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Sara Martin Vol. 1 (1922-1923)

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Album Review

Sara Martin was active during the 1920s as both blues vocalist and talent scout. She made a considerable number of records for the Okeh label, sang backup for Afro-Mexican-American gospel pianist Arizona Dranes with Richard M. Jones, and personally brought about the first recording session to feature the vaudeville team of Butterbeans & Susie. Sara Martin's "complete" recorded works were reissued by Document during the '90s, in four volumes under her name and on various compilations with other artists. Volume one covers her recording activity from October 17, 1922 through June 27, 1923; everything heard on this collection was recorded in New York City. She is backed by pianist Clarence Williams (tracks 1-4, 12-24), with whom she sings a duet (track 14); with Williams and his wife Eva Taylor, with whom she sings duets (tracks 15, 20, and 21); with cornetist and aspiring bandleader Thomas Morris (who provides support for Martin and Taylor on the tracks just mentioned); with composer and publisher W.C. Handy and his orchestra (tracks 9-11), and with songwriter Shelton Brooks, remembered today as the man who penned "Some of These Days," "Walkin' the Dog," "At the Darktown Strutters' Ball," and "I Wonder Where My Easy Rider's Gone." Brooks, who also recorded with Ethel Waters, plays piano on tracks 5-8 and uses his voice during the "Original Blues" and "I Got What It Takes to Bring You Back." This all adds up to a fascinating core sample of early African-American urban blues with overtones of jazz. Missing, however, are two sides that Martin cut with her Brown-Skin Syncopators in November 1922; the group included pianist and future bandleader Claude Hopkins and two men with ties to young Duke Ellington: trumpeter Arthur Whetsol and banjoist Elmer Snowden. An even more conspicuous gap is represented by the absence of four songs with backing by young pianist Thomas "Fats" Waller recorded in December 1922. Her collaborations with Waller, which are among the earliest known recordings by either artist, have been reissued under his name, most notably perhaps on JSP's Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1. Why they weren't included here is a real puzzler.


Born: May 18, 1884 in Louisville, KY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '20s, '30s

Known in her heyday as "the blues sensation of the West," the big-voiced Sara Martin was one of the best of the classic female blues singers of the '20s. Martin began her career as a vaudeville performer, switching to blues singing in the early '20s. In 1922, she began recording for OKeh Records, cutting a number of bawdy blues like "Mean Tight Mama." She continued recording until 1928. During this time, Martin became a popular performer on the southern Theater Owners' Booking Association circuits,...
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Sara Martin Vol. 1 (1922-1923), Sara Martin
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