Tag Archives: Johnny Collins

THAT PRINCESS OF RHYTHM and THE INVISIBLE MAN

This particular piece of sheet music must have sold well when the song was new in 1931 — if the number of copies that have surfaced in this century is evidence: THAT PRINCESS OF RHYTHM sang WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra:

Incidentally, the song takes on new shadings of meaning when you hear the verse: the speaker is dreaming of going back to Virginia, hardly the Deep South.

This sheet music cover is new to me: I note that Mildred was no longer a Princess, although she Featured songs With Great Success.  (I wouldn’t argue with that.)  And the original publishers seem to have been delicately consumed by Mills Music.  I have no idea of the date of this second issue, but the picture suggests the mid-to-late Thirties.

Here’s a small mystery.

A man — you’d know him once I mention his name — recorded this song first, almost six months before the Whiteman record.  He sang and played it every night onstage for forty years.  Why is there no sheet music with him on the cover?  In the period before his great popularity in the Fifties, I’ve seen him on the cover of one song — LIGHTS OUT, circa 1936.  He was anything but invisible in all other media: you could see him in theatres, in concerts, at dances here and abroad; he broadcast on the radio and had his own program; he stole the show in films. But no WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH.

I wonder why.

P.S.  I don’t see his invisibility as a racial issue: other African-Americans got their bands or their pictures on sheet music.  The only hypothesis I can invent is that Mr. Collins and then Mr. Glaser wanted too much money for Our Hero’s visage to be Visible. May your happiness increase.

“BLACK AND BLUE”: LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND RACE by RICKY RICCARDI (Feb. 12, 2011)

Ricky Riccardi has been intensely focused on Louis Armstrong for half of his life, with extraordinary results. 

His book on Louis’s later life and music — a book that will destroy some wrong-headed assumptions with new evidence — will be out in June 2011.  I’ve seen one or two pages of the galleys, and only because the author was across the table was I cajoled into releasing my hold and giving it back.

To whet your appetite — and also to make it easy to find a copy in that rarest of places, the bookstore, here’s the cover picture, an inspiring one.  You can “pre-order” the book online as well.

But this post isn’t about a forthcoming book. 

It’s about a talk that Ricky gave recently at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND RACE.

(That title was so imposing that Michael Cogswell suggested, whimsically, that Ricky could have called it RED BEANS AND RACE, a play on Louis’s favorite dish.) 

Many times, lectures of this sort relate the indignities that African-Americans suffered (and still suffer) at the hands of Caucasians.  We know there’s plenty of evidence. 

And Ricky didn’t ignore it — from the policeman who hit the boy Louis over the head when for politely asking what time it was to the jazz critic who called his performance in the early Fifties “a coon carnival.”  Louis had gone to New Orleans in triumph in 1931 — an international star — only to have an announcer say, “I just can’t announce that nigger on the radio.” 

But what may have wounded Louis much more was his abandonment and rejection by the members of his own race, “my own people,” who called him “a plantation character” (the words are Dizzy Gillespie’s, although Dizzy later apologized) and an “Uncle Tom.”  These slights may have hurt him as much as seeing authorities beating African-American schoolchildren in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Charcteristically Ricky had more than enough material for an entire afternoon (he promises that it’s all in the book) but he gave us an hour filled with insight, pathos, humor, and wit.  Rather than read Louis’s words aloud, he drew on the private tapes Louis made at home and on the road — a priceless document of his expressiveness, his emotions, his consciousness: in his home, his hotel rooms, talking about his hopes and disappointments. 

Here’s Ricky’s presentation, for those who couldn’t make it to the LAHM and those who want to know what’s in store on the 26th:

First, Deslyn Dyer introduces Ricky: through him, we meet the Louis some people never knew — not only the musician, light-heartedly entertaining for fifty years and more, but the man in search of social justice, the civil rights pioneer:

Ricky then shares the story of the young sailor who greeted Louis by saying, “I don’t like Negroes, but I admire you,” a compliment that might have embittered a lesser man:

More stories: the New Orleans policeman; lynchings in the South.  Louis also explains his often misinterpreted relations with manager Joe Glaser:

Next, Louis tells his friends why an African-American artist would need “a white captain,” talks about being elected King of the Zulus in 1949, about recording SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH for Decca, and the pervasiveness of racism:

When Nat Cole, playing for a segregated audience in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1956, was beaten by four men who jumped onstage, the African-American press condemned him, rather than sympathizing with him — which outraged Louis; he also responds to the segregation in New Orleans:

Louis’s violent reaction to what he saw on television in 1957 — in Little Rock, Arkansas: “I have a right to blow my top over injustice”:

And — as a triumphant, mournful climax — Louis’s shattering BLACK AND BLUE in East Berlin (1965), from which I’ve taken the title of this piece:

Louis’s story remains the saga of someone mis-seen and under-acknowledged, a man wounded by the people — of all races — he thought would understand him. 

But Louis prevailed and continues to prevail by embodying great joy in his music.

Ricky will be delivering this lecture again at the Louis Armstrong House Museum on Saturday, February 26th, at 1 and 3 PM.  The house is a remarkable down-to-earth shrine.  And Ricky’s a treasure.

FOR THE LOVE OF LOUIS, CLICK HERE.  ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS.

https://.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQASwww

 

THAT REEFER MAN

My long-time friend Rob Rothberg told me about this — by way of an AOL story that Barbra Streisand’s ex-lover — as far back as 1959 — was auctioning off her earliest private tapes.  I can see my readers politely stifling yawns, even when I point out that anyone wishing to bid on these admittedly rare items would be required to put $100,000 in escrow.

