Ladies Sing The Blues

Artist: Various Artists
Format: 3CD
Bar-code: 5060342021151
Cat No: NOT3CD115


For many, the blues is best presented by a single male performer, accompanying himself on a guitar, singing of his trials and tribulations or spinning a tale of past disasters experienced by his antecedents. The stories told revolve around lost love, infidelity, floods, famine and the sheer poverty experienced by that isolated individual.

This classic image of the blues singer has long been revered by aficionados, but the music has come along way in something well over a hundred years in all its various manifestations.

The standard twelve-bar format still lies at the heart of the music, but there has been a lot of tinkering along the way. Essentially we are talking about a simple genre which eventually developed into rhythm and blues, the forerunner of rock’n’roll and so much that followed thereafter.

Despite the early history of the music residing in the hands of men, the real stars of the music in the 1920s were actually women in the shape of major artists like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, both of whom still sit at the forefront of female blues singers.

Smith is represented on this seventy-five-track set with her perfect renditions of ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out’ and ‘I Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl’. The latter is an example of a song using risqué lyrics, a not unusual occurrence at the time of recording, with Smith leading the way in the innuendo department. Quite rightly, she gained the epithet of ‘Empress of the Blues’, her voice a majestic and commanding instrument equal to the impact of many a great opera star.

Of course, not all tunes with ’Blues’ in the title conform to the standard 12-bar format. ‘Blues In The Night’, the Peggy Lee version of which is featured here, is a popular classic from the pens of Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen, but the vocalist critic Gene Lees called ‘the most mature, the most authoritative, the most sensitive and the most consistently intelligent female singer of popular music in America’ gives it all the blues feeling you could wish for. Current singer Katie Melua recently covered it, with due deference to Lee’s emotion-packed rendition.

Don’t assume, either, that all blues has a downbeat atmosphere – for, as we’ve already seen, there is humour and wit in much of the output here. Annie Laurie’s ‘Stop Talkin’ And Start Walkin’’ shows the door to an unworthy suitor in sassy style, while Etta Jones – a Grammy-nominated jazz singer, not to be confused with Etta James – is represented by her earliest recording, 1944’s ‘Salty Papa Blues’, which advises the man in question to find a ‘fortune tellin’ woman who knows how to read your mind.’

Later blueswomen like LaVern Baker and Ruth Brown were almost as earthy in their delivery – and perhaps they had to be, as the blues was a man’s world. We feature Baker both under her own name and her early nom de disque, Little Miss Sharecropper, while Brown’s hits gave Atlantic the foundation on which it built its later success; she was the top-selling black female recording artist in the United States between 1951 and 1954. Aretha Franklin, of course, followed her onto the label, although her take on ‘(Blue) By Myself’ is an early Columbia recording dating from 1960. Her voice belies the fact that she was only 18 at the time, and what you’re listening to is the first musical steps of a legend.

What we have spread over these three CDs is a group of singers falling into various compartments in the music world: the easily identifiable blues performers like Memphis Minnie, jazz singers like Sarah Vaughan, Dakota Staton and Anita O’Day, plus popular singers of differing styles like Julie London, Lena Horne and Eartha Kitt. The result is a veritable musical history lesson.

What makes this collection even more interesting is the inclusion of a couple of names less familiar to even regular jazz and blues followers, namely Varetta Dillard and Marylin Scott. Dillard was a rhythm and blues singer whose biggest success came with ‘Mercy, Mr Percy’ in 1953, while Scott is a contemporary jazz singer who has often found work in a more commercial setting. Interested parties might also wish to know that Miss Rhapsody was the alternative name for the popular performer Viola Wells.

Allied to this distinguished cast, we have some of the most enduring tunes from the twentieth century in ‘Confessin’ The Blues’, ‘St Louis Blues’,’ Since I Fell For You’, ‘Everyday I Have The Blues’ and ‘Careless Love’. We also have the definitive performances of classics ‘Cry Me A River’ and ‘I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues’ from Julie London and Billie Holiday respectively, crown jewels in a glittering collection.

