, creating what turned out to be a very appropriate comparison. Williams was an early jazz singer who is represented here by 16 sides cut for the Columbia label during a series of recording sessions that took place from January 23, 1922 through February 5, 1923. The quintet that backed her, billed as her Dixie Band, also made quite a number of fine recordings under the name of the Original Memphis Five. They have been identified as trumpeter Phil Napoleon, trombonists Miff Mole or Charlie Panelli; clarinetists Johnny Costello or Jimmy Lytell; pianist Frank Signorelli and drummer Jack Roth. This singer had a delivery and repertoire similar to those of Mamie Smith, Ethel Waters, Eva Taylor, Lucille Hegamin, or Sophie Tucker. She is aptly paired with Edna Winston, whose eight Victor recordings were cut on November 23, 1926 and February 16, 1927 with backing by a five-piece band led by cornetist Thomas Morris, who is mainly remembered for his sessions with Sidney Bechet in 1923 and with Fats Waller in 1927. While serving as Winston's backing band, the Morris group contained trombonist Charlie Irvis, clarinetist/alto saxophonist Bob Fuller, pianist Mike Jackson, and banjoist Buddy Christian. This was an almost identical lineup as the one used by Morris on August 27 and November 2, 1926, when Joe Nanton replaced Irvis during what may be seen as a brief prelude to his better known involvement with the Duke Ellington orchestra. Irvis, on the other hand, is perhaps best remembered for his work as a member of the ensemble billed as Fats Waller & His Buddies in 1929. Winston fits into the early female blues and jazz department alongside Coot Grant, Evelyn Preer, Alice Moore, Ida Cox, Clara Smith, Victoria Spivey, and young Sippie Wallace.

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