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Clara Smith Vol. 1 (1923-1924)

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Album Review

A native of Spartanburg, SC, Clara Smith was an inspired blues vocalist with a persuasive voice that could be wonderfully disarming when combined with some of her tougher lyrics. A nearly exact contemporary of her friend Bessie Smith, Clara was born in 1894, began performing in theater and vaudeville at the age of 14, and worked in that environment for 13 years. Legend has it that in 1920 she employed a nubile young Josephine Baker as a wardrobe assistant, and that the two became romantically involved. After many years on the road, Smith landed in Harlem in 1923 and began making records in June of that year. One of the Document label's greatest achievements during the '90s was the six-part reissuance of her 125 Columbia recordings dating from 1923-1932. Volume 1 covers the first seven months of her phonographic career, from June 1923 to January 1924. On tracks 1-16 she is backed by pianist and bandleader Fletcher Henderson, with his ace cornetist Elmer Chambers chiming in on the "Irresistible Blues." You'll want to check out the "Far Away Blues" and "I'm Going Back to My Used to Be," for these are duets sung by Clara and Bessie Smith. Most of the remaining titles on this collection have instrumental backing by groups identified as Clara Smith's Jazz Band (a quintet with Stanley Miller at the piano) or her Jazz Trio, a more rustic group combining the kazoo of Porter Grainger, the guitar of Lincoln M. Conaway and the mandolin of Clarence Conaway. The final two tracks have piano accompaniment by Charles A. Matson with clarinet and alto sax obbligato by Detroit's own Ernest "Sticky" Elliott.


Born: 1894 in Spartanburg, SC

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '20s, '30s

One of the legendary unrelated Smith singers of the 1920s, Clara Smith was never on Bessie's level or as significant as Mamie but she had something of her own to offer. She began working on the theatre circuit and in vaudeville around 1910, learning her craft during the next 13 years while traveling throughout the South. In 1923 Clara Smith came to New York and she recorded steadily for Columbia through 1932, cutting 122 songs often with the backing of top musicians (especially after 1925) including...
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Clara Smith Vol. 1 (1923-1924), Clara Smith
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