Laverne Holt

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This singer-songwriter was clearly ahead of her time, taking the initiative upon herself to record a politically astute lyric of black pride and nationalism entitled "Mr. Black Man" at least a decade…
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This singer-songwriter was clearly ahead of her time, taking the initiative upon herself to record a politically astute lyric of black pride and nationalism entitled "Mr. Black Man" at least a decade before other rhythm and blues and soul artists began singing out about such topics.

Yet Laverne Holt's conclusion that the music business was in part populated by "maliced, deceitful, destructive, ignorant, debauched, filthy, degraded, evil, subverted minds" could have been reached at any point in music history, past or present. The preceding comments are excerpted from a letter she wrote to her record producer, Joe Davis, one of the few people in the business she apparently trusted.

Holt recorded two songs for Davis in 1955, "Mr. Black Man" and "If You Play You Must Pay," the latter title especially ironic since the session represented a very early example of "pay to play" business practices, a detail of somewhat lesser historic interest than the self-determination expressed in her lyrics. Holt coughed up 500 dollars to have the two songs recorded professionally with a quintet backup, not at all the usual way of doing business for producer Davis, a jump-starter in the career of Fats Waller, among others.

The songs were originally released under the name of Enyatta Holta; Davis, aware of the progressive politics of "Mr. Black Man," wound up releasing the song again in the '70s. Subsequent compilation appearances have credited the material to Holt and Holta alike: the Krazy Kat label, for example, has one of each name lurking in the talent lineup spread over several collections of material Davis produced.

Great instrumental accompaniment graced the Holt tracks. Pianist Al Williams, who can also be heard on an earlier demo recording of "Mr. Black Man," fronted a combo that included the fine guitarist Everett Barksdale, drummer Bobby Donaldson, and the groovy combination of Bill Pemberton on bass and Haywood Henry blowing baritone sax. Henry seems to have taken over nominal leadership on several instrumentals this group tossed off at the same session, casual wanderings through "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Tenderly" that were not released commercially until 1964.