“Reefer Man,” as far as I can tell, is a Cab Calloway original composition. Unfortunately there’s not much information on the song out there. This particular video is from the 1933 film “International House” Which starred W.C. Fields and Burns and Allen. It’s a pre-code film and I’d totally love to see it some day!
I’ve never smoked weed but I’m glad they made it legal in a couple of states so maybe I’ll get to try it someday. Cannabis is not the point of my post today. The point of my post is 12/21/12, the date I first heard this song. I’m sure you’ll remember that 12/21 is also the day we perished in the fiery apocalypse. Up until then life had been going rather well. I worked, parented, played, dated, ate (a lot), watched some movies, went on some trips, and kept up with lots of my lovely forum friends on other social media. Then we all died which was sad. But then Christmas came and everyone turned on lights which totally thwarted the cockroach uprising. Plus I got a really nifty new Kindle. Here’s hoping everyone else out there is also having the merriest End Of Days ever!
V is for jazz vocalist and saxophonist Vi Redd. Vi (Elvira) is the daughter of jazz drummer Alton Redd and her aunt was vocalist Alma Hightower. She spent some time in her youth performing in and around Los Angeles but she left jazz to work for the Board Of Education in the late 1950s but she returned to music in 1962. She played Vegas with Earl Hines and toured the world with greats like Dizzy Gillespie. Here she is performing “Stormy Monday Blue” with Dizzy’s orchestra.
Vi got a teaching certificate from USC and taught school through the 70s. I didn’t move to LA until 1980 so I missed being taught by a jazz legend by one year. Some kids have all the luck!
S is for the Sweethearts Of Rhythm (aka The International Sweethearts Of Rhythm). The Sweethearts were the first integrated, all women’s band in the United States. They started out as an all female, all African American band at Piney Woods Country Life School in the 1920s. They were called The Swinging Rays Of Rhythm and they toured to raise money to support the school. In 1941 several of the band’s members fled from the tour bus when they learned that they would not graduate because their busy touring schedule had not allowed enough time for them to complete their academic studies. They formed an independent band, added musicians from other ethnic groups and changed their name to The International Sweethearts of Rhythm. The band folded in 1949 when its most popular member Eleanor “Tiny” Davis became unable to tour with the group. Here they are in a soundie performing the song “Jump Children”
It’s a shame that there no information about most of these women on the web. Most of them don’t have even basic Wikipedia stub articles. I’m to trying save a few trees by borrowing and not buying books, so I plan to go to my teeny tiny local library (which, by the way, does have it’s own Wikipedia page) and have them find me a book about the Sweethearts. I like to think that I’ll sign in to Wikipedia and at least start a page for the 15 unrepresented members, but I’ve met me so I know what I’m like. Still, I do hope someone out there will help these women earn their richly deserved place in free online encyclopedia history!
O is for guitarist Mary Osborne. Mary’s started learning to play piano and violin at age 5 but she was given her first guitar at age 9 and immediately knew that was the instrument she wanted to play. She got her first professional gig when she was still a child, performing on a local radio show. She was paid in Hershey bars. By her teens she was playing with a jazz trio and by her 20s she moved to New York City. Mary worked with several jazz and R&B artists through the 40s, 50s, and 60s. In the 70s, she and her husband started a company that sold guitars and amplifiers and she also taught at Cal State and the local school for the blind. She also managed to record a few more albums in the 70s and she continued to perform live periodically through the 1990s. Here is Mary in 1958 with Coleman Hawkins performing on “Art Ford’s Jazz Party.”
A friend of mine posted an article about another O related topic on Facebook the other day. It seems University of Oregon football fans are making an ‘O’ shaped hand gesture to show their team spirit. It looks like this.
Some Helpful Hannah in the blogosphere pointed out that this hand gesture is also American Sign Language for that most intimate part of the female anatomy. I’d like to add that the tongue out facial expression that this young lady is displaying and that I saw on other photos of fans adds a new dimension of meaning to the sign as I’m sure you can imagine.
The funny thing is that, because this is such an easy sign to make, it’s apparently used quite often with young children. The first time I saw it was my daughter’s “Books and Babies” class where the teacher had the toddlers sign it as they sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Then it turned up again when I watched 30 kindergartners use it while singing the praises of Christmas trees. I, of course, did what any concerned and conscientious parent who is fluent in American Sign Language would do. I sat there and quietly giggled into my fist like a 12-year old until it was over.
PS- I did actually have a quiet word with both teachers after the performances were over. But honestly, as long as no one in the audience knows sign, then no harm done as far as I’m concerned.
L is for singer/vocalist/pianist Lil Hardin. Lil first learned to play the piano from her third grade teacher who Lil reports “taught me all the wrong things but the she meant well.” She learned proper music technique at Fisk University. She got her first job in show business as a pianist in the New Orleans Creole Jazz Band (circa 1917). She later toured with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band then, in 1921 she moved back to Chicago and became the second Mrs. Louis Armstrong. They divorced in 1931 and that same year Lil began touring with her “All-Girl Orchestra.” They appeared on radio and recorded several records. In the 40s and 50s she worked as a soloist then, after a brief stint as a tailor, she continued to work on various group and solo projects until her death in 1971. Here’s Lil with Louis’ band performing one of her compositions “Let’s Get Happy Together” (1938). I know Lil is singing and I believe that’s her on piano too.
