Here are Miss Christian’s recorded appearances (in brief), all in Chicago.
With Johnny St. Cyr (bj), c. March 5, 1926: SWEET MAN / SWEET GEORGIA BROWN
Add Jimmie Noone (cl), June 15, 1926: LONESOME AND SORRY / BABY O’MINE
With Albert Wynn’s Gut Bucket Five : Dolly Jones (cnt) Albert Wynn (tb) Barney Bigard (sop,ts) Jimmy Flowers (p) Rip Bassett (bj), June 25, 1926, WHEN
With Richard M. Jones’ Jazz Wizards : Artie Starks (cl) Richard M. Jones (p) Johnny St. Cyr (bj), May 6, 1927: IT ALL DEPENDS ON YOU / AIN’T SHE SWEET (possibly two takes)
With Noone, St. Cyr (g), December 12, 1927, MY BLUE HEAVEN / MISS ANNABELLE LEE
With Louis Armstrong And His Hot Four: Louis Armstrong (cnt,vcl) Jimmie Noone (cl) Earl Hines (p) Mancy Carr (g), June 26, 1928: YOU’RE A REAL SWEETHEART / TOO BUSY / WAS IT A DREAM? / LAST NIGHT I DREAMED YOU KISSED ME. Same personnel, December 11. 1928: I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE / BABY. Same, December 12, 1928: SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE / I MUST HAVE THAT MAN.
From the fine writer and researcher Mark Miller, who searched the pages of the Chicago Defender and came up with a 1964 (!) mention of “LIL CHRISTIAN” and three photographs. But I’ll let Mark speak for himself:
The only variation of the three names that yields results (40 hits) is Lil Christian, a singer who continued to be active into the mid-1960s, and is identified in one 1964 item (see immediately below) as having recorded for OKeh. Must be her, right? Strangely, the items begin in the 1930s; nothing from the 20s. Attached, in addition to that clipping, are three photos that appeared over the years in the Defender — for comparison with the one that you have. Her high cheek bones are the clue. So, where to from here? The Defender items are mostly references to engagements in Chicago and on the west coast. I’ve not been comprehensive yet in checking everything, but it doesn’t look as though here’s much in terms of background. But, it’s a start.
The first photograph:
And a more impressionistic meditation on Miss Christian is provided in the notes to a Document CD collecting many of her recordings — a small overview by Fred “Virgil” Turgis, made available to us by jazz scholar Randy Stehle:
Lillie Delk Christian is more interesting vocally and her material is far superior (I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Ain’t She Sweet, I Must Have That Man). That’s probably explains why the band gives a better performance. Noone (clarinet) and St Cyr (guitar) enlivens the December 12th session featuring “My Blue Heaven” and “Miss Annabelle Lee” with gutsy accompaniment and fine solos. Armstrong appears six months later for the June 1928 session. This session features the best, “Too Busy” an uptempo number with Armstrong scatting, and the worst of Christian, “Was It A Dream” a waltz that doesn’t really give the Hot Four the possibility to express themselves.
The last recordings lack a bit of swing in the vocal but is saved by a good rendition of “I Must Have That Man”.
This selection is a nice addition to anyone who’s interested in Satchmo’s early years and work as a back up band. And despite some flaws and, let’s say it, the fact she isn’t a great vocalist, Lillie Delk Christian’s sides have a certain charm and are appealing enough for a curious listener.
And for anyone who hasn’t seen it, here is invaluable first-hand information relayed to us by Hal Smith:
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’.”
All of this adds much evidence to our portrait of Miss Christian, but it also adds to the mystery and makes the gaps in her story so much larger. It would have made some sense to assume that she was local talent — a strong-voiced Chicago singer, utilized by OKeh Records for two years in Chicago. She could read lyrics, had a powerful delivery — qualities that would endear to the influential music publishers, who saw vocal recordings as ways to sell sheet music. And it would also make some logical sense that her career would come to a halt in 1929, at least as far as recordings were concerned. Louis and his friends went off to New York; the Great Depression hit with the stock market crash, which nearly stopped record sales. It would be a pleasant invention to assume that Miss Christian went back to collecting rents and making sure the hallways were tidy. But the Defender has her singing through the Thirties, and she is back — a known quantity — in 1964. In the ideal world, one of my readers would have gone to that performance and asked her a few questions about the good old days.
A little knowledge might indeed be a dangerous thing! Thanks to all the generous readers (Mark, Hal, Randy, and Sally Fee) who have added both information and intrigue!
May your happiness increase.