Centuries of Sound on Cambridge 105 Radio – Episode 28 (1920)

Time: 8pm BST, Saturday 10th September 2020
Place: Cambridge 105 Radio

Another trip into the early days of recorded music with audio curator James Errington, this time joined by Grammy-nominated blues, soul, and Americana singer and songwriter Janiva Magness to explore the sounds of 1920, the year Mamie Smith and Her Jazz Hounds kicked off the explosion of female blues singers who broke the white New York stranglehold on the music business and paved the way for the roaring twenties.

You can listen to the show on 105fm in Cambridge, on DAB digital, on the Cambridge 105 website here, or on any good radio apps.

Or, as you have you missed the broadcast, not to worry, the listen again function has magically appeared below.

1920 in Art

Albert Gleizes – Woman With Black Glove

George Washington Lambert – A sergeant of the Light Horse

Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin – 1918 in Petrograd (Petrograd Madonna)

Mario Sironi – Truck

Charles Sheeler – Church Street El

Charles Demuth – Machinery

Max Ernst – The Hat Makes the Man

Joan Miró – Horse, Pipe and Red Flower

Paul Klee – Camel (in rhythmic landscape with trees)

Stanley Spencer – The Last Supper

Thomas Hart Benton – People of Chilmark

Georg Scholz – Industrial Farmers

George Grosz – Daum marries her pedantic automaton George

Otto Dix – The Card Players

Hans Baluschek – City of Workers

Winifred Knights – The Deluge

Stanton MacDonald-Wright – Airplane Synchromy in Yellow-Orange

Boris Kustodiev – Trinity Day

Cecilia Beaux – Portrait of Georges Clemenceau

Giorgio de Chirico – Self-portrait

1920 in Film

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

One Week


Haunted Spooks

Anna Boleyn

The Flapper

The Golem: How He Came into the World

Within Our Gates

High and Dizzy


Convict 13

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Mollycoddle

The Last of the Mohicans

The Penalty

Way Down East



Huckleberry Finn

Outside the Law

Excuse My Dust

The Round-Up

The Restless Sex

The Mark of Zorro

Why Change Your Wife?


Nomads of the North

Something to Think About



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It’s the 1920s, prohibition has kicked in, jazz bands are playing Chicago speakeasys, this is the year the revolutions around the world are matched by a revolution in music, but hold on – wasn’t this all done a few years ago? Are we not already firmly in the jazz age? Well, yes and no. 1917-1919 is an era of its own, a mini preview jazz age if you like, bands playing as raucously as they can with as many novelty sound effects as they can feasibly cram in there, often with very enjoyable results, but something usually considered essential has been missing – the flavour we usually call “the blues” or later “soul.”

The story of the blues as popularly understood involves pre-Civil-War slave chants and proto-gospel singing gradually mutating into a formalised style of guitar music played by poor blind black men in the Mississipi Delta. While some parts of this are in some ways accurate, as an origin story it is not only incorrect, but erases the women who should, if anything, be at the very centre of the story. So, let’s try to redress that, a bit.

To start at the beginning, the roots of the blues do indeed seem to lie with the songs of the slaves, but as far as documented history is concerned, the more important immediate antecedent is the music of the stages of black vaudeville in the southeast USA in the first two decades of the century. This was black pop music, undocumented by the upper-middle-class businessmen of New York, who would rather travel around the world than go down to Georgia. Much of the music played in these places was written and published elsewhere, including in New Orleans and Tin Pan Alley in New York. The idea of putting the word ‘blues’ in the title of a song dates back to at least 1908, with Antonio Maggio’s ‘I Got The Blues’ – but the craze for naming your song “The [something] Blues” doesn’t seem to exactly indicate a shift in the music being played. Many of these songs, like “Memphis Blues” and “Dallas Blues” were ragtime pieces – others were simply pop songs – but it wasn’t until songs like W.C. Handy’s “St Louis Blues” and “Yellow Dog Blues” began to be repurposed as jazz numbers that the association with this new wave of music became fixed.

The “blues” which appears apparently fully-formed in this mix is from a different, but connected strand. The earliest signs of this are perhaps in 1902, when Ma Rainey “The Mother of the Blues” wrote her first song about a woman having lost her man. Her performances on the “tent show circuit” inspired a host of copycats, and by the 1910s even Tin Pan Alley writers were putting together similar numbers, for white women singers to perform in character. Many were inspired to start similar acts, including Mamie Smith, a young singer who performed at clubs in Harlem.

