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Clara Smith Vol. 6 (1930-1932)

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Album Review

The sixth and final volume of Clara Smith's complete works as reissued in chronological sequence by the Document label presents her last 18 Columbia recordings which were made during the socially challenged period from July 1930 through March 1932, as the nation's economic crisis sank toward its nadir. Some would consider the main attraction in this collection to be her duets with singing guitarist Lonnie Johnson ("You're Getting Old on Your Job," "What Makes You Act Like That?" "You Had Too Much," and "Don't Wear It Out"). In order to straighten out contractual issues, on Columbia's release of these titles Johnson was billed as "Tommy Jordan," whereas Okeh's issues identified Clara as "Violet Green". On "Ol' Sam Tages" (a very funny take off on Jerome Kern's "Ol' Man River"), her pianist bore the picturesque name of "Asbestos Burns"; for the flipside, "Unemployed Papa-Charity Working Mama," this fellow sang back at her like a vaudevillian comedian. Regarding pianists, in addition to her last records with Porter Grainger (tracks one, two, nine, and ten), Clara sang "You Dirty Dog" and "For Sale (Hannah Johnson's Big Jack Ass)" backed by Clarence Williams, and performed the last four titles of her recording career accompanied by Fred Longshaw, himself another strong link with Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. Having left some 125 recordings for later generations to study and enjoy, this passionate singer was not fated to survive the Great Depression, and succumbed to heart failure in Detroit in 1935. As if to hammer home Document's unwavering commitment to thoroughness, this collection is capped by four extremely rare Black Patti records cut in St. Paul, MN on June 27 and 29, 1927 by a different woman named Clara Smith who was accompanied by pianist Buster Lindsay and cornetist Harold Lewis.


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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