Saturday, November 12, 2016

An important Birthday and new discoveries

Some of you may already know what important birthday is to-day, and if you don't, it's this great performer:
Bert Williams. 
love that look on his face

Most of us know of him, with his signature song "Nobody", and other song hits, including a few Broadway shows with full Black casts, many years before Sissle and Blake's Shuffle Along of 1922. Williams and his stage partner George Walker were really the ones who helped begin the "rag" fad in 1896, by performing Ernest Hogan's "La Pas Ma La", and in 1896 show A Trip to Coontown only to later become among the best of the "coon song" writers, in many ways, more prestigious than many of the white composers. Their status in the early "rag" fad was higher than May Irwin's, but not as high as Ben Harney, because everyone was convinced that he invented and begun the fad, but let's not go there... ...
Williams' signature singing style was not much singing at all really, it was more of rhythmic talk, and sketches being accompanied by orchestras. Even if this was a common style in the era, he was really the one who has long been known for it, though it's hard to know if he was the first one to do this. Many of us record collectors will fight to the death over Williams and Walker's early Victors, since they are rare and astronomically valued to all record collectors, regardless of specific likes. They are priceless examples of true black vaudeville, and it's believed that Williams played piano on all of those Victors they made. Just to get across the reasoning, here's my favourite of their early Victors:
This one is announced by Williams, which is unusual, because usually their Victors were announced by Victor's regular announcer(whose name has still not been uncovered).
This song is also hilarious, and it helps that it was written by Ernest Hogan. This tune was also in many of the early Rag medleys, such as Ben Jerome's "A Bunch of Rags"(which has nothing to do with Vess Ossman's medley of the same title from the same year). Williams' piano playing wasn't the best, but it's great to know that he's on piano, so that saves any pianist debate that would come along with that. Something to note, George Walker sounds like Ben Harney, which is a little backward and strange, but if you really listen closely, it can be noticed. 
Every one of their Victors is amazing, and really interesting to listen to, since they are really a balancing and musical mess, so each one is very different, but again, there aren't very many of them. 
My favourite of Williams' recordings are among that large batch he made in 1919, his "Everybody Wants the Key to My Cellar". It really has everything that was great about Williams, even though the records where he played piano really had a certain charm that his orchestra accompanied Columbia's don't have. It must have been a big deal in the recording business when Eldridge Johnson recorded Williams and Walker, since no on had bothered to go at it before for some reason, and after that, all we get are dozens of versions by the white recording stars of the songs they recorded, such as "Good Morning, Carrie", and "All agoin Out and nothin Comin In", which seems like a response to Johnson recording them in 1901. The recordings of those songs in particular came after they recorded them. When In Dahomey took over Broadway in 1903, all of the songs from that revolutionary show were recorded by all the white recording stars, such as Dan Quinn and Arthur Collins.
Here are two scenes from In Dahomey:
(the cake-walk of course)
Both of these were featured in The Theatre magazine in 1903. 
You can see that this was a fantastic show. Wish I could have seen it! 

As one of Williams' songs went, Let it alone! and don't try to mess with these great old records and songs! 

Now for the second part of this post. Amid these past few days, and this excruciatingly hard week, I had some time to dig through some of those magazines about early recordings in the 1970's and 80's and booklets by Tim Brooks and Tim Gracyk. While digging through these, I stumbled across many images of these performers I had never seen before, some that were earlier than others found. The one of all these images I found that will be the most useful in the posts ahead will certainly be this one:
Who's that?
Why, it's Fred Gaisberg in c.1897! 
Yay, a great picture of him finally
That's a really good picture of him, in fact, it's the best one I have ever seen compared to the other ones that people use when speaking of him. In addition to this one, I found a picture of him from c.1920:
Still has that great smile of his. 
One thing that I have noticed about the pictures of Gaisberg out there is that there are quite a lot of them with him smiling, much like the one just above. There's a channel that we get on our TV out here called the Arts channel, and they show clips of musical performances, parts of documentaries, and excerpts of classic films, and they have a short documentary about Caruso's first recordings. Oddly enough, guess whose face was pictured----
They had a fantastic picture of him with a big smile showing lots of teeth, which as could be gathered, is a little more comical than the one just above. Wish I could dig that picture they used of him up, but I don't know who has it, because I would use it all the time when I mention him, since there aren't too many pictures of these performers so funny and strange as that one. It was so different in fact, that I wasn't sure if that was Gaisberg! It looked too comical to be him, but it was indeed him. 

Another image I found is this one here:
Hey, it's Collins and Harlan! 
This struck me as a very unusual and early image of them, and together to make matters better. Since this looks like c.1902-1903, it is likely the oldest image of Collins I have ever seen, since that one that everyone uses:
is specifically dated at 1904. 
That new image of them is certainly earlier than the Collins picture just above, since Collins is younger, and maybe just a few years younger, which makes the date work logically. It's just interesting to look at the early one compared to their later pictures together, like this one from c.1919:
Ha! Collins pretty much has exactly the same look on his face. 
Never realised how beady Collins' eyes were, weird. 
Just because we're on the subject of Collins and Harlan, here's a fun cartoon I did of them with Hylands from around the time that new-old picture of them would be from:
This is making fun of Hylands' social bias toward liking Harlan more, because of the whole publishing firm thing. 

The other images I found will be used in up coming posts, these ones are just the highlights of those that I found, and were the more unusual of the bunch. 
Here's my favourite Collins and Harlan with Hylands record to end the post:

SMASH! Indeed Hylands. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

1 comment:

  1. The usual announcer on early Victor is Calvin Child. - Jihoon Suk