Alberta HUNTER – Downhearted Blues 1981

Alberta HUNTER – Downhearted Blues 1981
Recorded at The Cookery, New York, New York in 1981
2001 Issue.


Few singers have a story as long and varied as that of Alberta Hunter, whose career spanned most of the 20th century. From the dawn of the classic blues era, through two world wars, a long hiatus, and a fresh start shortly before her death in 1984, Hunter stuck to the rich vocals, full expression, and classical style. Although this recording was made during her 80s, when she came out of retirement to sing at the Cookery in Greenwich Village, her voice, having lessened some in power, had lost none of its charm. The woman who counted such legends as Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, and Ma Rainey among her contemporaries, and who wrote Bessie Smith’s classic hit “Downhearted Blues,” here delivers an appealing set of classic blues, including a stunning rendition of “I Got Rhythm.”
By Genevieve Williams.
If you like the blues you will love this collection. The live recording from the Cookery in New York is great. Hunter works the songs as well as the listeners with her abilities and sense of humor. This is a must have for the collector. “Two fisted hard working Rough and ready man” should be the anthem of every one looknig for a mate. I bought 3 copies and have given them to friends.
By Dan Brashier.
When this album was recorded,Alberta Hunter was around 87 years old and enjoying her renaissance as recording artist – great survivor from 1920s and contemporary of blues empress Bessie Smith (in fact,Smith’s first hit was cover of “Downhearted blues” that was Hunter’s original) she was somehow persuaded to return to a stage and became big star in New York’s night life,performing at sold-out engagements in New York’s “Cookery” and was even invited to a White House.

During this period,Hunter recorded three albums for “Columbia” and there is no great difference between them – she sounds like a grandmother who is having a ball and clearly enjoying herself,very very likable,backed by some smoking hot musicians. Curiously enough,she wasn’t really half as interesting when younger (or perhaps the recordings left behind were not so exciting,compared with heavy-weights of the time)but as she became older,age gave her charm and freedom she lacked before. In other words,as younger she was poised and elegant,now she was kicking ass and loving it.

Just listen as Hunter ends her “I’ve had enough” blues – “…and if I never see you again brother…good bye,sayonara,au reuvoir,see ya see ya,auwiedersehn,hasta la vista…ah yeah… get lost!” she spits spiteful good riddance to her lover and chuckles to herself,impossible not to like.

Back in 1920s Hunter was a blues singer,but a refined one – she had occasional blues hit but her place was in elegant night clubs so even on this album this reflects in choice of material: she does old dirty ditty “You can’t tell a difference after dark” but soon goes back to sentimental “The love I have for you” (both originally recorded some 50 years before) and even sings some material associated with other singers,like “Some of these days”,”Wrap your troubles in dreams”,”Sometimes I’m happy” and “The Glory of love”,clapping hands and encouraging musicians like they are in their 80s and not the other way around.

