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Great piece - Old Country Stomp. Thomas apparently used to play a lot of kids' birthday parties. So did Blind Willie McTell - John Fahey, on Henry Thomas

Author Topic: Rosa Henderson 1963  (Read 1930 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Rosa Henderson 1963
« on: April 16, 2010, 11:19:37 AM »
As promised elsewhere to Cleoma - the Rosa Henderson feature in Record Research 75, April 1966, p.3. Note capital letters were LK?s standard method of denoting "emphasis" or "proper names". Hope I've caught all the scanning anomalies.

If anybody is interested in reading the sole obituary (as opposed to half dozen line "death notices") then I could add it here.
Yesterday and Today
By Len Kunstadt

In the early 50s your scribe had the opportunity. to interview Fletcher Henderson and his wife, Leora in their once fashionable "striver's row" residence in Harlem, U.S.A. Little did I realize how significant this meeting would be as Fletcher's life was just about over - and a great life it was. Up on their living row wall there was a large fascinating picture which had all the appearance of being nearly a painting. It pictured a lady with a well formed smiling Face, pretty Features with large set searching eyes. I asked For the identity and "Smack" (Henderson?s nick-name) retorted, "THAT'S ROSA HENDERSON, THE FAMOUS BLUES SINGER". I further queried excitedly, "Is she related to you? Where is she? Is she still active?" He answered, "No, but I worked with her many times on recordings. She passed away a long time ago." This left a lump in my throat as Rosa was one of my favorite vintage blues artists.

BUT FLETCHER WAS WRONG. Just about 20 blocks away there lived a hale and hearty ROSA HENDERSON who at that time had been away from show business for nearly 2-decades. She was regular employee of one of New York City's large Department stores - and the show world was just a fond memory. Actually we did not Find this out until 1963. It was spot luck. Yours truly in the company of Victoria Spivey who had met Rosa years before, and Gracie Allen (no relation to George Burns? Gracie? smiles!!) who was a show trouper buddy of Victoria's, brought up the name of Rosa Henderson. Miss Allen not only verified Rosa's existence but mentioned that she was in regular contact with her and would try to arrange a meeting For us. At about the same time at an X-Glamour Girls All Star Show we had the good fortune to meet Rosa's daughter, a fine performer and entertainer in her own right, and she offered us the opportunity to meet Rosa.

After all these years - and with the once distressing thought that Rosa was gone - two contacts came forth within a few weeks of each other, and opened the road for us to  see this great lady of the blues. Out of the past right into the present came ROSA HENDERSON with her fine throaty booming blues voice with its swinging rhythmic qualities who had made many a fine recording in the 20s - and who by todays standards is a blues Queen of almost legendary status. What would she be like today?

My query was answered. It was truly one of the most exciting moments when Victoria Spivey and your reporter met the ROSA HENDERSON in June of 1963. When we rang her door bell, a full loud voice sounded off like a bell, almost in melodic form, "WHO'S THERE?" She knew who is was!! (smiles). And she knew we were coming - and graciously made our visit a very happy one. The first thing that came to our attention was her large eyes which mirror everything about her - and her beautiful long braided hair made up in Indian fashion. She possesses a natural cheerful disposition. When excited her voice just breaks out like an echo chamber and fills every corner of the room. And the comedienne is all over - just a natural ham as she mugs and spouts quips of her memories in an amusing manner.

She was born ROSA DESCHAMPS, November 2, 1896, in Henderson Kentucky. She began her career about 1913 in her uncle's carnival show. She played tent and plantation shows all over the South with one long streak of 5 years in Texas. She sang nothing but the blues. During this period she married Slim Henderson, a great comedian and showman, and she became professionally, ROSA HENDERSON. She entered vaudeville in New Orleans with her husband. One of her most delightful remembrances of this period was seeing Lizzie Miles in a carnival riding an elephant.. Slim joined up with John Mason and from this association a troupe was born which included Rosa. They played the country from one end to the other. In the mid 20s the Mason Henderson troupe really began to hit big time with headline attraction bill?ing in many of the larger theatres. Rosa also received star billing in some independent ventures. In 1927 she was in a musical comedy revue, THE HARLEM ROUNDERS, at Harlem's New Alhambra Theatre which also featured Tim Moore and Edgar Hayes Symphonic Harmonists. Another 1927 Alhambra show for Rosa was THE SEVENTH AVENUE STROLLERS which also included Lena Wilson, Manton Moreland and husband, Slim. Still another 1927 musical was RAMBLIN AROUND with Eddie Hunter and Amanda Randolph. Slim and Rosa had a delightful show?stopper in the show called, "On A South Sea Isle".

