Inquiries into the early years of SJI
Showing posts with label Charleston Cabin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Charleston Cabin. Show all posts

Friday, January 13, 2012

MP3 Monologue 3 & 4 - Charleston Cabin; Mattie Hite

Since I have, so far, received no objections to these monologues, here are the 3rd and the 4th installments of this oral exploration of (some aspects of) St. James Infirmary.

A few years before "St. James Infirmary" entered the recording studio a song with completely different lyrics but using part of the SJI melody was popular. I wrote about this briefly in an earlier post. To listen to a (two minute) discussion of a precursor to the recorded SJI, "In A Charleston Cabin," click here: "Charleston Cabin" MP3

In 1930, within a day of each other, the smooth crooner Gene Austin and the blues singer Mattie Hite both recorded SJI. They borrowed the lyrics from Carl Sandburg's transcript, and each of them seemed to be insisting that the song should be in the public domain. To listen to something about them (three minutes), click here: "Mattie Hite and SJI" MP3

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Charleston Cabin - our earliest link?

Although “St. James Infirmary” is undoubtedly a very old song, very few traces can be found that predate Louis Armstrong’s 1928 recording. There is the Fess Williams recording of “Gambler’s Blues” the previous year, of course. And Carl Sandburg’s inclusion of two versions of “Those Gambler’s Blues” in his book The American Songbag – also from 1927. A song with lyrical similarities can be found in song collector Dorothy Scarborough’s On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs. We shall no doubt discuss that one further in a future post, but even if we acknowledge a direct connection that only takes us back to 1925, the year her book was copyrighted.

When researching “St. James Infirmary” I found anecdotal evidence that placed the song in minstrelshows around 1916, but not much that was more substantial than that. A little over two years ago, though, Rob Walker posted an interesting discussion about a song titled “In a Charleston Cabin.” It's well worth reading. "In a Charleston Cabin" was recorded – extensively – in 1924. Nothing in the lyric is reminiscent of our song, but the melody reminds one of “St. James Infirmary.” We don’t know, of course, if the melody was borrowed from SJI - but at the very least this extends our excavations back to 1924. (Since writing this over four years ago, I have uncovered much that places the SJI lyric much closer to the turn of the 20th century - RwH.)

For those of you who can read music, I am posting the sheet music to “Charleston Cabin” below. I would be most interested in any comments regarding how closely you find it resembles “St. James Infirmary.” By clicking on the images, you should be able to view larger, readable versions of the files.