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Josie Miles Vol. 1 (1922-1924)

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Album Review

With seven titles still undiscovered as of 1996, Document's complete recordings of vaudeville blues vocalist Josie Miles amounted to 44 selections neatly parceled onto two compact discs. Volume one begins with eight sides recorded in 1922 for the Black Swan label and subsequently released on Paramount. The chronology leads up to September 1924, following a trail of Gennett, Ajax, and Edison phonograph records. Let it be understood that this woman's performances should not be compared to the work of more famous or stylistically developed singers from the same time period like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, or Ida Cox. Josie Miles sounded like a vaudeville actress who spoke convincingly and sang whenever necessary, sometimes pitched precariously and often employing an edgy music hall vibrato. Judging her delivery even by the standards of the later 1920s seems unfair, and listeners are advised to bask instead in the magic of hearing songs of this vintage with titles like the "Please Don't Tickle Me Dear Blues" and "He's My Man, Your Man (Somebody Else's Too)". The very fact that she was able to make as many records as she did is a marvel in itself, and the opportunity to hear them so many years later should not be taken for granted. Neither should the presence of pianists Q. Roscoe Snowden, Stanley Miller (who also recorded with Clara and Bessie Smith); Arthur Ray (see Helen Gross and Viola McCoy); Cliff Jackson, who with clarinetist Bob Fuller and cornetist Louis Metcalf made scads of recordings as the Choo Choo Jazzers, and Fletcher Henderson, a very busy accompanist for blues singers during the early 1920s. For a good time, compare Josie Miles' version of "War Horse Mamma" with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra's recording which dates from the same time period. Trombonist George Brashear crops up on records of similar antiquity by young Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters, and Trixie Smith. Clarinetist Clarence Robinson is known to have backed Clarence Williams' wife Eva Taylor, and Puerto Rican bassist Ralph Escudero was one of the great tuba handlers of the 1920s. Cornet players were vital participants in the early blues and jazz environment; Joe Smith is best known for having played obligato phrases behind Bessie Smith, while Bubber Miley (heard on "Sweet Man Joe") was soon to become one of Duke Ellington's star soloists.


Genre: Blues

Years Active: '20s

Like Mamie Smith, Lena Wilson, Viola McCoy, Etta Mooney, Helen Baxter, Edna Hicks, Esther Bigeou, Lucille Hegamin and the young Ethel Waters, Josie Miles was a vaudeville blues entertainer whose records are intriguing relics of a bygone era. During the early 1920s, with the recording industry in its infancy, Josie Miles and her contemporaries performed catchy pop and blues-inflected melodies within a limited stylistic range, sometimes backed by musicians who were destined to play important roles...
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Josie Miles Vol. 1 (1922-1924), Josie Miles
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