From May 1927 through September 1927 Rosa Henderson was a top race blues recurring artist. She was on Victor, Vocalion, Ajax, Perfect, Pathe, Brunswick, Paramount, Emerson, Edison, Columbia, Banner, Domino, Regal, Oriole, English Oriole, Silvertone and others. Besides her own name she was Flora Dale on Domino; Mamie Harris and Josephine Thomas on Pathe and Perfect; Sally Ritz (her sister's name) on Banner; and probably Sarah Johnson and Gladys White on other labels.

She speaks glowingly of Fletcher Henderson who helped her out immeasurably with her recordings. She can still remember Fletcher busily scoring her music for her on a noisy subway train as they were studio bound. She remembers veteran pioneer P & B publisher, Joe Davis,   musicians: Cliff Jackson, Louis Metcalf, Rex Stewart, Coleman Hawkins, Wendell Talbert, Bub Miley and James P. Johnson. She mentioned that she never feared the great Bessie Smith, professionally,   but she had a great deal of respect for Mattie Hite.

In 1927 Rosa was hitting her real stride as a single  but just a year later Rosa quit in her prime due to the unexpected death of husband, Slim. She was totally disheartened.. She made a few more appearances including one with Slim's partner, John Mason   and another with a Frank Montgomery production in Atlantic City but that was just about the end of the show business road for Rosa. In August f 1951 she returned to the recording studio and made her last recording with James P. Johnson for Columbia.

Rosa Henderson retired and settled down to the normal existence of mother and household provider. Her daughter entered show business and was a top chorine in many shows.

Today Rosa is a great grandmother with a great grandson who she idolizes. In January of 1964 Rosa did venture away from obscurity and was a guest at Victoria Spivey's Mamie Smith benefit at the Celebrity Club in Harlem. It was hoped that she would sing   but it did not happen. However it was wonderful to see Rosa in the public light again. The ovation she received when MC Boots Marshall introduced her was indeed heartwarming and sincere. It certainly proved that she was not forgotten.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Rosa Henderson 1963
« Reply #1 on: April 16, 2010, 12:00:58 PM »
British jazz critic Derrick Stewart-Baxter's encounter with Rosa Henderson three years after Lenny K's seems to have found her in less happy circumstances.....
Farewell Rosa Henderson
By Derrick Stewart-Baxter
(Jazz Journal July 1968, p.16)

In the past twelve months besides the passing of many great jazz musicians, plus the deaths of Little Walter Jacobs and J. B. Lenoir at a far too early age (poor J. B. just made 38 when he was killed in a car accident on April 29th, 1967), the blues world has lost two of its most beloved women artists. That both Ida Cox and Rosa Henderson had been inactive for some years, by no means softens the blow, nor dulls the sense of inevitability of life and death. Fortunately, most creative artists (and this includes jazz musicians) do lead full lives. How ever hard pressed they may be once in a while when conditions are right and they are blowing up a storm, they reach the heights and achieve the peak of enjoyment. Even poor, tortured Bird did at times, if one can judge by some of his great records. Billie Holiday too, right up until the end, had her moments of creative ecstasy. It is when one reads yet another obituary that the lyrics Joe Turner sings come vividly to life:

You're so beautiful, but you've got to die someday.

You will read little about the female blues vaudeville artists in the blues magazines except for the odd reference to Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. The young men who run these publications work extraordinarily hard with dedicated enthusiasm, but very naturally, they concentrate on the styles and artists that interest them. I do not blame them for this. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that this important side of jazz and blues has been neglected. I do not think that many people realise just how important this era was. It was from the music hall, the travelling show and the Negro circuits, such as T.O.B.A. tbat many of our jazz musicians sprang What a wealth of talent started in this way. Once you can accept the vaudeville style (and even Bessie Smith showed what she owed to vaudeville), you find yourself in a fascinating world of song and instrumental music. Some of the songs with their amusing titles, very blues based, have gone into the melting pot and influenced our music quite considerably.

Rosa Henderson and Ida Cox, were two great performers. The latter is looked upon as one of the classic blues singers, whilst Rosa, a blues, vaudeville and cabaret artist, was one of the most popular singers of her day.

Rosa's death came as a great shock to me for my wife and I visited her in 1966. It was not a very happy occasion. A dull, cheerless mid-May day with the rather seedy Harlem street looking grey and sombre in the fine drizzle that was falling. We made our way gingerly up the dark stairway. The door to her apartment was opened by a lady (I never did find out her exact relation ship to Rosa, but I think it was her daughter-in law). 'She's very sick, but I am sure she would like to see you?it's been so long since anyone remembered her or her records, and when she knows that you've come all the way from England, she'll be thrilled; it is sure to cheer her up?and that's what she needs more than anything else. She's so very low in spirit', the woman said.

