Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Move Over, Patti, Connie, Madonna & Britney!

First, my only political comment, ever: I have never seen the nation come together this way. I am grateful that it is happening.

Oh, and I must ask: Did anyone besides me and Veto Corleone notice that Keith Olbermann said that, from a distance, “Obama will look like a raisin?” How do some people get away with unfortunate comments more easily than others? In case you’re wondering, I don’t know who Veto Corleone is; I just searched for Obama and raisin. But good for Veto; he kept me from suspecting that I had hallucinated.

Now, the post:

It should be obvious that the concept of phenomenally successful female vocalists did not originate with Madonna and Britney Spears. If you assume it did, Patti Page and Connie Francis might want to have a word with you. And if you believe Patti was the first woman to dominate the record stores, consider Ella Fitzgerald’s tenure with Chick Webb’s orchestra.

Surely, if we go back that far, logic would indicate to you that, even in the very early days of recorded music, there had to be some female vocalist who sold tons of cylinders to adoring listeners.

That woman was Ada Jones.

Ada’s credentials are impressive. On her own or in duets with occasional partners, she scored 64 hits between 1905 and 1919. With one frequent duet partner, the likewise popular Billy Murray, she logged another 44 hits between 1907 and 1922. Between 1905 and 1910, she reached the charts 20 times with Len Spencer. Her #1 hits total 13.

There’s not a lot of biographic information available about Ada, but I can tell you a few things. English by birth (June 1, 1973, Lancashire), she moved to the United States when she was five or six. Living in Philadelphia, she did stage work until she discovered the recording medium. Beginning in 1904, she recorded cylinders for Edison Records, and she scored her first hit in May of 1905.

Soon thereafter, a huge star, Billy Murray, met Ada. At the time, Billy was scheduled to record the female parts of some vaudeville comedy routines with Len Spencer. Just as in Shakespeare’s time, men did that sort of thing. But Ada came in very handy, and she recorded a string of hits with Len in Billy’s stead.

Ada then became Billy’s vocal partner, and they recorded successfully until shortly before Ada’s death in 1922, at age 49.

Ada was 31 when she started recording, and while she could not have started recording before her 17th birthday or so, one has to wonder how many more hits than her 128 she would have amassed if she had been guided into recording from the beginning.

Ada, like many singers of her time, was adept at dialect. While she favored an Irish tinge to her singing, one example below shows her and Len Spencer in a Jewish vaudeville sketch. Such recordings show how fragile many forms of comedy are, and how short-lived they are, or should be.

I have learned that an exceptional source for acoustic-era music is the Internet Archive. Check it out. The third recording below is from their collection. Since it was available for download, I believe I can repost it.

Saturday, I’ll bring you another week of the 1950s charts, and next Wednesday, the biggest male performer of the pre-1920 era. See you Saturday!

Ada Jones & Len Spencer, The Original Cohens (1906)

Ada Jones & Len Spencer, Bashful Henry and His Lovin’ Lucy (1906)

Ada Jones, Waitin’ at the Church (My Wife Won’t Let Me) (1906)


Maia said...

Who is Keith Olbermann?? What a bizarre comment, it makes him look unfortunate. Wasn't the whole day great? I didn't get anything done all day, just watching the inauguration.

Lizzle-ba-Dizzle said...

A raisin? Good grief. I changed channels from Canadian coverage to American coverage after one of the Canuck guys kept making fun of Aretha Franklin's headgear.

And I thought "The Original Cohens" was hilarious! Er, but probably not for the reasons people in 1906 thought it was hilarious.