It’s safe to say that any compilation of blues-based songs and close relations, delivered by a first-rate mix of vocalists, is always a pleasurable experience for devotees of such sounds and the curious newcomer alike.

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CD 1

1. Lady Sings The Blues – Billie Holiday
2. New Blow Top Blues – Dinah Washington
3. Today I Sing The Blues – Aretha Franklin
4. Walking Blues – Big Mama Thornton
5. I Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle – LaVern Baker
6. Hesitating Blues – Lena Horne
7. Uneasy Blues – Marylin Scott
8. Nobody Knows When You’re Down And Out – Bessie Smith
9. Waiter, Make Mine Blues – Anita O’Day
10. Empty Bed Blues – Della Reese
11. Down In The Alley – Memphis Minnie
12. Confessin’ The Blues – Dakota Staton
13. Aged And Mellow Blues – Little Esther
14. Black Coffee – Sarah Vaughan
15. R.B. Blues – Ruth Brown
16. New York City Blues – Peggy Lee
17. I Cried And Cried – Varetta Dillard
18. How Long Blues – Odetta
19. Freight Train Blues – Trixie Smith
20. Lover Man – June Christy
21. St. Louis Blues – Eartha Kitt
22. Maybelle’s Blues – Big Maybelle
23. Baby, I Don’t Cry Over You – Billie Holiday
24. Since I Fell For You – Dinah Washington
25. Long, Long Journey – Etta Jones

CD 2

1. Fever – Peggy Lee
2. No Headstone On My Grave – Esther Phillips
3. Drinking Again – Dinah Washington
4. I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues – Billie Holiday
5. No More Cryin’ Blues – Mabel Scott
6. A Blues Serenade – Anita O’Day
7. Salty Papa Blues – Etta Jones
8. Hard Times – Big Mama Thornton
9. Yellow Dog Blues – Eartha Kitt
10. It’s Love Baby (24 Hours A Day) – Ruth Brown
11. I Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl – Bessie Smith
12. Good Morning Heartache – Carmen McRae
13. Ain’t To Be Played With – Big Maybelle
14. (Blue) By Myself – Aretha Franklin
15. Weak For The Man – Dakota Staton
16. Take Me Back – Linda Hayes
17. I’m A Fool To Want You – Billie Holiday
18. Beale Street Blues – Lena Horne
19. Pleasing Man Blues – Helen Humes
20. Gimme A Pigfoot – LaVern Baker
21. Plow Hand Blues – Rosetta Howard
22. Blues For A Day – Dinah Washington
23. Double Crossing Blues – Little Esther
24. New Bumble Bee – Memphis Minnie
25. Cry Me A River – Julie London

CD 3

1. Anita’s Blues – Anita O’Day
2. Mad About The Boy – Dinah Washington
3. Friendless Blues – Eartha Kitt
4. Every Day I Have The Blues – Donna Hightower
5. I Smell A Rat – Big Mama Thornton
6. Cryin’ And Singin’ The Blues – Little Esther
7. Preaching The Blues – LaVern Baker
8. I Cry By Night – Kay Starr
9. Overwork Blues – Etta Jones
10. No More Trouble Out Of Me – Big Maybelle
11. I’m Left With Blues In My Heart – Dakota Staton
12. I Fell For You – Miss Rhapsody
13. Blues In The Night – Peggy Lee
14. My Funny Valentine – Dinah Shore
15. Blues For Bojangles – Anita O’Day
16. Please Tell Me Baby – Varetta Dillard
17. Gabbin’ Blues (Don’t Run My Business) – Big Maybelle
18. Just Out Of Reach – Esther Phillips
19. Careless Love – Lena Horne
20. Wise Woman Blues – Dinah Washington
21. Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday
22. Back Water Blues – LaVern Baker
23. Don’t Leave Me Now – Dakota Staton
24. ‘Round Midnight – Sarah Vaughan
25. Bye Bye Blues – Eydie Gorme