African-American History Month - "on some lonesome railroad iron"
Finding conflicting information in research is troubling. I usually look for two corroborating sources, but sometimes an odd fact jumps right out. Bertha Hill was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1905, but her family moved to New York, where, as a teen, she danced and sang in clubs and performed in shows, including touring with The Rabbit Foot Minstrels. She eventually settled in Chicago where she performed with up and coming artists and established legends like King Oliver. She recorded about 24 sides for OKeh in the 1920’s before retiring to raise a family. Richard Jones was a New Orleans musician, playing in Storyville in the years before the U.S. Department of the Navy helped shut it down. He and Oliver headed to Chicago, where Oliver became one of the most influential musicians and bandleaders and Jones went to work not only as a musician and bandleader, but worked in publishing and scouting new talent. Of course they had known each other and performed together in New Orleans. When the young singer came along, she found a place singing in the clubs along with King Oliver and Jones got her into the OKeh studio. Oliver also recruited some of the greatest talents, including a young cornet and trumpet player from New Orleans. Together, they recorded ten songs, at least one of which has become a timeless classic with real crossover appeal. Jones composed the song - and here’s where the facts get a little blurry - and recorded it with another vocalist in 1924. Multiple sources, however, tell me that on this day in 1926, the first - perhaps most influential? - recording of a song since covered by Eddie Arnold, George Jones, Nina Simone, Marianne Faithfull (the version I first heard), Janis Joplin, Jerry Lee Lewis, and, well, errrbody..was committed to history on OKeh Records in Chicago by an superstar trio - Bertha “Chippie” Hill, songwriter and pianist Richard M. Jones, and King Oliver’s legendary protégé on cornet - Louis Armstrong.