Mamie Smith

Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 4

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Mamie Smith's approach to putting over a song was developed in vaudeville houses and theaters before microphones were used to amplify the human voice, a fact which places her in league with stentorian characters like Sophie Tucker, Ethel Merman, Al Jolson, and Jimmy Rushing. Her high-pitched, theatrically mannered delivery compares most accurately with that of Ethel Waters, Lucille Hegamin, Lavinia Turner, and Eva Taylor. The fourth and final volume in Document's complete Mamie Smith retrospective combines the last of her works from the 1920s with material from a little-known session that took place in 1931 and a couple of intriguing movie soundtracks, the last recorded during the spring of 1940. This stunningly beautiful woman was the primary star of Okeh Records from August 1920 through August of 1923. Partially eclipsed by the rise of young Bessie Smith, Mamie cut a half-dozen titles for the Ajax label in September of 1924 with members of the Choo Choo Jazzers (cornetist Louis Metcalf, pianist Louis Hooper, clarinetist Bob Fuller, and banjoist Elmer Snowden) and an expanded seven-piece edition of her Jazz Hounds. Her next recording dates took place in August 1926 with a similar unit that featured cornetist Tom Morris and trombonist Charlie Irvis. The remaining recorded evidence finds her singing in front of various orchestras and on vintage motion picture soundtracks. "The Jail House Blues", which features an unnamed single-string violinist backed by pianist Porter Grainger, comes from a Columbia short that was shot and released in 1929. Mamie's interpretation of Fats Waller's "Keep a Song in Your Soul" was waxed in 1931, right around the time she actually performed with Waller and some of his friends. "Harlem Blues" and "Lord! Lord!" were drawn from the soundtrack of the Jubilee motion picture Paradise in Harlem, directed by Joseph Seiden, with Lucky Millinder's orchestra and additional vocals by the Alphabetical Four. Mamie Smith's final years were a far cry from the prosperous luxury and fame of her heyday. Although she initially invested in quite a bit of real estate, a manipulative predatory louse by the name of Ocie Wilson weaseled practically every dollar out of her. Crippled with arthritis and virtually destitute, she passed away in a cheap boarding house on Eighth Avenue in 1946. Long ignored because her vocal style predated the vogue for gutsy blues and hot jazz, Mamie Smith's complete works have now been made available to those who are willing to listen with unbiased ears.

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