We were ushered in to a large, gloomy, but scrupulously clean bedroom, and there lying on a bed in a dark corner, was a frail old lady, obviously very ill indeed. At our entry, her eyes opened, and when she saw Victoria Spivey, who had brought us to Rosa's home, a suggestion of a smile appeared on her care-worn face, but it was only a hint, a rather pathetic effort. The next half hour was a painful experience. The once famous singer was very touched by our presence. She just could not get over the fact that we had come all the way from Great Britain and that we remembered and loved her records. When we took our leave, she had cheered up considerably. I did not tax her with questions, questions I longed to ask, for here was a slice of history, but I was sure she was too ill. The real trouble with Rosa was that she lacked the will to live or fight her illness. She was a heartbroken woman, the death of her husband, and a personal problem involving a dearly loved relative, had taken their toll. She was a shattered old lady when we saw her, yet Leonard Kunstadt assured us that only a few months previously, she was still capable of singing extremely well. Now we knew that the end of the road was in sight for poor Rosa Henderson.

The young Worthing collector and blues enthusiast, Bill Daynes Wood, has made a study of these early women singers, and is particularly fond of Rosa's work. I have therefore asked him to write a few lines on this remarkable artist. This is what he has to say:
'Born in 1896, Rosa Henderson was one of the most outstanding of the many early women vaudeville-blues singers to record for the race record companies in the early Twenties. 'Her recording career covered the span of nine years, from the first for Victor in 1923 to the last for Columbia in 1931. During these years her name appeared on a variety of record labels including Vocalion, Paramount, Ajax and Edison. Also nearly a hundred titles appeared under her name and such pseudonyms as Josephine Thomas, Sarah Johnson and Mamie Harris. 'Her voice was strong, but at the same time possessed a sweet tone. The material she recorded varied from typical vaudeville numbers as He May Be Your Dog, But He's Wearing My Collar, and Hey, Hey, and He, He, I'm Charles ton Crazy to blues like Penitentiary Bound Blues and Back Wood Blues. Also many of her accompanists were of no mean status, including the complete Fletcher Henderson band, and such names as Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Green, Louis Metcalf, James P. Johnson, and countless others . 'Proof of her popularity with the record buying public was made clear by the number of titles released, and the only reason her recording career was cut short was the death of her husband Slim. Slim's death left Rosa heart broken, and she retired from show business altogether.

'Unfortunately Rosa Henderson has not been covered extensively in reissue programmes (except for the six LP set of Fletcher Henderson on Audubon which was only available by subscription). Only nine titles, to the best of my knowledge have been issued, all of which I believe are still available. They are as follows:? Jazz Collector EP JEL 14, Daddy Come Back; I've Got Somebody Now. Historical Jazz LP 13. Back Woods Blues; Four Flushin' Papa. Historical Jazz LP 14. Strut Your Puddy; Some body's Doing What You Wouldn't Do; Papa If You Can't Do Better; I'm Saving It All For You. Historical Jazz LP 15. Get It Fixed. 'Rosa Henderson is certainly one of my favourite blues singers, and amongst my favourite records by her I include, If You Don't Give Me What I Want, Back Woods Blues, Penitentiary Bound Blues and Popular Bluff Blues'. To these I would add two of my own favourites, I Want My Sweet Daddy Now, and I'm A Good Gal A Thousand Miles From Home.

Offline Cleoma

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Re: Rosa Henderson 1963
« Reply #2 on: April 16, 2010, 11:37:07 PM »
This is just fascinating -- thank you so much for  posting it!  I always thought Rosa was Fletcher's wife, and I also had no idea that she recorded under so many pseudonyms.  What a sad thing that she never got to participate in the folk revival, people would have totally FLIPPED over her singing, if she still sounded anything like her old records. 


Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Rosa Henderson 1963
« Reply #3 on: April 17, 2010, 12:28:36 AM »
This is just fascinating -- thank you so much for  posting it!  I always thought Rosa was Fletcher's wife, and I also had no idea that she recorded under so many pseudonyms.  What a sad thing that she never got to participate in the folk revival, people would have totally FLIPPED over her singing, if she still sounded anything like her old records.  Suzy
Please to hear these were useful and informative.

I own the four 1995 Document CDs and your message prompted me to give them a spin. Rather "hard listening" in chronological order, especially where there's more than one take of any song.  The booklet notes are lengthy, informative and written by Steve Tracy who directs the listener to some of her wonderful lyricism or social commentary, such as in "Chicago Policeman Blues" which I've mp3'd (along with others) and put them into iTunes.

I also see Steve quotes from the Stewart-Baxter obituary. Can't imagine where he found that!

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Rosa Henderson 1963
« Reply #4 on: April 17, 2010, 04:57:43 AM »
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Offline Richard

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Re: Rosa Henderson 1963
« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2010, 02:37:40 PM »
Thanks BH, I'm going to try and dig out what I have by her, time for a re-listen!
(That's enough of that. Ed)


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