But Rob doesn’t give up easily, nor is he easily bored.  He followed the link to see what else the auctioneer had to offer — and it’s a rare batch of letters from Fredric Douglass, Sigmund Freud, Grover Cleveland, and a colored trumpet player and singer named Louis, making travel plans that involve his buddy Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow and some “arrangements.”  The handwritten letter runs sixteen pages:

Birmingham, England, September 18, 1932. “Well Papa ‘Mezz’, Here I am in Dear Ole Birmingham, but not Birmingham Alabama, Ha Ha. How’s everything Pal? I was awful sorry to hear of your being sick, I hope you are well by now. Alpha and I are well as usual. She + Mr. + Mrs. Collins sends best regards to you and the family. We’re playing here this week at the Empire Theatre. I shared the star honors last with the beautiful movie star Miss Esther Ralston. She has a lovely act. She also stayed at the same hotel with us in Liverpool. The name of the hotel was the Adelphi Hotel. My English boys are still swingin’ like nobody’s bizzness. Yeah, man. They’re all lovely chaps (BOYS). We have about four more weeks tour through the provinces (BIG TOWNS) of England and then we’ll disband the orchestra in England. Then we’ll go over to Paris which we’ll only stay about two weeks. Then back home to Death Ole America. Mr. Collins was telling me last night in my room that when we leave Paris to return home we’ll go the round about way which will take a little longer to get home but will give us a chance to see a great big part of the world. You see we’ll go by way of Japan, Honolulu and oh lots of places I’ve longed to see. Now won’t that be wonderful if he goes through with it? So Mezz, I’d like very much for you to co-operate with me on this proposition. Then we’ll take it over when I arrive. Understand? I’d like for you to start right in and pack me enough orchestrations to last me the whole trip. Will ya? Now you must look into this matter and give it your best attention, hear Gate? If you ever done anything at all for your Boy, do it now, then our troubles are over. You know what I’ve often told you about the future? Well Gate, the future is here. And Papa Collins is the Victor. And Boy, believe me success is just ahead now. That sounds good to your ears, eh? You know, Gate, I’ve often told you that my success is your success. Just wait, we’ll give the whole world something to think about. Here’s some more good news for ya …. The Victor Record Co., has just won the case from the Okeh Record Co. and wired Mr. Collins that all’s well and I can start on my new Victor contract which replaces the Rudy Vallee anytime. Gee, Gate, what a victory that is to win from our boy Rockwell. Looka heah, Looka heah. Now just watch those good royalties – dividends – shares – ‘n’ everything else. Ha. Ha. And the contract pop’s (MR. COLLINS) made with these people for me, why you’ve never heard of one like it before. And that includes the ole King of Jazz himself Paul Whiteman. Nice, eh? Oh boy, I have lots of good sparkling news for you. I think of them in spots. So all you have to do is pay strict attention to things that I tell you because I am your Boy and you must stick to me regardless of how the tides running, hear? And you must really see that I receive those orchestrations. And you’d start right now Gate and see to your Boy being well fixed because I wouldn’t want to run short because it might bring me down. No might isn’t…. It would. Ha. Ha. Now here’s the line on the trip. Papa Collins said that the trip would take about 12 weeks, which is three months. Now figure that out Gate. But be sure and figure right. Send it to the American Express Company, Paris, France. If you mail it now, it’ll about get there the same time as me. No doubt you’ve received the money I wired you, eh? There’ll be lots of nice things happening when I get back. The Paramount people are trying their best to get Papa Collins to take charge of all the bookings of all the Paramount Theatres. Now you can guess what that’ll mean to me if he decides. Oh, Gate, we have millions of opportunities. I just like to let you know what’s going on because I know you appreciates. How’s all the cats around the ole Berg? Have you seen Batie or Buck? Zuttie or any of the ole Bunch? I received a wonderful letter from Batie. Oh yes, by the way, Gate. I appreciate the write up you sent me. Mr. Collins asked me for it so I let him have it for some publicity or etc. He’ll return it and I’ll put it in my scrap book. I know Ole Alpha’s gonna enjoy herself on that round the world tour. Mezz, I sho wishes you was taking this trip with me, but it’s impossible…. first place it all happened too sudden to amount to anything;. So I figured since I am taking this trip, I’ll observe all the spots that’s of interest and maybe some day after I get my bank roll together we can take a trip like this on our own. Understand? We’re expecting to make another tour down south when we return (THAT’S WHERE THE MONEY LIES). I can’t say how Pop’s (MR. COLLINS) gonna do, but in case you should see fit to join me for a while you’ll be more than welcome. I’m sure you’ll enjoy a trip like that for a change (IT WILL DO YOU GOOD). Then I think after the trip down south we’ll step into the Big Apple. Oh, I’ll tell you more about that later. Lot’s of time yet. What we want to keep in mind now is the orchestrations (MUTA) in Paris. We’re expectin to pick up the same jigg band (COLORED ORCHESTRA) that played the London Palladium with me when we go to Paris. Gee won’t we be glad to see each other, yeah man. They’ve just written ‘n’ told me they’re waiting with Bells On. Tell Mrs. Mezz I received the wire – and don’t you forget your Abilene Water. Good night Gate. Don’t forget Paris, hear? From your Boy Louis Armstrong c/o American Express Co. Paris France – Savy?”

The auctioneer wants fifteen thousand dollars for that, and it is (to quote David Ostwald) worth every penny.  Not only because it’s Louis and Mezz, but because of the invaluable advice for travellers.  Savy? 

Visit http://momentsintime.com/autographs.htm to learn more and to bid!