Swinging into African American Music Appreciation Month

This week’s show takes a deep dive into the swinging, danceable music that got folks bumping body parts in such a way that it helped create a boom in babies, giving my generation its name. You can listen to this first of my June episodes in celebration of African American Music Appreciation Month using the player below.

As far as I’m concerned, all the music I enjoy is connected directly,or at least indirectly, to African American musicians and songwriters. So its not a stretch to do a month of music featuring exclusively African American artists. This week’s show covers the post World War II music scene in New Orleans where Jump Blues evolved into R&B and then later got called Rock ‘n’ Roll.

After Percy Mayfield kicks off the show with a personal song about returning to Louisiana to settle down, I get down to business with Champion Jack Dupree’s “Junker Blues” a much covered song that served as a basis for several other R&B numbers such as Fats Domino’s “The Fat Man” and Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” (You’ll hear all of them.),

Fats Domino (left) and Dave Bartholomew generated a mountain of hits, enjoyed by a broad audience.

You’ll hear some songs that are considered on the short list for “first Rock ‘n’ Roll song” — a designation that will never get settled but is fun to argue about. This means Louis Jordan, Roy Brown and Erline Harris take the radio stage.

New Orleans was a hot bed for the nascent R&B scene. When Dave Bartholomew, no slouch performer himself, got Antoine Domino into the J&M (Cosimo Matassa) studio, he propelled the city into the sites of other record companies who sent their scouts out to find the next star. Smiley Lewis, Larry Williams, Chick and Chuck Carbo and the Spiders, the Barons, Earl King, Larry Darnell, Little Mr. Midnight, Huey “Piano” Smith, L’il Millet, Shirley and Lee all scrambled into the studio and cut 45’s that got folks dancing.

I also do a set of music by the stable of artists who worked with Allen Toussaint Ernie K-Doe, Benny Spellman, Irma Thomas, Lee Dorsey, Eldridge Holmes and Diamond Joe.

When music industry executives adopted the term “Rhythm and Blues” or “R&B” to replace “race music” they probably were just trying to make the marketing term less offensive to African American audiences. But it also set the stage for a crossover to white audiences. Fats Domino, whose shows resulted in white and black audiences dancing together (and sometimes causing problems as a result) was the first big crossover African American artist.

But it seems like it was Little Richard, sent to New Orleans by Specialty Records, who blew the doors open. Little Richard didn’t record the first Rock ‘n’ Roll song but after “Tutti Frutti” and “Rip It Up” (which you’ll hear), the line between Rock and R&B was gone. Domino used to say that what he played didn’t change but but they called it did.

Well whatever you call it, you’ll get almost two hours of it in today’s show in honor of African American Music Appreciation Music. Thanks for listening.

Author: Tim Sweeney

Host of Sweeney's Gumbo YaYa - a two-hour radio show featuring the music of New Orleans -- every Thursday starting at 10 a.m. (PST) on community radio station KAOS 89.3 FM Olympia, Washington -- www.kaosradio.org. Show also airs on Fridays, 7 p.m., KMRE, 102.3 FM, Bellingham.

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