from Elijah Wald’s Escaping the Delta. Just started this book and I’m enjoying it. He wrote How the Beatles Destroyed Rock and Roll, another book I got a lot out of.
“Before moving on to the male street singers who began recording in the mid-1920s, I want to emphasize yet again the extent to which blues history has been skewed in the popular imagination. Anyone hoping to understand the blues era must keep in mind that during the period when blues was at its peak of popularity, transcending all other black styles, the female singers I have been discussing were always the music’s biggest stars. A glance through the Chicago Defender’s record advertising in the early 1920s shows that jazzmen like King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton were considered minor figures compared to them. When the male guitarists arrived on the scene, some would match the queens in terms of record sales, but they never approached the same heights of the entertainment world. Ida Cox, Sara Martin and the various Smiths headlined large shows, often including two dozen musicians, dancers, singers, comedians, and assorted novelty acts. For many listeners, they continued to define the blues field right up to World ll. As far as I can find. New York’s foremost black newspaper, The Amsterdam News, never so much as mentioned a blues singer who was not female and fronting a band until the 1940s, and any black person l have spoken with who was listening to music at this time, if asked to name the top names in blues, has reeled off a list of women, plus maybe one or two men. Obviously, there were some record buyers who would have produced a different list, but in my experience the one l heard from Honeyboy Edwards is typical: Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Bessie Smith, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Lonnie Johnson.