Pha Terrell

Best known as a vocalist for Andy Kirk's Twelve Clouds of Joy, the unusual first name of this artist would become an item on a Vietnamese restaurant menu if the proper vowel were switched. Pha Terrell, sometimes known to his friends as Elmer, was discovered by Kirk in the early '30s while toiling as a combination of dancer, singer, and semi-hustler at a Kansas City club. Terrell sang with the Kirk band between 1933 and 1941, after which he headed for Indianapolis, at that time a thriving jazz center. He worked there in smoochy Clarence Love's Orchestra, often tying knots in whatever strings of one-nighters were available to this type of territory band. Like just about any standup singer, Terrell eventually decided to go it alone, a career move that in his case he made out on the West Coast. A kidney ailment took him down when he was just getting started.

Available recordings by this singer can basically be evenly split between Kirk collections and various compilations based on themes such as early R&B and the Kansas City scene. His biggest hit with the Kirk outfit was the patient "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" in 1936. "All the Jive Is Gone" is another of Terrell's finest moments -- hippies will say it is "Pha Out!" -- yet listeners who find the singer's high tenor voice eerie and/or obnoxious may think the song's title best describes Terrell's departure from the Kirk band. ~ Eugene Chadbourne

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