Give Your Mama One Smile

Today we have a song we recorded in the record shop a few weeks ago to follow up on a recent post about Bluebird Records, the RCA/Victor subsidiary which specialized in jazz and blues singles. Unfortunately, there’s a skip at the beginning of the track and the record has since been sold to a customer so we can’t record it again until we find another copy of this album.

It should be noted that in the early 20th century, the phonograph and is amenities became one of the fastest-growing new industries in the United States. Some say second only to automobiles. As with every great innovation, it encompassed our entire nation even at a time when basic civil rights did not. Everyone bought and listened to records, and from the most base economic impulses “race” labels like Bluebird were born. As is so often the case, the growing success of the industry did not always benefit all involved, especially those easiest to abuse, which included performers like Green. Despite several successful singles, she was unappreciated by the industry when she died from pneumonia at the age of thirty-two.

Lil Green is described in the liner notes to this LP, written by jazz historian Leonard Feather, as “one of the far too numerous might-have-beens of jazz,” and that’s not an altogether unfair description. Her songs were timely and often witty, and her band sounded fantastic. On this track we chose today, pianist Simeon Henry aptly captures the style Earl Hines had popularized in Chicago at the time. Her songs are often covered by other jazz singers — including Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Nina Simone — and a few like “Romance in the Dark” remain standards today.

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