As the initial wave of dixieland jazz crested and began to recede, W. C. Handy found himself to be one of the country’s most in-demand songwriters, and in a position to lobby record companies to record music for the new generation of black consumers who owned phonographs. Mamie Smith was the first to be recorded. On August 10th 1920 (her second session) she was was joined by a group of musicians quickly christened the “Jazz Hounds” and performed a Perry Bradford song titled “Crazy Blues”

It’s hard to overstate what an impact this recording had. No longer was the sound of black America constrained by the expectations of the white upper-middle-class recording market. The record sold over 75,000 copies within a month, and its label Okeh Records realised there was a huge market out there for what it termed “race records.” Initially these were largely copycat pieces from similar singers, but it would only be a few years until this meant Louis Armstrong, Clarence Williams, Lonnie Johnson and King Oliver. The copycat pieces weren’t at all bad either, as there was quite the stock of talent out there for those asking for a blues singer with a jazz backing band. As well as Mamie there would soon be recordings from Bessie Smith, Lucille Bogan, Sara Martin, Victoria Spivey and Ma Rainey – this is an era now known for “classic female blues” – a genre which certainly deserves to have a less pedantic name.

Crazy Blues, then; a genuine watershed moment, and a genuinely brilliant record.


0:00:17 Mamie Smith & Her Jazz Hounds – Crazy Blues
0:03:44 Yerkes’ Happy Six – Shake Your Little Shoulder
0:06:33 Lucille Hegamin – Jazz Me Blues
0:08:58 Paul Whiteman – Wang Wang Blues
0:12:15 Marion Harris – I Ain’t Got Nobody
0:14:28 George Gershwin – Swanee
0:16:03 Al Jolson – Swanee
0:18:37 All-Star Trio – Swanee
0:19:33 Louisiana Five – Clarinet Squawk
0:22:19 Wilbur Sweatman’s Original Jazz Band – Think of Me Little Daddy
0:23:46 Arthur Collins – Old Man Jazz
0:25:55 George Hamilton Green Novelty Orchestra – Oriental Stars
0:28:04 Ada Jones and Steve Porter – Backyard Conversation Between Mrs. Reilly and Mrs. Finnegan (Excerpt 1)
0:28:16 Noble Sissle – Great Camp Meetin’ Day
0:30:54 Rudy Wiedoeft + Orchestra – Saxema
0:33:28 Milo Rega’s Dance Orchestra – Young Man’s Fancy
0:36:33 Plantation Jazz Orchestra – Murder
0:39:04 Aleister Crowley- The Call Of The First And Second Aethyr (Excerpt 1)
0:39:23 Marika Papagika – O Marcos Botsaris
0:40:33 Mozmar Caire Orchestra – Raks Baladi Hag Ibrahim (Country Dance)
0:43:24 Original Dixieland Jazz Band – Soudan
0:46:26 Aleister Crowley- The Call Of The First And Second Aethyr (Excerpt 2)
0:46:55 Zeki Duygulu – Karciar Taksim
0:48:00 Abe Schwartz – National Hora Pt.2
0:50:27 Joseph Shlisky – Omar Rabi Elozor
0:53:29 Kandel’s Orchestra – A Freilachs von Der Chuppe (A Happy Dance from the Wedding Ceremony)
0:55:34 Mishka Ziganoff – Odessa Bulgar
0:56:50 Columbia Saxophone Sextette – Crocodile
1:00:08 Calvin Coolidge – Gov Coolidge for Vice President
1:00:21 Art Hickman – Love Nest
1:01:49 Mamie Smith – Don’t Care Blues
1:04:46 Yerkes’ Novelty Five – Bo La Bo
1:06:22 Raderman’s Jazz Orchestra – Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me
1:08:32 Ted Lewis – When My Baby Smiles At Me
1:10:09 Harry Raderman’s Jazz Orchestra – Peacock Walk
1:12:52 Warren G Harding – Speech
1:13:10 Bert Williams – When The Moon Shines on The Moonshine
1:15:46 Max Fells’ Della Robbia Orchestra – La Veeda
1:18:20 Orquesta Felipe Valdes – Bombo Camara
1:19:37 Ben Hokea – Honolulu March
1:22:11 Hawaiian Trio – Hawaiian Twilight
1:24:51 All-Star Trio – Oh! By Jingo!
1:26:47 Yerkes’ Blue Bird Orchestra – Scandal Walk
1:29:39 Louisiana Five – Weeping Willow Blues
1:31:44 George Gershwin – Singing The Blues
1:33:28 Leopold Stokowski & The Philadelphia Orchestra – Beethoven Symphony no 8 in F Movement 2
1:36:33 Will Fyffe – I Belong To Glasgow
1:40:29 Carl Fenton – On Miami Shore (+ Rudy Wiedoeft)
1:42:16 Ada Jones and Steve Porter – Backyard Conversation Between Mrs. Reilly and Mrs. Finnegan (Excerpt 2)

