Sunday, January 13, 2008

A newly-discovered species...
The VINTAGE SONGBIRD (melodius sapiens)

Lately, I've found myself embarking on a musical search, involving music from the past...no, not my past, and (barely) my parents' past; there's something about the music of the 1920's and 30's that's both fun and emotional, silly and serious, old, yet new again, especially to someone like me who's never really paid much attention to it before. Maybe it was a more dignified, innocent, charming time? Perhaps, although society had its problems and concerns back then as well. Maybe it's a form of escapism; whatever it is, I'm having a great time stepping back thru the ages...this post deals with 'songbirds', a term applied to lady singers of the day...while I'm no authority on this time period, here's some information to get you started, in case you'd like to search the era, too...
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It all started a few months ago when I read a book onthe life story of Libby Holman, a singer from the 1920's and 1930's. She hit big with her rendition of a song titled "Moanin' Low". She may or may not have had something to do with her husband's death; it was never proven that she was involved. In 1971, she died of self-inflicted carbon-monoxide poisoning. A singer with a checkered past. I then went to the YouTube site so I could hear some of Ms. Holman's recordings, and I found her to be a good vocalist, although I wasn't really taken by her somewhat mannered singing style. Ms. Holman's voice doesn't really seem to 'fit' the term 'songbird', because she had a very serious tone in her recordings...shades of Marlene Dietrich, perhaps? Ms. Holman certainly looks serious in the photo at left. Were I alive back then, I wouldn't have wanted to get on her bad side.
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While at YouTube, I accidentally discovered Miss Lee Morse (1897-1954), whose voice I can't get enough of. I've written about her already on this blogsite, and what an amazing talent she was. She sings of heartbreak in "Shadows On The Wall", and the next minute she can be silly, extolling her consumption of "Animal Crackers". Truly, a voice that most definitely can make one smile. Miss Morse, though, had a self-destructive bent; she hit the bottle more often than she should, which caused her to lose a chance for big Broadway stardom; as it was, she made records throughout the '20s and '30s, composing approximately a third of the songs she recorded. Lee Morse is, to me, the epitome' of songbird; in addition to singing, she yelps, yodels, hums on a kazoo, scat-sings and emotes. Listening to her music, it's hard to believe it was recorded so long ago, because she sounds so fresh and immediate. I've started a 'Yahoo Group' which features information about Miss Morse, her life, her pictures, and links to her music; you can click the little purple button in the left margin of this blog and go there. I wanted to do this for Miss Morse because she's been unfairly forgotten in the vast swirling sea of time; she deserves to be heard. I've become a real fan; something in her vocals touches me. Maybe because she's "real"; she had emotional hard-times and bitter disappointments along the way, and it all seems to come out in her music. When she was happy, she was delirious; when sad, she was The Saddest Person In The World.
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I've branched out in my "Songbird Search", and while I haven't found anyone whose voice amazes me as much as Miss Morse's, there were a lot of great 'songbirds' from that era; For instance, Helen Morgan (1900-1941), fell in with some shady Mafia connections later in her life, and also had a problem with The Bottle...which led to her premature death. She was known primarily as one of the first Torch Singers, singing sad and melancholy ballads while sitting atop a piano on a darkened stage. She appeared in at least 15 films; she was the proverbial "star of stage and screen" and is well-represented by the many records she made between 1927 and 1935. From what I've read on the web, quite a few entertainers of the day turned to the bottle to ease the pressures of management, recording dates, and the ever demanding and fickle American Public...stage fright, after all, can be a scary thing.
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This next songbird, Jane Green (1897-1931) is represented by only a handful of recordings (33 to be exact), and as you can see, she passed away very, very young, due to a paralytic stroke at age 34, although at the time, some had suspected her husband of acting strangely around the time of her death. Once again, foreboding scandal? Probably not, but we'll never know for sure. And who knows what brought on her stroke, highly unusual for someone her age? While her voice isn't quite as deep or resonant as Lee Morse's, Ms. Green sings with conviction and a natural, unaffected delivery, and brings a large amount of high energy to her recordings; as a result, I rank her right up there as one of the best songbirds. I wonder if some of these ladies actually met way back in the Roaring Twenties. That's the fun thing about musical research; it can go so many ways.
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Still another songbird from that era, Vaughn DeLeath (born Leonore Vonderleath) (1894-1943) was, according to what I've read, the first singer to achieve popularity over Radio; she worked at a radio station, and spent a lot of her time on the air; she'd sing for hours until the next singer showed up. This was back in the days of crystal radio, when things were really primitive. She was one of the first "crooners" and became so out of necessity; she had to sing quietly, or else her voice would've been capable of blowing out sensitive radio tubes and microphones back long ago. The industry was still in its infancy; changes were coming fast and furious back in the '20s which probably came close to the insane degree of flux we experience in present-day society. Like many her counterparts, Ms. DeLeath also had a problem with the bottle, which led in part to her early demise.
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This next lady wouldn't let herself be pushed around; she wanted to record "St. Louis Blues", only her record company, Victor, wouldn't let her, so she jumped ship, moved over to Columbia, and recorded it there. This headstrong lady is Marion Harris (1896-1944). She is represented by a whole slew of recordings, and while she never appeared in a feature film, I'm aware of at least one musical "short" film that exists which features her singing a couple of songs. Ms. Harris moved to England in the Mid-30s, as the cabaret scene in the U.S. was dying out, and she made some records and had some hits there. Her house was destroyed destroyed by bombs in World War II. She returned to the U.S., and was living in a hotel in New York City, when she perished due to fire. She'd fallen asleep with a lit cigarette which ignited her bed. Another songbird Done Too Soon.
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Finally...I've come about the Most Obscure Songbird Ever...her name is Julia Gerity, and I can't find any more than a couple of paragraphs about her on the internet; I don't know her story, there are no birth or death dates given; she's a total mystery. I can't find so much as a single picture of her...although, you can hear her most famous tune, 1931's depression-era song, 'Sittin' On A Rubbish Can'. Here's what she sounds like; click on this little YouTube dealie here...



