THE LILLIE DELK CHRISTIAN MYSTERIES

What we know about the singer Lillie Delk Christian is minute.  She doesn’t even have an entry in John Chilton’s WHO’S WHO IN JAZZ.  She recorded sixteen sides for OKeh Records in 1926-28 with some of the finest jazz players of the time in Chicago: Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Jimmie Noone, Johnny St. Cyr, Artie Starks, Richard M. Jones, Mancy Carr.  We know that she was St. Cyr’s girlfriend, which to some would explain her place on those records.  But she has a clear, ringing, nasal voice — one that could obviously be heard in the last row of a vaudeville theatre in those pre-microphone days.  It’s been fashionable to sneer at her as a vocalist who got in the way of the “artists,” but once you can get around the assertive frontal attack of her voice, she swings quite well:

On MY BLUE HEAVEN, she is clearly in command of the tune, and she swings quite respectably.  There have been far worse singers on record!

Here’s the pop tune LAST NIGHT I DREAMED YOU KISSED ME:

One can hear the instrumental lines that Louis, Earl, Noone, and St. Cyr are weaving behind her — and her delivery is straightforward but not stiff.  And she doesn’t get distracted by the sublime ruckus behind her.  I used to roll my eyes when she was singing on TOO BUSY, but Louis has the time of his life scatting above, below, and around her, so I have readjusted my scorn (always a good thing).

So where did she come from?  And where did she go?  Can anyone explain?

May your happiness increase.

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12 responses to “THE LILLIE DELK CHRISTIAN MYSTERIES

  1. the 1930 census shows a Lillian Christian, in Chicago, born 1897 in Kentucky and married to Fred Christian. This may be her.

    There’s a record in the Social Security Death Index, for Lillian Christian, born 30 Jan 1896, died January 1966 in Chicago. This might be her, also. Census dates can be wrong, but this would be consider a possible “hit.”

    A search of the Chicago Defender newspaper files might prove informative…

  2. Another census entry, this time from 1920: Lilly Delk (sic), born 1895 Alabama,

  3. Anyone who subscribes to ancestry.com would be able to find out more…

  4. And her’s were the only recordings (as far as I’m aware) to feature the delicious pairing of Louis Armstrong and Jimmie Noone.

  5. Michael Burgevin

    How wonderful to hear these two songs again. In the 70’s ace NYC jazz record salesman Jeff Atterton called my attention to the LP “Hot Clarinets” and if my memory serves me right Noone was on there with Lilly. I thought her singing to be marvelous back then and still do today. Although period/genre perhaps, as are the songs themselves, her staying close to the melody and holding her notes was perfect in contrast to the activity behind her. As to her arrival and departure I know nothing. I’m only glad she did pass through and leave some recordings accompanied by our “heroes” as you refer to them, Michael.
    Are there really 16? And with the same back up? Thank you!

  6. Sixteen sides in total — but four (I think) have an even more astonishing band of Louis, Noone, Earl, and Mancy Carr . . You are indeed welcome, MB! And MYHI —-

  7. Michael,
    I have a copy of an interview with St. Cyr where he said that Lillie Delk was his LANDLADY. He also said that she used to sing just to entertain the boarders.
    Once when St. Cyr was offered a recording session and was asked to bring a vocalist, he asked Ms. Christian to join him. The A&R man liked her voice and hired her to do a second session. (First one was LDC, Jimmie Noone and St Cyr on banjo. On the second, St. Cyr played guitar. The Quartet sides were recorded later).
    St. Cyr said that Lillie’s husband, Charlie, was a gambler and was often away from home. Apparently, he had little use for the boarders who asked LDC to sing, and never even offered a tip. When he found out that St. Cyr had gotten two paid record dates for her, he said, “You’re the only one who has ever done ANYTHING for Lil!” Obviously the other boarders had a “handful of ‘gimme’ and a mouthful of ‘much obliged’.”

  8. Pingback: CECILE McLORIN SALVANT SINGS LILLIE DELK CHRISTIAN at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Oct. 28, 2012): BENT PERSSON, THOMAS WINTELER, KEITH NICHOLS, MARTIN WHEATLEY | JAZZ LIVES

  9. Paige VAnVorst

    to the best of my knowledge she lived at least until the 70s. When I moved to Chicago I met Edith Wilson who was active in the Theatrical Cheer Club, a social group for retired showpeople. She said Lillie and Charlie had been active but left after some hurt feelings over who sold the most tickets to their benefit. I heard a singer in NO about then, just sitting in where Roosevelt Sykes was playing- she sang a beautiful version of Delta Bound and when they introduced her it sounded like her name was Lou Christian- she was old enough but I was out with friends and we never followed this up.

  10. According to Wikipedia, she was born in 1896 and died in 1966.

  11. Thanks for adding this. Meaning you no offense, I don’t trust Wikipedia wholly!

  12. You are correct to look at it with suspicion, lol! That’s why I made sure to include the reference so people could take the info with the proverbial grain of salt.

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