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Celebrating Black Performers in the New and Expanded National Jukebox!

This post was written by David Sager, Reference Specialist in the Recorded Sound Section.

The Library of Congress National Jukebox has been updated and expanded!

With a new URL, //www.loc.gov/collections/national-jukebox/about-this-collection/, and a new user-friendly player, the Jukebox is not only more flexible, but far more massive in scope, with the addition over 4,000 recordings from the Columbia Phonograph/Graphophone Company.

Let’s delve into the newly accessible Columbia sides, sampling the many added recorded treasures by Black performers. Also, note that the previous incarnation of the Jukebox, which offered only recordings from the Victor Talking Machine Company, also contained a generous number of recordings by African American performers and composers. A playlist of some of these Victor titles is found at //www.loc.gov/collections/national-jukebox/about-this-collection/playlists/black-broadway-and-tin-pan-alley/.

Amidst this trove of newly added Columbia recordings, are many performances by well-known artists, such as W. C. Handy, Wilbur Sweatman, Bessie Smith, and Fletcher Henderson.

For this post, I will also highlight some of the more obscure artists. Click the highlighted, underscored titles, under each record label, to hear the songs.

Maggie Jones was a singer of blues-style vaudeville works. She recorded 33 issued titles for Columbia, between 1924 and 1926. One significant title is “If I Lose, Let Me Lose,” which was recorded on December 17, 1924. While not one of Jones’ better recordings, it does have the advantage of the distinctive presence of young Louis Armstrong, accompanying her on the cornet. This recording, which was originally released on Columbia’s “Race” series, may be heard at:

Columbia Records
If I Lose, Let Me Lose
Maggie Jones

According to historian Tim Brooks, contralto Daisy Tapley (1882-1924), is likely to have been the first Black woman to record commercially. Tapley had been a member of the Williams and Walker Company, touring with them from 1903 until 1910. Her only known recording is this duet, recorded in December 1910, with the Black recitalist Carroll Clark, on which they perform a sacred selection by W. S. Weeden: “I Surrender All.”

Columbia Records
I Surrender All
Miss Daisy Tapley

A few years before Duke Ellington became synonymous with the Cotton Club, the Harlem night spot’s musical attraction was Andy Preer’s Cotton Club Orchestra, which performed there from 1924 to 1927. The band would later morph into the Missourians, which ultimately became Cab Calloway’s first orchestra.

Here are two fine, hot sides by Preer’s Cotton Club Orchestra, recorded in January, 1925:

Columbia Records
Down and Out Blues
Cotton Club Orchestra

Columbia Records

 Snag ‘Em Blues
Cotton Club Orchestra

Bessie Smith, February 3, 1936. Prints and Photographs Division

Bessie Smith, the celebrated “Empress of the Blues,” makes her debut in the newly launched National Jukebox. Let’s hear her vocal majesty on Clarence Williams’ “Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home,” with the composer – Williams – at the piano:

Columbia Records
Baby Won’t You Please Come Home

Bessie Smith

Finally, the new Columbia additions include many of the recordings by the great and legendary comedian Bert Williams, who managed to convey his hilariously subtle stage manner through recordings. One might say that he could, “raise an eyebrow on record.”

Bert Williams, Ca1905. Edison Phonograph Monthly (British Edition).
Recorded Sound Section

His own “Let it Alone,” for which Williams composed the melody, was published in 1906. I have included below, the lyrics, which were penned by Alex Rogers, in order to make clear the often hard to decipher words as heard on an acoustical recording.

Columbia Records
Let It Alone
Bert Williams

The lyrics are from the sheet music, which will also give the reader an idea of Williams’ interpretive genius. The stereotypical use of dialect is from the sheet music.

In goin’ through this pig iron world, it’s sometimes asked of you
To give advice at certain times and tell folks what to do
Now at these times I’m going to tell you what’s the wisest plan
When it comes to mixin’ in wid things you don’t jes’ understand!
Let it alone, let it alone,

If it don’t concern you, let it alone
Don’t go four-flushin’ an’ puttin’ on airs,
And dippin’ into other folks affairs,
If you don’t know, say so!

Mind your own business and let it alone.
If you see two people fussin’ well a man an’ woman say
You think it is a shame for them to carry out that way
You think, well, I should stop that row, and just as you draw nigh,
The lady hits the gem’man with a poker ‘cross his eye.
Let it alone, let it alone

You don’t know the people, so let it alone
They know their biz’ness right, alright
They practice that way every night
You go butt in, they’ll break yo’ chin,
Go blind for a minute an’ let it alone.

With that, we invite you to explore and enjoy the many musical and historical recorded riches of the Library of Congress National Jukebox.

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