Finally, I didn't 'attribute' any of this information to any outside sources; call me lazy if you wish. All of the above songbirds can be heard on YouTube, and if you're interested, you can type their names into search engines and go from there. But if you're an escapist like I am, you'll have great fun as a fellow backwards traveler. Try it...you'll like it!
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Blogger's note: You have just finished reading this blogsite's 700th posting! I suppose if every entry was a "home run", I'd be right up there with Barry Bonds, but I've hit more than my share of weak squibbers and foul balls in my attempts to make sense here. I suppose I can't make sense all of the time, though; if I did, I'd be too predictable!

5 Comments:

Blogger Silver Valley Girl said...

Congrats on post #700! I love the information on all these lady singers. I haven't had a chance to listen to them yet, but I intend to. I look forward to hearing all the varied types of voices they have. Thanks for sharing.

I've got a CDA question for you. What was the amusement park down by the lake called? I have an old family picture of me I think returning from Camp Neewahlu, and that is in the background, and I can't remember what it was called. I knew you would know.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Idaho Escapee said...

Hey, Valley Girl, that amusement park was PLAYLAND PIER. I learned how to play pinball down there. I never rode on the swings that swung out over the lake. Too scared. But I sure did love the bumper-cars!

6:11 PM  
Blogger Silver Valley Girl said...

Thanks. I knew it had a name, but I couldn't remember. I always wanted to go there, but never got to go. I think it was because my mom always got sick on rides, and she probably thought we would, too. Who knows!! It sounds like a great place.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Idaho Escapee said...

Valley Girl, ol' Playland Pier was an absolute paradise for a kid like me growing up in CDA. Those times are the greenest, clearest, freshest, although now, they're becoming lost in the haze amongst everything else I remember. Back then, for me, it was a magical place. I think the world needs more magic.

3:12 AM  
Blogger Kendra said...

Okay, I know I'm late commenting on this post (700th! Wow!) but I just had to share my faves when it comes to oldie but awesome songstresses: Nina Simone and Billie Holliday. Yeah, they're not as obscure- actually, come to think of it, I'll bet 9 out of 10 chicks my age wouldn't have a clue who Nina and Billie were- but I still think they deserve a spot in your little hall of fame.
But wow, Lee Morse sure does have something special, that's for sure. Thanks for sharing her, I like it!

12:06 AM  

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