This chronologically arranged series of hit records forms an arc that spans ten years in the life of Erskine Hawkins, trumpet-wielding leader of a remarkably hot big band and instigator of popular trends. Even though this core sample misses out on Hawkins' exciting recordings from the late '30s, it is a valuable time capsule filled with excitement. Dave Penny's excellent liner notes place the music popularity rating system in historical context. Billboard created the first national black music chart, the Harlem Hit Parade, in 1942. In 1945 for some reason the Hit Parade was renamed using the 1920s recording industry term "Race Records." Then in 1949 the language changed again, and black recording artists could aim to secure hits on the "Rhythm and Blues" chart. Since 1958 the music industry has called it the Hot R&B chart. Placing all of this in perspective, one may trace a decade of social evolution by following the trail of recordings that happened to sell well. Half of the titles included here are dynamic instrumentals. The saxophonists include Bill Johnson, Paul Bascomb, Haywood Henry, and Julian Dash, father of world-renowned filmmaker Julie Dash. Dud Bascomb was Hawkins' hurricane force assistant trumpeter, often stepping out for flashy solos. As pianists Hawkins had Avery Parrish, Ace Harris who also sang, and a one-armed keyboard player named Don Michael. Most but not all of the vocals are of the smooth or even slightly sugary sort. Laura Washington made a very successful recording of "I've Got a Right to Cry," and saxophonist Jimmy Mitchelle crooned out six romantic vocals in a surprisingly OK style, considerably hipper than Lunceford's Dan Grissom, for example. Given the year-by-year progression of hits, this album will enable any listener to better understand not only Erskine Hawkins' band but the overall evolution of popular music during this very transitional segment of the 20th century.
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf