The Cotton Pickers

Mamie Smith recorded Crazy Blues for Okeh back in 1920. Perry Bradford, her Svengali-like manager, had no idea of the impact this would have on the recording and popular music industries. This record’s astonishing success caused shockwaves within the otherwise conservative recording industry, which was still reeling from jazz’s popularity and the seemingly insatiable demand to dance records. Both these factors led to a demand for slow, or “blues”, fox trots. This was due to the popularity of vocal blues records as well as the booming sales of sheet music for “blues” compositions. Recording groups began to feature instrumental blues from the spring of 1921. These were composed and published mainly in black songwriters, but were performed by large numbers of white bands and orchestras. You can gauge the impact of the blues craze upon the record companies by looking at the output of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, which is the best-known jazz group of the period. Their output consisted mainly of original compositions composed by band members, from their 1917 first session to the spring 1921. All of their recordings were instrumental blues written by black songwriters from the spring of 1921 until their departure from Victor at year’s end. Each recording company hired or “created” bands to record “blues” numbers. To add an ethno-authenticity, many were given “black” names to convince record-buying audiences that they were genuine. Gennett had Ladd’s Black Aces, Okeh had the Six Black Diamonds and the Plaza group. Brunswick had the Cotton Pickers. It is not difficult to understand the reasons behind the use of white bands for recording music that was so strongly rooted in the public’s mind as being of black origin. First, talent scouts for record companies and A

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