In order to fully appreciate the only known recordings by long lost New Orleans chanteuse Esther Bigeou (c.1895-c.1936), you'll need to forget all about conventional standards for jazz and blues singing. Esther Bigeou was a full-time touring vaudeville actress who cut her first gramophone recordings during the autumn of 1921 and made her last appearance on record in December of 1923. Her method of presentation was radically different from what came to be expected from female vocalists later on in the decade. Using her voice to accentuate the content of the lyrics rather than the tonal nuances of the songs, this woman muscled her way through each performance, singing with feeling but without polish, backed by almost entirely anonymous vaudeville pit bands. The mysterious sounds of these alternately sleepy or bouncy ensembles belong entirely to their day and can never be re-created by postmodern musicians. Esther Bigeou handled a number of W.C. Handy compositions but her recordings will be best appreciated as precious vaudevillian relics. Nine of her performances have intimate piano accompaniments by Clarence Williams, allowing the listener to savor her honest and unpretentious style. Her all-time best recording was to be her last. Splendidly backed by Armand J. Piron's New Orleans Orchestra, Esther Bigeou delivered a spirited rendition of the rousing "West Indies Blues," quit making records, went back on the road, retired in 1935, and passed away in New Orleans around 1936. This fascinating Document compilation also pays tribute to three entertainers who shared the surname "Brown." Tracks 18 through 21 comprise the only known recordings of Afro-Iroquois-American vaudevillian and male impersonator Lillyn Brown (1895-1969). Backed by her Jazzbo Syncopators (also known as the Syncopated Syncopators), Brown carries on in high-flown vaudeville style, emitting whoops and hollers while the Syncopators (containing reedman Garvin Bushell) diligently hold the ground in a manner perfectly appropriate for Afro-American entertainment during the spring of 1921. Ada Brown's career began in Kansas City but took her as far away as Paris and Berlin. Her inclusion on this compilation adds a welcome shot of feisty, full-throated blues shouting, comparable in some ways to the music of Bessie Smith. Ada Brown may be heard on certain Bennie Moten records, and in a famous duet with Fats Waller during the 1943 motion picture Stormy Weather. Almost nothing is known about Alberta Brown. She is said to have originated in Dallas, TX, and made only one two-sided record in New Orleans on April 25, 1928. Her accompanists are believed to have been cornetist Abbie Brunies, clarinetist Sidney Arodin, pianist Red Long, and tuba man Chink Martin. This woman was a real blues singer -- her delivery is passionate and soulful, relaxed and ruminative.
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf