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1909

December 3, 2018

Miami_University_band_members_with_instruments_in_1909_(3200496832)

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Many people have observed that as we get older, time seems to pass more quickly – and it seems natural to apply this to civilization in general. But while it’s true that technology has had some disorientating lurches forward over the last century – going from the first flight to the first space flight in just over 50 years for example – I would say that (n terms of culture) we seem to be if anything slowing down now, partly for the simple reason that it’s difficult to shock your mum if your grandad was a punk, but also because this longevity means the careers of artists and entertainers are now significantly longer. Artists from the 1960s and even the 1950s are still touring, and plenty of young people are turning up to see them. This might seem unremarkable, but taken from the vantage point of the Edwardian era, it’s a massive shift. The popular artists of the 1900s were not the popular artists of the 1920s. Why? Well, many (if not most) of them were dead, for a start. So let’s take a look at three of our featured artists who would not be around in a few years, and one group who you can go and hear even now.

British listeners will probably be familiar with the name of George Formby, a huge star in the 1930s and 1940s, but may not be aware that his father was also called George Formby, and was if anything an even bigger star in his day. Born to an alcoholic prostitute mother and a coal miner father in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, then neglected, mistreated and malnourished, George often had to sleep outside because his parents were being held in police cells. In order to raise some money for food, he began singing on street corners for pennies, and was good enough to get real work in a singing duo in his teens. Touring music halls, George developed stage characters, including “John Willie”, described by Jeffrey Richards as “the archetypal gormless Lancashire lad … hen-pecked, accident-prone, but muddling through” – and whose costume served as inspiration for Charlie Chaplin when he was creating his Little Tramp. Formby’s health was never strong – he gained the nickname of “The Wigan Nightingale” after incorporating his bronchial cough into his act, and had to retire from music hall after a stage accident in 1916. He contracted influenza in the pandemic of 1918/19 and a bout of pulmonary tuberculosis finished him off in 1921 at the age of 45. In the 1909 recording featured in this mix, he is a mere 33 years old, but sounds much older.

Billy Williams was another big name in 1900s music hall, but his accent might be harder to place than Formby’s – it was in fact masking the fact that he was from Australia rather than Northern England. He worked with songwriter Fred Godfrey to create a “song factory” – Godfrey would create personalised character songs and Williams would perform here. The selection here has a young Billy finding a coin, buying a packet of cigarettes and lying down to smoke them on some tramway lines – this was wholesome family entertainment at the time. Billy Williams was rumored to be an overindulger, and this perhaps led to his premature death in Hove in 1915 from septic prostatitis, at the age of 37.

Across the atlantic, Polk Miller had a much longer life, but was so much of a late bloomer that his recording in this mix comes just four years before his death. The son of a Virginian plantation owner, he learned to play the banjo from his father’s slaves and took time out from his work as a druggist to fight for the south as an artilleryman in the Civil War. In the reconstruction era he became a successful businessman, launching the Sergeant brand of pet care products which survives to this day. It wasn’t until the 1890s that he began playing music professionally, and not until the 1900s that he began touring nationally with his “Old South Quartette.” This backing group consisted of four black singers and the music presented was “Stories, Sketches and Songs depicting African American life before the Civil War” – but this was no minstrel show. Nobody put on blackface and the musical content was intended to be as authentic as possible, and performed to exclusive social clubs as well as African American churches. As the ethnographic sound recordists touring the world could not find the inspiration to travel a few hundred miles south, this seems to be the closest thing we have to capturing this music, and on this evidence we are missing a huge amount. In just a few minutes we can hear harmonies, rhythms and call-and-response patterns which are notable absent from the bleak landscape of “coon songs” and which gives a clear idea of the commonalities between early blues and early country music. Before I get too carried away praising Polk, however, I should probably mention that he was not just a racist, but an apologist for slavery, whose stated aim was “to vindicate the slave-holding class against the charge of cruelty and inhumanity to the negro of the old time” – and that this song perpetuates a series of stereotypes about black people and includes multiple uses of the ‘n’ word.

A less morally mixed window into this music is provided by the Fisk University Jubilee Quartet, the latest incarnation of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, an African-American a cappella ensemble, consisting of students at Fisk University, a historically black college founded after the end of the Civil War in order to educate freedmen and other young African Americans. The group was first organised in 1871 in order to raise money to save the college from bankrupcy. Touring the USA and later Europe, the nine-member group are often credited with the popularisation of what would later be called “negro spirituals” – slave songs which were not previously heard in public. Original member Ella Sheppard said “they were sacred to our parents, who used them in their religious worship and shouted over them…It was only after many months that gradually our hearts were opened to the influence of these friends and we began to appreciate the wonderful beauty and power of our songs.” Fisk Jubilee songs like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” “Wade In The Water” and “Shout All Over God’s Heaven” are well-known to this day, and the group itself is still active – in fact you can go and see them tonight in Nashville.

Tracks

Press Eldridge – a Confidential Chat 0:00
New York Military Band – Wild Cherries Rag 0:10
Eddie Morton – Wild Cherries Rag 0:55
Ada Jones & Len Spencer – Si Perkins’ Barn Dance 2:25
Billy Murray & Haydn Quartet – Take Me Up With You Dearie 3:47
Miss Jones and Mr. Spencer with Orchestra – Zeb Green’s Airship 5:29
American Symphony Orchestra – Black and White Rag 6:21
Murray K. Hill – A Talk on Married Life 7:23
Stella Mayhew – I’m Looking for Something to Eat 8:26
Nat M. Wills – Hortense at Sea 10:31
Nat M. Wills – Parody on There Never Was a Girl Like You 12:11
Fred Duprez & Steve Porter – Blitz and Blatz 14:13
Bohumir Kryl – Du, Du 14:44
Skobelev, Sart – Survora Andizhany 16:20
Choir of Guria Province – Tsamokruli 17:11
Obercantor Sawel Kwartin – Jaale Tachnuneinu 17:55
Vladikavkaz, Ossetian – Kudari Zarond Lechi Zarag 19:57
Tiflis, Georgian – Lezghinka 21:17
William Howard Taft – On War 23:31
United States National Guard Fife & Drum Corps – On Parade 24:02
Orquesta Pablo Valenzuela – Mama Teresa 26:08
Alfredo Gobbi, Flora Rodruez De Gobbi – El Gaucho Mam 28:46
Trio Instrumental Arriaga – Predilecta- Vals 28:56
Eduardo Das Neves – Gargalhadas Isto Bom 31:42
Enrico Molinari – E Naturale 33:05
Florencio Constantino – Recondita Armonia 33:17
Enrico Caruso – Bianca Al Par Di Neve Alpina 34:49
Charles Draper – Concertino 37:14
Paul Lack – Poesies de Table 38:22
Billy Williams – Wild Woodbines 38:58
George Formby Sr – Playing the Game in the West 41:52
Steve Porter & Edward Meeker – Flanagan and Harrigan 43:24
Harry Champion – Boiled Beef and Carrots 43:42
Steve Porter – She’s No Friend of Danny’s 45:02
Edward Meeker – Clancy’s Wooden Wedding 46:07
Charley Chase – Experiences in the Show Business 49:10
Jack Pleasants – I Said Hooray 49:34
P. Molinari – Street Piano Medley 51:39
Polk Miller & Old South Quartet – Watermelon Party 52:45
Len Spencer – Arkansas Traveler 56:21
Fred Van Eps – Yankee Medley 56:54
Cal Stewart and Len Spencer – Uncle Josh at the Dentist’s 59:12
Samuel Siegel and Roy H. Butin – Waltz 59:39
Miss Ray Cox – Baseball Girl 1:02:05
Edison Concert Band – In the Hall of the Mountain King 1:02:31
Empire Vaudeville Company – Traveling Salesman 1:03:51
Olly Oakley – Oakleigh Quickstep – Danse D’Oakley 1:04:08
Professor Kaukub – Banjo Instrumental- Bhopali 1:05:27
Ma Kyaw Bala, Ma Sein Myine, and Ma Chin Yone – Untitled Trio Part 1 1:07:25
Asadollah – Reza-Qoli Shahnaz (Shur) 1:08:42
Aung Bala – Maung Sein Mida Part 2 1:09:15
Seyyed Hoseyn Taherzadeh, Habibollah Moshir-Homayun – Bayat Esfahan 1:09:50
Seyyed Hoseyn Taherzadeh, Akbar – Daramad 1:10:55
Pinto, Lufsky and Stehl – Dreamy Moments 1:12:02
Venetian Instrumental Trio – Love and Devotion 1:13:11
Sousa’s Band – Summer Girl 1:13:25
Fisk University Jubilee Quartet – Little David, Play on Your Harp , Shout All Over God’s Heaven 1:15:37
Maurice Levi Band – Frau Luna Selections 1:18:21
Ada Jones and Len Spencer – a Race for a Wife 1:20:35
Indestructible Concert Band – Oscaleeta 1:21:12
U.S. Marine Band – Maple Leaf Rag 1:22:53
Fred Duprez & Bob Roberts – Blitz and Blatz at the Sea Shore 1:25:29
Billy Murray & Premier Quartet – Little Willie 1:25:58
Albert Benzler – Two Old Songs 1:26:38
Koos Speenhoff – Spotlied Op De Jaloerse Vrouwen 1:27:09
Albert Spalding – Gypsy Airs (Zigeunerweisen) 1:28:23
Harry Lauder – Fu’ Th’ Noo’ (I’ve Something in the Bottle) 1:30:07

From → 1909

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