This week I’ll be sharing a new song each day that features NYFOS artists making music in their homes.
What’s in a name?
From their Chicago apartment Hugh Russell and Craig Terry have been entertaining us and keeping us sane on a daily basis. From their vast selection of quarantine serenades, I chose this one, because the gesture is the most personal and particular. There is a story and a specific reason why this song was selected – another hallmark of NYFOS programming. Craig and Hugh introduce the song.
“Christine” from the musical Christine
Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster (1907-1984)
Music by Sammy Fain (1902-1989)
Bonus: I listened to a lot of jazz all through high school and still feel the need to listen regularly. I still have a Fats Waller cassette that starts with this rag. I hadn’t heard this song in years, thank you for bringing it back to me…and your neighbors.
“Handful of Keys” by Fats Waller (1904-1943)
W.C. Handy named several blues for cities of significance in his life: Memphis, where he lived from 1905-17, St. Louis, where he was a penniless, flea-infested hobo in 1893; Atlanta, where he played some career-enhancing concerts in the World War I era. “Beale Street Blues” is his only masterpiece named for a street, the main drag of the black entertainment district in Memphis. The song was composed in 1916, and in 1917 Handy added words based on his experiences on the thoroughfare. One late night he happened into a local barber shop and asked the proprietor why he hadn’t closed for the evening: “well, ain’t nobody got killed yet” was the reply. The beginning of the chorus, though omitted in our day’s recording, sets the scene leading into the “I’d rather be here…” finale: “And the Blind Man on the Corner, who sings these Beale Street Blues.” Handy was a great folklorist. His bandmates would ask why he was always lingering on street corners listening to singing beggars. He always had a pencil and a scrap of paper with him, and the foresight to know what should be disseminated rather than lost in the mists of time.
“Beale Street Blues” was Handy’s farewell to a city he loved, where he had written his greatest works. He would soon head to New York’s Tin Pan Alley and the big time. Among the many musicians he befriended in New York was the pride of Harlem, Thomas “Fats” Waller, a great pianist, composer, and comedian. Fats could also swing the pipe organ, a mighty beast. Most of this 1927 recording is his, with the great blues singer Alberta Hunter limited to a brief interjection: “Ah, play that thing, Mr. Waller, Lord.” Toward record’s end we are blessed with Ms. Hunter’s rendition of the chorus, and though she mysteriously replaces the word “sergeant” with “surgeon,” the substitution works just fine. Hunter was a Memphis native, born in 1897; she absconded for Chicago aged 11, but would have heard Handy’s inescapable bands in Memphis in her childhood. By 1920, now a cabaret diva, she was making a sensation singing Handy’s latest compositions. Hunter vanished from the entertainment scene in midlife, opting for work as a nurse. She returned to show business in old age and was a sensation all over again.
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