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Lillie Delk Christian

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Biography

It is difficult to obtain relevant information about Lillie Delk Christian because virtually every historian or music critic who has written about her felt it necessary to vent his personal bias while complaining about her voice and even ridiculing her for not sounding enough like an "authentic" jazz singer. Curiously, no such criticism seems to have been leveled at her light-skinned contemporaries Ruth Etting and Annette Hanshaw. All three sang in a comparable jazz-pop style, using feminine warmth and a sprinkling of sugar to infuse every melody with a friendly candor that apparently violates certain attitudes about how jazz was supposed to have been sung during the late '20s. If of the three singers "girl next door" Hanshaw delivered the most consistently high quality performances and "gangster's moll" Etting maintained a theatrically saccharine superficial poise, Lillie Delk Christian sang gently and sweetly, employing a soft parlor vibrato that perfectly suited much of her pop-oriented repertoire. During the years 1927 and 1928 she cut more than 15 titles for the popular Okeh label. Few cynical objections to her tidy technique seem to have been in evidence back then, and some of Chicago's top jazz musicians were pleased to back her in the recording studio. Certainly she was good enough for cornetist Louis Armstrong, clarinetist Jimmie Noone, and pianists Richard M. Jones, and Earl Hines. The eight sides she cut with Armstrong's Hot Four really put her on the historical map and have since ensured her inclusion in numerous early jazz compilations. The best of her Okehs, "Too Busy!" is prized for Satchmo's scat singing, but it's worth noting that the less jazzy numbers (especially the critically vilified but beautifully arcane waltz "Was It a Dream?") allow Lillie to savor the melodic contours while glowing with her own light. ~ arwulf arwulf

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