I started this year banging on about 2014 being
the 100th anniversary of the first ever recorded blues, W.C. Handy’s brassy
instrumental, “The Memphis Blues”, cut in New York on 15 July
1914, by the Victor label’s house band. These days, it sounds more like old New
Orleans jazz than blues, but old New Orleans jass back in 1914 was yet to be defined
(and marketed) as jazz and still thought of as gut-bucket blues. 
Like
London buses, you wait a million years for a blues to get recorded, then three
come along at once. In blues’ case, they were three versions of the same tune.
Columbia’s house band recorded the

Charles Prince’s Band, pictured here recording in 1914 with vaudevillian Ed
 Morton. Prince’s Band was Columbia’s house band. As you can see, they
 didn’t record in a studio but a laboratory. The second blues ever recorded
was cut in this room by this band in July 1914.

second version of “The Memphis Blues” on 24
July 1914. The second blues ever recorded, this was another brassy instrumental,
like the first one, again recorded in New York by an all-white band.

The
third version of “The Memphis Blues” was also recorded in the Big Apple by an
all-white band, in this case the New York Philharmonic no less, but this time there
was a vocalist. The date was 2 October 1914 – 100 years ago today. The singer
was Morton
Harvey, a 28-year old white vaudeville star from Nebraska, and here, for those
interested in hearing the first ever recorded blues vocal, is the link.
Morton Harvey with the first
recorded blues vocal:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2tL383cOFs
Born in Omaha in
1886, Harvey remembered that landmark recording session in a 1954 letter to a
friend. “Though the orchestra that accompanied me was composed of symphonic
players, it wasn’t their fault that they didn’t get a ‘blues’ quality into the
record”, he wrote.
“The ‘blues’ style
of singing and playing, which became so familiar later, was just about to be
born.

Morton Harvey: the first blues vocalist ever recorded

Even the dance records of ‘The Memphis Blues’ made during that period
were played as straight one-steps. However, there were a few good old-fashioned
‘trombone smears’ in the orchestral effects of my ‘Memphis Blues’ record.”

In 1916, Harvey recorded “I’ve Got the Army
Blues” and “Tennessee Blues” as Gene Rogers. It wouldn’t be until 1917, that
the first African Americans were recorded playing the blues – in London under
the leadership of Jamaican Dan Kildare (see ‘the world’s first black blues
recording’ post of 21 December 2013 and archives of 4 January and 14 June 2014).
In
a nod to the future, Morton Harvey was billed for a while as “The Rolling Stone”.

Volume 1
Volume 2

And
in a nod to my future, why not earn my undying gratitude by purchasing my How
Blues Evolved ebooks on the following links. As you’ll see, they’re priced intentionally
low. In fact, they’re going for a song. Perhaps I need to put the price up.

UK Link: 
USA Link: 


  

Share