I’ve been a near obsessive collector of music since I was 13, and often I accumulate more than I can consume. Case in point, I stumbled upon this album in my collection by Barbara Dane. Wow, what a smoky, husky, sexy voice, accompanied only by herself on guitar. I have no memory of why I own this CD, apparently I bought it in August, 2007, but didn’t really listen to it until tonight1. No matter, I’ve heard her now, and am in love.
Barbara Dane’s parents arrived in Detroit from Arkansas in the 1920s. Out of high school, Dane began to sing regularly at demonstrations for racial equality and economic justice. While still in her teens, she sat in with bands around town and won the interest of local music promoters. She got an offer to tour with Alvino Rey’s band, but she turned it down in favor of singing at factory gates and in union halls.
Moving to San Francisco in 1949, Dane began raising her own family and singing her folk and topical songs around town as well as on radio and television. A jazz revival was then shaking the town, and by the 1950s she became a familiar figure at clubs along the city’s Embarcadero with her own versions of women’s blues and jazz tunes. New Orleans jazz musicians like George Lewis and Kid Ory and locals like Turk Murphy, Burt Bales, Bob Mielke and others invited her onto the bandstand regularly. Her first professional jazz job was with Turk Murphy at the Tin Angel in l956. “Bessie Smith in stereo,” wrote jazz critic Leonard Feather in the late 1950s. Time said of Dane: “The voice is pure, rich … rare as a 20 karat diamond.”
To Ebony, she seemed “startlingly blonde, especially when that powerful dusky alto voice begins to moan of trouble, two-timing men and freedom … with stubborn determination, enthusiasm and a basic love for the underdog, [she is] making a name for herself … aided and abetted by some of the oldest names in jazz who helped give birth to the blues.”
By 1959, Louis Armstrong had asked Time magazine readers: “Did you get that chick? She’s a gasser!” and invited her to appear with him on national television. She toured the East Coast with Jack Teagarden, appeared in Chicago with Art Hodes, Roosevelt Sykes, Little Brother Montgomery, Memphis Slim, Otis Spann, Willie Dixon and others, played New York with Wilbur De Paris and his band, and appeared on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show as a solo guest artist. Other national TV work included The Steve Allen Show, Bobby Troop’s Stars of Jazz, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
In 1961, the singer opened her own club, Sugar Hill: Home of the Blues, on San Francisco’s Broadway in the North Beach district, with the idea of creating a venue for the blues in a tourist district where a wider audience could hear it. There Dane performed regularly with her two most constant musical companions: Kenny “Good News” Whitson on piano and cornet and Wellman Braud, former Ellington bassist. Among her guest artists were Jimmy Rushing, Mose Allison, Mama Yancey, Tampa Red, Lonnie Johnson, Big Mama Thornton, Lightnin’ Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry.
(click to continue reading Barbara Dane – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)
I’ll have to look for more albums by Ms. DaneFootnotes:
- trying to learn a couple of Woody Guthrie songs on guitar, looked for cover versions, and stumbled upon the song, Danville Girl [↩]