One hundred years ago today – August 10, 1920 – Mamie Smith & Her Jazz Hounds recorded “Crazy Blues.”
The recording was made in the New York City studios of OKeh Records. Ralph Peer, the recording director for OKeh in New York, supervised the session.
“Crazy Blues” was the first Blues recording by an African/American singer.
The vocalist, Mamie Smith, was 37 years old. She had sung and danced and played piano on the Vaudeville circuit since she was 10.
“Crazy Blues” was written by African-American composer Perry Bradford in 1912. Originally called “Nervous Blues,” Bradford changed the title for its original sheet music publication in 1915.
The members of the Jazz Hounds who accompanied Mamie Smith on the session were:
- Perry Bradford – Piano
- Ernest Elliott – Clarinet
- Dope Andrews – Trombone
- Johnny Dunn – Cornet
- Leroy Parker – Violin
Today, this type of Blues is referred to as “Classic Blues:” a female vocalist with at least a piano for accompaniment, all instrumentalists playing in the Jazz style of the times.
In 1920, however, this was something new.
Give a listen.
The success of “Crazy Blues” b/w “It’s Right Here For You (If You Don’t Get It, ‘Taint No Fault Of Mine)” by Mamie Smith & Her Jazz Hounds took everyone by surprise.
Especially OKeh Records.
75,000 copies of the 78-rpm disc – #4169 – were sold in the first month after its release and 1,000,000 before six months had passed.
“Crazy Blues” proved that there was a very real market for music by African-American artists. American record companies soon began recording and releasing such records in earnest. Established performing artists including Bessie Smith (“Empress of the Blues”), Alberta Hunter, Sara Martin (“The Blues Sensation of the West”), Ma Rainey (“Mother of the Blues”) and Victoria Spivey became recording artists as well.
In 1924, OKeh recorded Ed Andrews, the first male Blues singer/guitarist.
By the late 1920’s, five different record companies competed for sales in this new category, one that they called “Race Records.”
A few years after the release of “Crazy Blues,” Metronome magazine boldly proclaimed: “Blues are here to stay!”
As I always say, “Good music doesn’t get old.”