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The sky is crying, look at the tears roll down the street. I'm waiting in tears for my baby, and I wonder where can she be? - Elmore James, The Sky Is Crying

Author Topic: Mamie Smith  (Read 2439 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Mamie Smith
« on: January 24, 2009, 07:52:31 AM »
Adding Mamie Smith to the Juke Slack noted:

"Often cited as the gal who started it all, with the smash hit "Crazy Blues", but also viewed somewhat critically as not exactly a blues singer. I think her singing is quite good, and while not Bessie Smith bluesy, it is more blues-inflected than some commentators allow in their dismissals. In her upper range, and clarity of tone and pitch, she sometimes reminds me of Georgia White. Some fun material, IMHO. Victoria Spivey thought so too."

This is what Spivey had to say in Record Research 67, January 1964 (page 7)

'I Knew Mamie Smith'
by Victoria Spivey:

In the very early 20s Mamie smith, the greatest blues singer at that time, made a public appearance at the City Auditorium in Houston, Texas. I had been learning a lot about Blues by playing her very popular Okeh phonograph records. Her 'CRAZY BLUES' was the very end and was selling like hotcakes. I wanted to see Mamie so bad but mother could not afford the money for the expensive City Auditorium where Mamie was appearing with her Jazz Hounds. Miss Smith only played the best theatres and auditoriums in those days. But I had a cousin who was quite a stepper and she found out how much I really wanted to see Mamie. I spent a night over at her house. She dressed me up by letting me wear some of her nice clothes. She was going to treat me to see and hear Mamie smith that night. I was really what they call today slaphappy when I heard this. We got to the spacious beautiful City Auditorium which was jammed with at least 3500 people and for the first time in life I saw Blues Queen, Mamle Smith in her shining glory - and did I see something!! Wow! ! Miss smith walked out on that stage and I could not breathe for a minute. She threw those big sparkling eyes on us with that lovely smile showing those pearly white teeth with a diamond the size of one of her teeth. Then I looked at her dress. Nothing but sequins and rhinestones plus a velvet cape with white fur on it. We all went wild. And when she sung she tore the house down. Between numbers while the band was playing she would make a complete wardrobe change in about a minute and was back in record time for her next blues selection. I remember that her second wardrobe was a gold metallic dress. Her full voice filled the entire auditorium without the use of mikes like we use today. That was singing the blues!! I was really inspired and I kept plugging to become a blues singer.

Well, I never met Miss smith again until 1926 in St. Louis. Well, honey: by that time I had made it, and the Black snake Blues of mine was really riding on Okeh and all over the country. This time I had the chance to shake Mamie's hand through the courtesy of John Erby who was my tutor and pianist at that time. John and Mamie were good friends. I had the chance to tell Mamie how much I admired her voice and wardrobe and her beautiful teeth. Mamie was still on big time. How do I know?! She told Erby how she had refused to work for less than 2500 dollars a week in Kansas City. That was the last time I saw Miss Smith.

When I heard in 1946 that my Queen Mamie Smith had passed and was buried in an unidentified, stone-less grave with two strangers, I just grieved. I spoke to different big stars about it but no one paid me any attention. So it rode on all the way till September 1963 when I made my European Blues Tour. And in Germany I spoke to two wonderful great lovers of the blues, GUNTER and LORE BOAS (husband and wife), about Mamie. When they heard about Mamie's plight they flipped. They gave me their assurances that they were going to help get Mamie Smith a headstone. And that they did! ! On November 30, 1963 they worked out a very successful 6-band jazz blues benefit for the purpose of raising the money for the stone and that they did: A few days later the headstone was finished. Just a few days after that the stone, was on a German ship with a jazz band to see the stone off, heading for our New Orleans. We understand that the steamship line paid the passage freight itself. How noble! After the stone will arrive Editor, Len Kunstadt and myself will take over to get the stone to New York and also to raise money for reburial and a new plot for Mamie.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Mamie Smith
« Reply #1 on: January 24, 2009, 09:57:04 AM »
Hi Bunker Hill,
I thought to move Victoria Spivey's reminiscences of Mamie Smith over here.  She wasn't Country Blues, perhaps, but she sang blues, sure enough.
All best,

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Mamie Smith
« Reply #2 on: January 24, 2009, 10:04:01 AM »
Can't say fairer than that. Good call.  :)

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Mamie Smith
« Reply #3 on: January 24, 2009, 10:10:46 AM »
Thanks for posting that, BH. Good to read Spivey's complete reminiscences of Smith.

Offline oddenda

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Re: Mamie Smith
« Reply #4 on: January 24, 2009, 09:47:30 PM »
There was also a fund raiser at The Celebrity Club that Len and Victoria put on. Many still surviving Black vaudeville singers (so-called "classic blues" singers) showed up and sat in. The band was Buddy Tate's, w. Herb Flemming (fr. Johnny Dunn's band) on trombone , and Tadd Dameron on piano! A gig was a gig was a gig even back then. This was the first thing I wrote about - for BLUES UNLIMITED. If any interest, maybe Bunker Hill can post it here... my copies are in NJ with all my other stuff. I never looked back!

Peter B.

Offline Richard

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Re: Mamie Smith
« Reply #5 on: January 25, 2009, 02:24:59 AM »
Mamie Smith was a great singer and nice to read that piece by Victoria Spivey thanks BH.

That prompted me to excavate an LP by VS where she is accompanied by a  rather odd line up comprising ukelele (is that ome above or below a banjo  ;) ) kazzo and drummer. But even with that odd line up her vocals make it swing, although I must confess the ukelele\kazzo instrumental is, errr interesting!
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Mamie Smith
« Reply #6 on: January 25, 2009, 03:11:13 AM »
Steady on, Richard.  How dare you mention ukulele (note correct "Hawaiian" spelling) and banj..  ban... - no, can't bring myself to say it - in the same breath?

The word "ukulele" is allegedly Hawaiian for "dancing flea".  The alternative translation is:
"Island dwelling man him know no better, but better watch out for exploding small guitar".

PP aka Occasional Tenor Uke Player.
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline blueshome

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Re: Mamie Smith
« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2009, 06:45:08 AM »
PP  don't forget I'm down your way this week, could have a bit of left over flea powder from the cats - should do the trick. It's only your good sense on ban...s that has kept you safe.

Offline Chris A

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Re: Mamie Smith
« Reply #8 on: February 15, 2009, 06:17:48 AM »
Interesting reminiscence by Victoria, but bear in mind that these are not her exact words, more likely Lenny Kunstadt's.


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