Last year when we were preparing a free winter themed E.P as a download for the holiday season , “Cold Weather Papa” by Emma Johnson seemed like a good choice . The track appears on our CD DOCD-5654 Classic Blues & Vaudeville Singers Vol 5 1922 – 1930. Once we played it , however, it was clear that Emma Johnson was not an African-American vocalist and this was not a classic blues track in the sense that we would understand today . It was the rolling R in the word Spring that gave it away for us ! We wanted to know more .
We tracked down the original 78 which is EDISON 51267 EMMA JOHNSON COLD WEATHER PAPA IN E 1924 backed with Ernest Hare – BLACK STAR LINE . We knew that Hare was part of the 1920’s comic team The Happiness Boys but what of Emma Johnson ? Well, she was none other than Helen Clark the popular contralto vocalist . She is all but forgotten today but once she was popular and prolific . She started her recording career with Zonophone in early 1911 but soon moved to Victor where she remained until 1930 cutting such diverse pieces as O wert thou in the cauld blast to In the Orient, featuring Tony Sarg’s Marionettes. Her specialty seems to have been hymns and Christian music and she appeared on no less than 10 (separate ) Victor releases (1929) of The Crucifixion . Under the name of Emma Johnson , however , Clark cut a number of records for Edison with titles that fooled many a modern collector into believing that she was a black Blues singer .She also made a number of recordings under the name of Jane Collins and Grace Wood . It was not uncommon for these big stars to use pseudonyms when recording for other labels ;it was a way to get round their “exclusive ” recording contracts . This got us thinking about the term BLUES . We know what it means today and we naturally associate it with African American performers and suffering . Go to Wiki or any scholarly work and this view will be reflected and expanded upon but if we go back and look at the actual usage of this term and the recordings in 1920s and prior we find something more complex . In fact we are working on a forthcoming blog on this very topic . For now, however, it is interesting to speculate on who is really who on some of our Female Blues , Jazz and Vaudeville Singers CDs . We have many volumes of rare and sometimes obscure recordings made by woman whom earlier collectors have deemed to be black Blues ,Jazz or Vaudeville Singers .
We now know , for instance, that Flo Bert who appears on Classic Blues, Jazz & Vaudeville Singers Vol 2 1920 – 1926 was indeed a white vaudevillian rather than a Blues singer . “Sophie “Flo” Bert ( Dec. 2, 1898 Pennsylvania, USA-Apr. 8, 1981 Los Angeles ) was a female vaudeville singer, whistler and comedienne who was active in the New York area in the Teens and 1920s.”She billed herself as “4 foot, 9″ of Ragtime”. Her partner in vaudeville was her future husband Elmer Brendle a comedian who spoke with a fractured-Swedish accent and used the stage name El Brendel “the Yumpin’ Yiminy”. They had a hit act at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1920 called “Cinderella On Broadway”. They married in 1924. Bert’s recordings were the first “Blues” records released on the Paramount label (according to Red Hot Jazz .Com) The records issued on the Famous label were released under the name of Alice Johnson . Flo also appeared in “A Fantasy of the Great White Way,” which opened June 24, 1920 and ran for 126 performances. She played Miss Moffet in “Humpty Dumpty Lane,” “The Silver Slipper Ball” and “Watteau Land.” She also played the roles of Amy in “Lies” and the First Mate in “Caproni Station.” Of course,we have to remember that when these recordings were first put together for the Document Records label there were no computers or internet . It was often difficult to find information about the more obscure artists. Even those artists we think of today as being well known were shadowy figures to many in Europe in the 1980s . If one wanted to know anything ,one had to either use the telephone or more likely write a letter to another collector . There were books about Blues and Jazz and of course there was the then ” bible for collectors ,”Blues and Gospel Records 1902 -1943 by Dixon, Robert M.W. & Godrich, John but this was a discography not a Who’s Who. Now everything is different and we have facts and images at our finger tips but it still comes as an exciting surprise when we find that things are not quite as they seem in our catalogue . Part of the work that went into creating the new website was listening to 30 seconds or so of each track .It was quite an onerous undertaking and we were rather snow blind/deaf after the first 200 CDs but we did find some more anomalies in the recordings . We are going back ,revisiting the lesser known female vocalists in the catalogue and we will let you know what and more importantly who we come up with . If you think you know of others in the catalogue who are not as they are generally believed to be ,please let us know .Please note the actual track appears on DOCD-5654 Classic Blues & Vaudeville Singers Vol 5 1922 – 1930 NOT DOCD 5573 shown below on the Youtube video see this link https://thedocumentrecordsstore.com/product/DOCD-5654/ Emma Johnson also appears on the CD Jazz And Blues On Edison Volume 2 (1917 – 1929) see https://thedocumentrecordsstore.com/product/DOCD-1107/
Please also note that our new web site will let you download individual tracks as well as full albumshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4F9enRYfA8U