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Take it slow and easy if you want to get along with me - Jesse Fuller, Slow and Easy Blues

Author Topic: Winston Holmes Pioneer Race Recorder  (Read 3059 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Winston Holmes Pioneer Race Recorder
« on: January 28, 2007, 04:31:59 AM »
With the usual, boring BH predictability a "tag" has prompted a scan of the following from Jazz Journal, February 1957 and. being that year. the discography may not be at one with today's knowledge.  :)

A Pioneer Race Recorder
By John Randolph

One of the most interesting ? and perhaps the rarest ? of the American "race labels" is Meritt Records. This is the story, not so much of the records themselves, as of the man responsible for them.

Meritt records were the personal creation of Winston M. W. Holmes. They were issued in pressings of several hundred each and were sold only by the Holmeses themselves in their own store As far as I have been able to ascertain they were not sold outside of Kansas City.

Born August 10, 1879, in Liberty Missouri, just a few miles from Kansas City. Winston Holmes had a varied career before he settled down in "The Heart of America", as Kansas City likes to call itself. In 1903, for example under the management of "Birdleg" Collins, he was a prizefighter, contending as a lightweight under the name of the "Black Pearl". For a time he worked as a piano tuner for the Starr Piano Company and other music stores in Kansas City, and at odd hours refinished old pianos and antique furniture. Later he toured the country with the Williams and Walker show. "The Smart Set". Another year. He donned grease paint and became a golden statue in the Eddie Foy vaudeville show.

His reputation as an entertainer was sufficiently high that years later Paramount records engaged him for three sides. Since these records seem to have escaped the attention of discographers. they are listed at the end of this article. where reference is also made to some records for Gennett on which Holmes participated.

He even tried his hand at politics because on December 16, 1917, the Kansas City Sun announced his candidacy for the office of alderman from the 14th ward on the Independent ticket. His effort was unsuccessful, perhaps because he was the first of his race to run in the Kansas City primaries, but he ran a strong enough race to indicate that he had the respect and friendship of many of his fellow citizens.

By 1920 he married, and in that same year ventured into the music business. His wife, a spry seventy-ish woman today, tells the story in these words: 'My health hadn't been so good?I was always a little delicate?so I couldn't work. But one day Mr. Holmes said. 'How would you like to sell records and piano rolls? ''Where on earth would I do that?' I answered. 'Why, right here in our own home', he told me. And that's how we got started". By 1925 the Winston Holmes Music Company opened its first store at 1636 E. 18th St.. and in 1927 the company was successful enough to move to a bigger store and a better location at 1704 E. 18th.

In the mid-twenties the enthusiasm of the Negro race for its potentialities ran high; efforts to create an all-Negro art and industry were initiated in many places. In New York City in 1921 Black Swan and in Chicago in 1926 Black Patti began issuing all-Negro records. Some time in 1925 Holmes organized his Meritt label on the same basis. In one room of his establishment, he installed recording equipment, the best available at the time. In 1927, for instance, his store could boast the first electrical recording studio in Kansas City. It was here that the later Meritt records were cut, and here that some of the early Bennie Moten Okehs were recorded. At one time or another, many recording companies made use of Holmes' facilities.

On the evidence, Holmes seems to have been quite a promoter. As the manager of the Bennie Moten band, he secured a recording contract for the group with Okeh in 1923. In addition he negotiated recording arrangements for Ada Brown, Mary Bradford, Hattie McDaniel, and others. It was due to his efforts, in large measure, that Kansas City jazz came into national prominence in the 1920's.

For his own label Holmes had ambitious plans. He designed the label himself, and projected a full presentation of Negro musicians of the Midwest. Too. Holmes attempted to be discriminating in what he issued; and Mrs. Holmes today owns several unissued masters which were rejected because Holmes felt they did not come up to the proper standard. (Unfortunately those masters, which would be of the greatest interest to the jazz enthusiast, those cut by the George E. Lee Band and by Julia Lee, were stolen from Mrs. Holmes a few years ago, she says. Perhaps some Kansas City collector could turn them up, however.)

