Up until a few weeks ago, I would have sworn that the entire output of the Spirits of Rhythm — that gloriously hot (and sometimes silly) group — could have been contained on one CD of their 1933-41 recordings, including sessions with Ella Logan and Red McKenzie.
Of course, there were other extras — Leo Watson’s one session for Decca, a later one for Signature (with Vic Dickenson), and a mid-Forties reunion of the group on the West Coast which resulted in four sides for the Black and White label. Tangentially, Leo Watson appeared on a few Jubilee shows and once on a Rudy Vallee radio program, as well as recording with Gene Krupa and Artie Shaw, but I thought the musical material was unbearably finite.
That was until I found “TOM TOM, THE ELEVATOR BOY” on YouTube and got to see the Spirits in action (the clip came from the otherwise-forgotten 1941 musical SWEETHEART OF THE CAMPUS).
And some more online research has just turned up that they appeared in two other films that year: ALABAMY BOUND and YES, INDEED! Both musicals were directed by Dudley Murphy, the second with Josef Byrne (it seems to be a short subject with Dorothy Dandridge). Something tells me that these weren’t big-budget mass-market productions, but perhaps productions aimed at the Black market, done in a hurry and on a minimal budget. In fact, I have no assurance that the three films have different musical numbers. And in 1942, the Spirits appeared in PANAMA HATTIE.
But did you know that the 6 Spirits of Rhythm (including Teddy Bunn, Wilbur and Douglas Daniels, Leo Watson, Virgil Scoggins, and Ernest “Serious” Myers) appeared on Broadway from September 1935 to March 1936 — alongside Bea Lillie, Eleanor Powell, Ethel Waters, and Eddie Foy, Jr. in the Dietz-Schwartz musical AT HOME ABROAD? Do I have any Broadway archivists among my readers?
At the top of the page is a still of Leo Watson from ALABAMY BOUND. The world needs more film footage of Leo and Teddy Bunn. Or, if you think that statement’s too sweeping, I do.