Elsewhere in 1920

January 2 – The first Red Scare in the United States – 4025 suspected communists and anarchists are arrested and held without trial in several cities

January 7 – In the Russian Civil War, the forces of Russian White Admiral Alexander Kolchak surrender in Krasnoyarsk – the Great Siberian Ice March ensues

January 16 – Prohibition in the United States begins, with the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution coming into effect

February 2 – The Tartu Peace Treaty is signed, ending the Estonian War of Independence and recognizing the independence of both the Republic of Estonia and the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic

February 7 – Admiral Kolchak and Viktor Pepelyayev are executed by firing squad near Irkutsk

February 17 – A woman named Anna Anderson tries to commit suicide in Berlin, and is taken to a mental hospital, where she claims she is Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia

February 24 – Adolf Hitler presents his National Socialist Program in Munich to the German Workers’ Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei), which renames itself as the Nazi Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)

March 7 – The Syrian National Congress proclaims Syria independent, with Faisal I of Iraq as king

March 10 – The world’s first peaceful establishment of a social democratic government takes place in Sweden, as Hjalmar Branting takes over as Prime Minister

March 13–17 – Wolfgang Kapp and Walther von Lüttwitz’s Kapp Putsch (an attempted coup in Germany) briefly ousts the Weimar Republic government from Berlin, but fails due to public resistance and a general strike

March 15 – The Ruhr Red Army, a communist army 60,000 men strong, is formed in Germany

March 15–16 – Constantinople is occupied by British Empire forces, acting for the Allied Powers against the Turkish National Movement

March 19 – The United States Senate refuses to ratify the Treaty of Versailles

March 25 – British recruits to the Royal Irish Constabulary begin to arrive in Ireland. They become known from their improvised uniforms as the ‘Black and Tans’

April 4 – Violence erupts between Arab and Jewish residents in Jerusalem – 9 are killed, 216 injured

April 20 – The 1920 Summer Olympics open in Antwerp, Belgium. The Olympic symbols of five interlocking rings and the associated flag are first displayed at the games

April 23 – The Grand National Assembly of Turkey is founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in Ankara. It denounces the government of Sultan Mehmed VI, and announces a temporary constitution

May 2 – The first game of Negro National League baseball is played in Indianapolis

May 16 – Over 30,000 people attend the Canonization of Joan of Arc in Rome

May 20 – President Venustiano Carranza of Mexico arrives in San Antonio Tlaxcalantongo, where he is shot and killed by the troops of Rodolfo Herrero

June 4 – With the Treaty of Trianon, peace is restored between the Allied Powers and Hungary, which loses 72% of its territory

June 22 – In the Greek Summer Offensive, Greece attacks Turkish troops

July 19 – The Second Congress of the Communist International begins in Saint Petersburg and Moscow

July 24 – The French defeat the Syrian army at the Battle of Maysalun, occupy Damascus, and depose Faisal I of Syria as king

August 10 – Ottoman Sultan Mehmed VI’s representatives sign the Treaty of Sèvres with the Allied Powers, confirming arrangements for the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire

August 11 – Bolshevik Russia recognizes independent Latvia

August 19–25 – The Poles in Upper Silesia rise up against the Germans.

August 20 – The first commercial radio station in the United States, 8MK, begins operations in Detroit

August 26 – The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is passed, guaranteeing women’s suffrage

September 16 – A bomb in a horse wagon explodes in front of the J. P. Morgan building in New York City, killing 38 and injuring 400

October 9 – In the Polish–Lithuanian War, Polish troops take Vilnius

November 2 – In the US presidential election, Republican Warren G. Harding defeats Democrat James M. Cox and Socialist Eugene V. Debs

November 13 – The White Army’s last units and civilian refugees are evacuated from the Crimea on board 126 ships

November 15 – In Geneva, the first assembly of the League of Nations is held

November 21 – The Irish Republican Army shoot dead 14 British undercover agents in Dublin. Later that day in retaliation, the Royal Irish Constabulary open fire on a crowd at a Gaelic Football match, killing 14

December 1 – The Mexican Revolution ends with a new regime coming to power, which couples with the end of the Old West

December 11 – British forces set fire to 5 acres of the centre of Cork, Ireland, including the City Hall, in reprisal attacks, after a British auxiliary is killed in a guerilla ambush

December 16 – An 8.6 Richter scale Haiyuan earthquake causes a landslide in Gansu Province, China, killing 180,000

December 22 – The 8th Congress of Soviets of the Russian SFSR adopts the GOELRO plan, the major plan of the economical development of the country

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