Edith Wilson is remembered as an accomplished actress and vocalist who first rose to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance. Her early recordings (1921-1922) were reissued by RST in 1995 among the collected works of cornetist Johnny Dunn. In 2000, 15 records she cut during the years 1924-1930 were compiled and reissued by Document along with a handful of titles representing her sister-in-law Lena Wilson's brief resumption of recording activity in 1930 and 1931. Edith Wilson's career took off in 1921 when she replaced Mamie Smith in Put and Take, a stage show written by Perry Bradford, who was the man responsible for setting up her first recording session. In 1923, she appeared in Dixie to Broadway with Florence Mills and performed in London with the Plantation Revue. Back in Harlem in January 1924, she sang for the public at the Club Alabam, where the house band was led by Fletcher Henderson. That is the background for the first eight tracks on this compilation. On "Daddy Change Your Mind" and the "I Don't Know and I Don't Care Blues," she is backed by a quintet billed as her Jazz Band but otherwise known as Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra. On George W. Thomas' "Muscle Shoals Blues" and Gene Austin's "How Come You Do Me Like You Do?" she was supported only by guitarist Roy Smeck, a very busy session man identified on this Columbia record as "Alabama Joe." With the accompaniment pared down to one gentle instrument, the woman's voice stands out in high relief. On "He's a Mean, Mean Man" and "Double Crossin' Papa," the band is listed as Edith Wilson's Jazz Hounds; the name was borrowed directly from Johnny Dunn. After a pair of 1925 vaudeville blues duets with comedian "Doc" Straine (closely patterned after Butterbeans and Susie), the chronology is interrupted for more than four years. That's because Edith Wilson joined the show Chocolate Kiddies in 1926 and toured with Sam Wooding's Orchestra all over Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and Latin America until 1929 when she returned to New York and appeared in the revue Hot Chocolates. In this show she introduced Fats Waller's and Andy Razaf's "(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue," subsequently regarded as the first racial protest song ever performed on Broadway. The recording included on this collection is extremely valuable, not least because she sings the entire verse rather than relying solely upon the famous chorus. A chance to hear the verse of "Black and Blue" is rarer than you might imagine. On her 1929 and 1930 recordings, Edith's accompanying bands are peppered with outstanding musicians like trumpeters Bubber Miley and Charlie Gaines; trombonists Wilbur DeParis and Charlie Irvis, and reedmen Hilton Jefferson and Happy Caldwell. As for Edith's sister-in-law Lena Wilson, her earlier recordings (1922-1924) were reissued by Document on Lena Wilson, Vol. 1 in 2000. What you get at the tail-end of Edith Wilson's disc are six numbers sung by Lena with accompaniment by pianist Cliff Jackson who, like Donald Lambert, was a vastly underappreciated exponent of the Harlem stride piano school. While Lena's "Chiropractor Blues" and "I'm a Stationary Mama (Lookin' for a Permanent Man)" are sure to please, the most exciting surprise in this package is her rendition of Fats Waller's "Find Out What They Like (And How They Like It - And Let ‘Em Have It Just That Way)." This tune -- clearly written by men who liked to be catered to -- is rarely performed or recorded; Pat Flowers cut a version of it in the mid-'40s, Teresa Brewer revived it for a Fats Waller tribute album in the ‘80s, and it has been featured in more than one production of the Broadway musical Ain't Misbehavin". Lena Wilson appears to have been the first person ever to sing it in a recording studio.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf
feat: Doc Straine
feat: "Doc" Straine