“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!
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!
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.
K is for Katherine Dunham. Yes, she is also a dancer but I stand by this selection because she is awesome! Katherine became interested in dance at a very young age. She opened her first dance school when she was 15. She studied dance and anthropology at the University of Chicago. Katherine was a pioneer in the field of dance anthropology and she founded the first African-American dance troupe in the country which she ran for 30 years. She disbanded the group when President Johnson made her a cultural ambassador to Senegal. She stayed active in politics and dance education until her passing in 2006 at the age of 96. Here is a spectacular clip of Katherine with her dance troupe from the movie “Stormy Weather” (1943).
I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, but it seems to me that most people who achieve true greatness develop a passion for their craft at a very young age. It makes me wonder what’s in store for my Beautiful Girl. Almost as soon as she could talk she has been saying that she plans to be “famous” when she grows up. When she was 4 I put her in pee wee soccer and I knew right then that my girl was destined for… something that wasn’t soccer. While a dozen other preschoolers chased up and down the field after the (adorably tiny) ball, my baby was working the crowd! She waved at the grandmas, she danced and twirled and modeled her uniform for the parents on the sidelines and she proudly read the letters and numbers on her jersey to anyone who would listen. “What care I for your silly soccer skills” my girl’s antics seemed to say “I am a STAR!” She’s still not sure exactly what she’s going to be famous for but in the age of Kardashians, I really don’t think it matters. Whatever happens she’ll know that I, her number one fan, will be sitting in the stands enjoying the show.
PS- Also, I hope her standard 8-week celebrity marriage nets me some grandchildren!
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.
F is for composer Sylvia Fine. Sylvia studied music at Brooklyn College. She met her husband Danny Kaye while they were both working in a Broadway musical called “The Straw Hat Review.” The pair were married in 1940. Sylvia wrote many of the songs for Danny’s most famous movies. She was nominated for two Oscars and two Emmys and she won a Peabody Award.
Here’s a photo of Danny and Sylvia together:
I added the photo because Sylvia never performed her own work and I always find it helpful to put a face to a name. Here’s Danny Thomas and Barbara Bel Geddes performing one of Sylvia’s most enduring works “Lullaby In Ragtime” from the movie “The Five Pennies” (1959).
Do you know what you learn a lot about when you do an internet search for Sylvia Fine? The TV show “The Nanny.” For example, did you know that Fran Drescher is now a US diplomat? Fran also recorded a song but since we’ve already done both F and D, I won’t be posting it here. You’re welcome.
Here’s a 1932 Betty Boop cartoon featuring Louis Armstrong’s orchestra playing the song “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You” by Samuel Theard. It’s racist as all get out but I suppose we can consider it an “important part of our collective history” since it is one of Armstrong’s first film appearances. Besides, I love this song!
So… Osama Bin Laden is dead. Some people are dancing in the street. Some people find the celebration disturbing. I am not singing in the street but I feel no remorse at this man’s passing. I truly believe humanity is better off without some people. I appreciate the rhetoric of non-violence but I leave it to hearts and tongues more charitable than mine. I don’t believe in eternal damnation, but for the next few million foreseeable eons, do not rest in peace Mr. Bin Laden.
“Walking My Baby Back Home” was composed in 1930 by Roy Turk with lyrics by Fred E. Alhert. It has been covered by scores of artists over the years but Nick Lucas was one of the first singers to have a hit with the song back in 1931. Oddly enough, the first version of this song that I ever heard was on an episode of Columbo. This is a 1951 soundie.
I’m participating in a walk-a-thon today, hence the walking tune. I’ve spent the entire winter and much of spring sitting on my ever widening hindquarters so this unaccustomed physical exertion should be interesting. Ah well, if my under used heart should explode somewhere along the route, at least I can take comfort in the fact that I’m not walking for the Heart Association so at least it won’t be an ironic death. Wish me luck and I’ll see you on the flip side!