At least one record, Mrs. Holmes recalls ruefully, was too successful. "The Downfall of Nebuchadnezzar" by the Rev. J. C. Burnett sold so well that Columbia persuaded Burnett to leave Meritt and record for them. Holmes sued for breach of contract but lost.

Then the depression, which hit Kansas City a little before 1929, came; and the Holmes Music Company went out of business. As Mrs. Holmes puts it, "Times was just too hard. Sure, folks went on buying records. People has to have music to live. But instead of one man buying. five or six people would go together. each one putting up ten or fifteen cents apiece. Then each would get the record for a day at a time. But we couldn't stay in business when that was all the buying people could do".

So Holmes gave up music as a business and never returned to it. When he deed on December 6, 1946, he was working as a technician in a Kansas City factory. But he left behind him, in a few scant records, tangible symbols of the cultural aspirations of his race and times.

A Discography of Merritt Records

Merritt 2200
Family Prayer (no further information available, but Mrs. Holmes says this was Merritt?s first title.)

Meritt 2201
Lena and Sylvester Kimbrough, acc. by Paul Banks' Kansas City Trio: Cabbage Head Blues (X23)/ City of the Dead (X22).

Meitt 2202
Hattie McDaniels, piano and cornet acc. by Phram and Utterbach: Quittin' My Man Today (2X)/ Brown-Skin Baby Doll (3X).

Meritt 2203
Rev. J. C. Burnett, M.R.A. acc. by Sisters Lucille Smith and Fannie Cox The Down Fall of Neb-u cha-nez-zar (356)/ I Have Even Heard of Thee (357).

Meritt 2204
Rev. H. C. Gatewood D.D.I.M.R.A. (sermon' Regeneration/The Well of Salvation.

Meritt 2205
(No information. Mrs. Holmes thinks her husband rejected this record after the sample pressing).

Meritt 2206
George E. Lee and His Novelty Singing Orchestra: Down Home Syncopated Blues (578)/The Meritt Stomp (579).

A Discography of Winston Holmes' Recordings.

Para 12798   Winston Holmes and Charlie Turner, singing and whistling, guitar and
harmonica acc.: The Kansas City Call (1318) (15260)/Rounders'
Lament (1319) (15259).
Para 12815   Winston Holmes and Charlie Turner, voc., guitar and harmonica
acc.: Skinner (1360) (15261A)/ Charlie Turner, guitar and harmonica: Kansas City Dog Walk (1361) (15262A).

Gennett 6484    Rev. B. L. Wightman  assisted by Lottie Beamon and congregation:
The Fountain of Cleanliness, I and II. (Holmes arranged the recording
and sang as a member of the rather small "congregation".)

Gennett 0000   Mrs. Miles: The Way  (Mrs. Holmes recalls her husband's being the accompanist on a record of this title).

Offline Cambio

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Re: Winston Holmes Pioneer Race Recorder
« Reply #1 on: January 28, 2007, 10:41:27 AM »
Lena Kimbrough was another alias for Lottie Kimbrough, her married name was Beaman.  Sylvester Kimbrough was her brother.  Winston Holmes is the guy doing the bird calls and yodels on "Wayward Girl Blues".  He must have been a real character.
Thanks for the post Bunker Hill. 

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Winston Holmes Pioneer Race Recorder
« Reply #2 on: January 28, 2007, 11:29:03 AM »
Yes, I think Lottie's name appeared as Beaman on the early recordings and Holmes had her change it in the later sessions. He also apparently used a photo of her sister in publicity shots. Lottie was nicknamed the "Kansas City Butter Ball", and apparently sis was better looking. Those tricky promoters!

(He may have been a character and trailblazer, but he didn't have the good sense to shut up when she was singing... :))


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