Album starts and ends with swinging renditions of gospel songs – “Ezekiel saw the wheel” and “Give me that old time religion”,a reminder that Hunter was always active in church even trough the decades when she was away from recording studios. These are gospel songs but she kicks the dust with such energy that it might be Count Basie next to her,clicking fingers and add-libing like a crazy,very very spirited old lady and it makes you think old age is not so bad after all.
At age twelve Alberta Hunter ran away from her hometown of Memphis to go to Chicago to become a Blues singer. She had a somewhat hard time at first but gradually, achieved her goal and became one of the most popular African-American entertainers of the 1920s. She got her professional start in 1911 at a Southside club called Dago Frank’s, a tough bordello frequented by pimps and criminals. She stayed there until 1913, when the place was closed after a murder in the club. She then moved on to a small night club and managed to save enough money to bring her mother north to Chicago and support her for the rest of her life. Alberta was married briefly, but never consummated the union, using the excuse that she didn’t want to have sex in the same house where her mother lived, but the real story was that Hunter was a lesbian. Her husband moved back to the South and she never saw him again. Alberta met Lottie Taylor soon afterwards. She was the niece of the famous African-American entertainer Bert Williams. The two became lovers and stayed together for many years. Alberta moved on to a club called Elite Cafe #1 (3030 South State Street) where New Orleans Ragtime pianist Tony Jackson tickled the keys. Unlike Alberta, Tony Jackson was openly gay, which must have taken a lot of guts back in those days. Alberta helped to popularize some of Jackson’s songs, including his most famous song, “Pretty Baby” which was written for his boyfriend. In 1915 Hunter got a gig at the Panama Cafe, which was a fancy place that catered to Whites. At this point Alberta was becoming a star in Chicago, but the Panama was also closed after a murder and Alberta went next door to The De Luxe Cafe (3503 South State Street), and then across the street to the Dreamland Cafe (3520 South State Street) where King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band played. During her stay there she became friends with Oliver’s pianist Lil Hardin who was also from Memphis. After this Hunter became a full fledged star and was billed as the “Sweetheart of Dreamland”. After her show at the Dreamland she would take a train to another club and sing some more. One night her piano player was shot and killed while they were on stage. Clearly, gangsterism was out of control in Chicago. In 1921 Alberta moved to New York and launched her recording career with the Black Swan label with Fletcher Henderson’s Novelty Orchestra, but she switched to Paramount in 1922 where Fletcher Henderson  continued to accompany her on the piano. Hunter wrote a lot of her own material and her song “Down Hearted Blues”, became Bessie Smith’s first record in 1923. That same year she became the first African-American singer to be backed up by a White band, when the Original Memphis Five supported her on “Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do” and “If You Want To Keep Your Daddy Home”, and “Bleeding Hearted Blues”. In 1924 she sang on the famous Clarence Williams produced Red Onion Jazz Babies sessions that brought Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet together for the first time on record. While in New York, Hunter got involved in several African-American musical revues. She replaced Bessie Smith in the “How Come?” revue of 1923, and this established her as a star in New York City. Alberta Hunter recorded under several pseudonyms during the 1920s in an attempt to keep record companies she had signed exclusive contracts with from finding out about this extra source of income. On the Biltmore label she was Alberta Prime; on the Gennett she was Josephine Beatty (the name of her dead half sister); and on the Okeh, Victor and Columbia labels she used her own name. It is said that Alberta’s talents were never captured that well on records, and that she was much better live. She also used the name of May Alix, but there was also a real May Alix that recorded with Jimmie Noone’s Apex Orchestra and Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five. Before leaving for Europe in 1927 she recorded some sessions with Fats Waller on organ. Later that year she performed in England and on the Continent as part of “Showboat” with Paul Robeson, and various other traveling musical revues. She was a hit in Paris, and continued to perform in Europe throughout the 1930s as well as the Middle East and Russia. During World War II, Alberta was part of the USO and entertained the troops throughout Asia, the South Pacific Islands and Europe. After the war she returned to America to care for her ailing mother, but continued singing until she quit music in 1956 after her mother died. At the age of 59 she enrolled in a practical nursing course and for the next twenty years she worked in a New York City hospital. In the early 1960s she recorded a few albums and then surprisingly took to the stage again in 1977 at age 82 and continued to perform up until the time of her death in 1984.
Gerald Cook- Piano
Jimmy Lewis- Bass
Alberta Hunter- Vocals
01. My Castle’s Rockin’  (3:48)
02. The Love I Have For You  (4:00)
03. I Got Rhythm  (3:25
04. Downhearted Blues  (6:02)
05. Time Waits For No One  (3:22)
06. I’m Havin’ A Good Time  (3:20)
07. Two-Fisted Double-Jointed Rough And Ready Man  (5:03)
08. The Sarktown Strutter’s Ball (4:17)
09. Sometimes I’m Happy  (3:09)
10. I’ve Got A Mind To Ramble  (4:50)
11. Old Fashioned Love  (4:13)
12. You Can’t Tell The Difference After Dark  (3:34)
13. Remember My Name  (3:44)
14. When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)  (2:57)
15. Georgia On My Mind  (3:20)
16. Handy Man  (4:10)
17. Never Knew My Kisses  (3:08)
18. You’re Welcome To Come Back Home  (3:52)

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