Saturday, 12 July 2014

Hey Lawdy Mama / Groovin' The Blues - Miss Rhapsody (Savoy 5511)

From: Swing City - Newark Nightlife, 1925-50



Recorded in New York, July 6th, 1944. Personnel: Miss Rhapsody (vocal) with Reuben Cole's Orchestra : Emmett Berry (trumpet); Walter "Foots" Thomas (tenor sax); Reuben "June" Cole (piano); Harold Underhill (guitar); Billy Taylor (bass); Cozy Cole (drums).

Miss Rhapsody, real name Viola Wells, was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1902. She was already a veteran performer when she recorded three sessions for Savoy in 1944 - 1945. Like many of the artists that Savoy were picking up on at this time she was a regular fixture on the New York club scene, especially at Kelly's Stable on 52nd Street where she performed with Art Tatum, Benny Carter and Billy Daniels. She also appeared in Washington DC, Cleveland and Detroit, appearing with such prominenti as Coleman Hawkins and Nat "King" Cole. Despite regular radio broadcasts and several triumphant appearances at the Apollo (her signature tune, "Brown Gal" being a special favourite of audiences), her Savoy discs are the only records she issued at this successful time in her long career.

We are lucky that "Swing City: Newark Nightlife, 1925-50" by Barbara J. Kukla (Rutgers University Press, 2002)  includes a chapter on the fascinating life and career of Miss Rhapsody. We are even luckier that this particular chapter can be read on Google Books - just click on the link and you can read about her falling out with Ida Cox, her 14 month stay in Kansas City back in the mid 1930s when it was a wild and wide open city where jazz and swing and blues and boogie were blasting away in the all night joints, her comeback in the 1960s and 1970s, including tours to Europe and more recordings, and movingly, her struggle to overcome the partial loss of a leg and her determination to keep performing almost right up to her death in her beloved Newark in 1984.

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