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Bert Williams 1915-1921

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Album Review

Bert Williams was a gifted and convincingly expressive entertainer. His thematic repertoire speaks volumes about the nature of the entertainment industry at the beginning of the 20th century. Bert Williams: The Remaining Titles 1915-1921 (Document 5661)presents 23 vintage performances lifted directly off of scratchy old Columbia recordings dating from the last six years of his recording career, with instrumental accompaniments by the Charles Adams Prince Orchestra. There are gaps in the progression; it does not represent an exact chronology of everything Williams recorded during this time period. "Bonus" track 24, a short alternate take of "The Phrenologist Coon," comes from a 7" lateral record cut for Victor in October of 1901. Although the phrase "Remaining Titles" implies the existence of other volumes by Bert Williams on Document, this appears to be the only Williams title in the Document catalog. A word about sound reproduction is in order: the Document record label specializes in early jazz, blues, ragtime, country, and vaudeville. Unlike various other historical reissue projects, Document often presents the original 78-rpm recordings in a manner that conveys the exact listening experience enjoyed by collectors of these timeworn artifacts. The sound quality of each selection seems to depend entirely upon the condition of the individual platter or cylinder from which the sound was extracted. On the one hand, it's good to preserve the marvelous textures of vintage speech and musical entertainment wreathed in authentic surface noise, a commonly encountered but by no means universal trait of the historical medium, as some truly mint condition 78-rpm records have little or no discernible "scratchiness." On the other hand, it's good to have access to other reissue compilations presented by producers who have made an effort to "clean up" the sound using high-tech "remastering" techniques. The complete recordings of Bert Williams, wonderfully restored and arranged in chronological sequence, are available in three volumes from Archeophone. True believers in the majesty of Bert Williams will also want to obtain this Document disc so as to be able to consult the informative liner notes by Rainer E. Lotz while staying in touch with that delectable scratchy antique record ambience.


Born: 12 November 1875 in Antigua, West Indies

Genre: Vocal

Years Active: '00s, '10s, '20s

Bert Williams was the recording industry's first important and enduring black artist. His dry but insightful humor, coupled with a downtrodden but persevering persona, found popular success at the turn of the century, which continued into the Roaring Twenties. Williams was also a noteworthy songwriter who performed on stages ranging from minstrel shows and vaudeville to Broadway, and made great strides in overcoming racial barriers in American entertainment. Williams was born in Nassau in the West...
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Bert Williams 1915-1921, Bert Williams
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