Blues on Stage: The Blues Entertainment Industry in the 1920s

Excelsior. Nov. 2022. 242p. ISBN 9781438491547. pap. $24.95. MUSIC
Musicologist and musician Clark (MassBay Comm. Coll.; Experiencing Bessie Smith: A Listener’s Companion) writes a history of the blues with a particular focus on the women blues singers who rose to fame in the United States during the 1920s. He begins with the African American minstrels, rural tent and circus performances, and African American vaudeville. He then discusses the origins of the blues and the Black entrepreneurs who helped shape the blues as a genre, including bandleader Clarence Williams, Black Swan Records founder Harry Pace, composer Perry Bradford, and Paramount Records talent scout J. Mayo “Ink” Williams. Clark divides the women Black singers into three categories. The first group, mainly cabaret vocalists, he argues launched the blues mania in 1920 with Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” and concentrated on popular songs with an occasional slick blues tune. By 1923, experienced vaudeville stars such as Gertrude “Ma” Rainey and Bessie Smith added a Southern, rougher-edged element to the emerging blues sound. Later, songwriters such as “Blind Lemon” Jefferson and Blind Blake popularized country blues. Throughout this history of a genre, Clark provides brief biographies of women blues artists both well-known (Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter) and more obscure (Clara Smith, Rosa Henderson).
VERDICT Though this book doesn’t unearth much new material, Clark admirably assembles information about the era that will appeal to blues scholars.
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