Lil Hardin and I are exactly alike! She was a woman and I’m a woman. She was Black and I’m Black. She was from Chicago and I’m from Chicago. She wrote a book and I wrote a book (3 books actually). She liked to sew and I like to sew. She was a musical genius who was once married to the great Louis Armstrong and I… own some CDs. Okay so maybe we’re not “exactly” alike. Still, it’s close enough that I feel justified in declaring myself genius adjacent. I’m pretty sure that means there’s McArthur money waiting for me somewhere.
J is for dancer Jeanette Hackett. She and her partner Harry Delmar toured vaudeville’s famed Orpheum Circuit and they were superstars. After vaudeville died, Jeanette found work behind the scenes in movies and Harry became a producer of some note. Apparently, during the war, someone remembered Jeanette and formed a dance ensemble using her name. They made a few soundies featuring dancers who were hired more for their cheesecake value than their actual dancing ability and musicians who clearly had no idea how to play the instruments they’re holding. The results need to be seen to be believed. Here’s a 1944 soundie called Southland Swing.
Why would I choose to post about a non-musician and then use a terrible music video which doesn’t even feature the artist? What can I say? I told you I’d cheat!
I is for Ivie Anderson. Ivie is best known for her work with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. But she also appeared in several musical shorts and a few feature films including the Marx Brothers “A Day At The Races.” Ivie developed chronic athsma in 1942 which cut her career and her life tragically short but she did leave a decade’s worth of fantastic music. Here’s a Duke Ellington soundie featuring Ivie singing “I’ve Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good.”
When Ivie contracted athsma, she quit singing and opened a chicken restaurant. I noticed that quite a few women on this list opened small businesses after WWII when the demand for female musicians fell sharply. I learned, in order to encourage women to leave factory jobs, there was quite a push in some states for women to open small businesses that capitalized on their “domestic skills.” This is just one more example of why it’s good I wasn’t born in the olden days. My domestic skills would have been way too advanced for the so-called “greatest generation.” For example, my “Complaining While Bilious” business plan is clearly more suited for the Facebook age. Please contribute generously to my Kickstart page.
H is for Ina Ray Hutton. Ina came from a show biz family. She started singing and dancing on stage at the age of 8. In 1934 she was asked to become the leader of an all-girl orchestra called The Melodears. The Melodears were one of the first all female music groups ever to be filmed for soundies. The group was also featured in several feature films. Here’s Ina and the Melodears performing “Truckin’.” I think you’ll agree, the woman had style!
My Beautiful Grandmother was pretty much convinced that every White person who was ever good at jazz was secretly Black. Well guess what folks, Ina Ray Hutton and her equally talented sister June Hutton, were indeed “passing” for White. I believe that somewhere up in heaven my grandmother is smiling the smile of the vindicated at today’s video.
D is for Davis, Ernestine “Tiny” Davis. She was born in 1907 in Memphis, Tenn and she learned play the trumpet at Booker T Washington High School. She joined the International Sweethearts Of Rhythm in 1941 and she quickly became its most popular soloist. In 1946 she left the Sweethearts and started her own band called Tiny Davis and the Hell Divers. In the 50s, she and her partner, pianist Ruby Lucas ran a nightclub in Chicago called Tiny and Ruby’s Gay Spot. The video is Tiny and the Hell Divers doing “Racehorse” (Basie, Brown)
Ernestine passed away in 1994 but if you watch the film clip on You Tube, you can see she was still playing her trumpet (or “blowin’ music” as she called it) well into her 80s.
As I added Ernestine Davis’ name to my growing list of octogenarian lady crushes, I began to I wonder if pretty much every feisty oldster would qualify. Then I remembered Anita Bryant must be nearly 80 too and she is most certainly not on the list. So no, you definitely have to be someone special to earn my unhealthy admiration.
I didn’t really know anything about the King Sisters until I found this soundie. They sang with both Artie Shaw’s and Charlie Barnet’s orchestras. They also had their own TV variety show from 1965 to 1969. This s 1941 soundie for the song “Java Jive” by Ben Oakland. It was a huge hit for the Ink Spots but I couldn’t find a video of them performing it live so the King Sisters it is!
It was a long time coming but now it’s official, I am addicted to caffeine. I lose sleep because of it, I think I can’t function without it (and I’m right), and if I try to go without it I get DTs (okay a bit of a headache but where’s the drama in that). The low price and high availability of my drug keep the monkey on my back quite happy but make no mistake, if your hand drifts too near my first energy drink of the day I might scratch you and then you too will be come a caffeine addicted weregrump every sunrise.