Since I’ve discovered the records pretty much by accident a few years ago, they have been played (my transferts, at least) on heavy rotation at home, at work and in the car. I totally fell in love with the songs and the sound. I definitively love the mix of joy and a somewhat melancholy, the old-fashion mood with its ragtime flavour. Though, it’s definitively great Jazz, recorded by great musicians. I never get bored of those sides, and wish each time they could have recorded more.
The sides are well known and already highly regarded by the Jazz community, but I wanted to share them with some context for quite a while for those who could have missed them.

The Blackbirds of 1926 was an all African-American show produced by Leslie Lew in New York and written (music and lyrics) by George W. Meyer.
Leslie Lew started his career in the vaudeville circuit in his early twenties. Despite being white, he became a major impressario of black artists in New York City. He successfuly launched the Blackbirds of 1926 revue at the Plantation Club, then at the Alhambra Theatre, both in Harlem. It offered the main role to the famous “Queen of happiness” cabaret singer Florence Mills, accompanied by the Plantation Jazz Band, then led by Ralph Jones and featured trumpet virtuosos Johnny Dunn and Pike Davis.
The revue was quickly exported to Europe, starting in Paris late May 1926, for the inauguration of Edmung Sayag’s new Café des Ambassadeurs. The revue was an instant hit, capitalizing on the sucess of the Revue Nègre with Josephine Baker.
In September, the show was set in London, at the London Pavillon. It’s Charles B. Cochran, theatrical manager and impressario, who produced the show for the UK. The show became a real phenomenon and ran for more than, at least, 250 performances. The Prince of Wails told to the press that he saw Blackbirds 11 times, wich apparently helped the show to gain more popularity.
On December 1st of 1926, the band recorded 4 sides in London for the Columbia Graphophone Company. Strangely enough, the recordings are instrumental versions of songs played during the show, sung by Mills. Mills, the star of the show, didn’t recorded with the band and that looks like an odd commercial gesture today.

Co. 4185 “Smiling Joe / Silver Rose” was released “immediately” (late december 1926) while Co. 4238 “Arabella’s Wedding Day / For Baby and Me” was released in February 1927. All released takes are take 1 except “Silver Rose”, wich is take 2. None of them have been released in the US nor in France – it could have considered old news there already.

Ralph “Shrimp” Jones, vn, dir: Johnny Dunn, Pike Davis, t / Calvin Jones, tb / Rudolph Dunbar, Nelson Kincaid, c, as (one doubling ss) / Alonzo Williams, ts / George Smith, vn / George Rickson, p / Maceo Jefferson, bj / Bill Benford, bb / Jesse Baltimore, d.

The Plantation Orchestra “Silver Rose” (Mx WA-4519)
The Plantation Orchestra “Arabella’s Wedding Day” (Mx WA-4543)
The Plantation Orchestra “Smiling Joe”(MxWA-4544)
The Plantation Orchestra “For Baby And Me” (Mx WA-4545)

Exausted by so much performances, Florence Mills became hill with tuberculosis, went back to the United-States and died in New York City on November 1st, 1927.


Sources:
http://www.jazzageclub.com/the-ambassadeur-show-1926/1975/#more-1975 https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/blackbirds-revue-of-1926
http://www.florencemills.com/biography.htm
https://songbook1.wordpress.com/fx/si/african-american-musical-theater-1896-1926/blackbirds-1926-selected-recordings-of-songs-in-the-revue/
http://www.keepingscore.x10.mx/blackbirds1926.html
and Wikipedia.

2 thoughts on “The Plantation Orchestra, from the Blackbirds of 1926 revue.

  1. Hi Jerome! Just found your blog. Very interesting! Will die into the other articles for sure!
    I have those records as well and always wondered. („The Prince of Wails“ made me chuckle 🤭)
    Best wishes
    Dirk

    Liked by 1 person

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