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Rosa Henderson 1923-1931

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Album Review

During the first half of the 20th century, it was not uncommon for one individual to make records for many different labels, often using invented aliases while violating any number of small-time recording contracts. One artist whose career might well have been hampered by this practice was Rosa Henderson (1896-1968) a fine blues and jazz singer whose toughness, poise, and artful delivery make her seem, in retrospect, like one of the great posthumously underappreciated entertainers of her generation. During the years 1923-1931, she recorded more than 100 sides for at least 12 separate labels using more than ten different names; the record buying public had little chance of knowing offhand that the voice they heard emanating from assorted 78 rpm platters spinning within the wind-up phonograph was that of one woman who performed on-stage in London and in New York at the Lafayette, Lincoln, and Alhambra theaters. After collaborating with some of New York's best jazz musicians, she veered off to the sidelines and only recorded once after the death of her husband in 1928. She passed away 40 years later, a forgotten star whose musical legacy is a goldmine of great music from the Harlem Renaissance. In 1999, the Challenge label released a modestly proportioned, 20-track sampler of Henderson recordings that may serve as an enticing introduction, and perhaps an incitement to investigate the rest of her discography. She was at her best when singing songs that allowed for unfettered expression, and when accompanied by skilled instrumentalists. Backed by pianist James P. Johnson during "Can't Be Bothered with No Sheik," she complains of well-dressed dandies who carry their brains in their feet; her two duets with Fats Waller ("What's the Matter Now?" and "You Get Mad") are among the tastiest performances in her entire oeuvre, and the "Chicago Policeman Blues" is probably the earliest example of a song lyric that conflates law enforcement officials with swine. Note that "Fulton Street Blues" and "Do It, Mr. So-And-So" (like the "Clearing House Blues" released to the public as a Fats Waller player piano roll in June 1924) were not initially issued by "Vocalion," do not appear on Document's otherwise comprehensive four-CD series of Henderson's complete recorded works, and are therefore among the rarest of all Rosa Henderson recordings.


Born: November 24, 1896 in Henderson, KY

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '20s, '30s

One of the early classic blues singers, Rosa Henderson (no relation to Fletcher or Horace Henderson) first began singing professionally in 1913 with her uncle's carnival troupe. She was based in Texas until 1918 when she married Slim Henderson and began touring with the Mason Henderson Show. She mainly spent the '20s performing in musical comedies in New York. Henderson, who began recording in 1923, sometimes used such pseudonyms as Flora Dale, Mamie Harris, Rosa Green, Sarah Johnson, Sally Ritz,...
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Rosa Henderson 1923-1931, Rosa Henderson
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