Sunday, January 01, 2012

Maxine Sullivan's If I Had A Ribbon Bow (1940)

Most of the vids I put up on youtube are genuine videos, but just occasionally, when I notice that one of my very favorite songs or recordings isn't anywhere to be found on youtube, I prefer to whack up the track with just a single image to accompany it. That's the case here. This is the first known recording of the semi-traditional (Huey Prince and Louis Singer are listed as writers) 'If I had a Ribbon Bow'. According to Wikipedia, Maxine Sullivan recorded this in 1936, but it's collected on a Classics 1938-1941 CD, and iTunes/eMusic et al. identify the recording as from August 1, 1940. (My own copy of the track is on a strange, early '90s, 2-disc Sony compilation A Tribute to Black Entertainers.)

Sullivan was from Homestead (just outside Pittsburgh) PA, but hit the (semi-)big time in NYC, singing initially mostly at the Onyx Club w/ her (soon-to-be) husband John Kirby's band, but soon getting a radio show on CBS and performing and appearing in films with Louis Armstrong. Sullivan seems to have taken a decade or more off after her initial success to raise a family but came back in the late '50s, appearing in the famous A Great Day in Harlem photo with everyone.

Sullivan's early recordings had a very pure, cool, unaffected tone that partially anticipated songbook breakthroughs by Ella and others in the late '40s. And Sullivan was strikingly beautiful. In sum, although she's currently well-known only to early jazz-buffs, Sullivan's ripe for rediscovery by a wider audience.

Homestead itself is in the process of recovering its memory of Sullivan. Famous principally for steel, strikes, massacres and the great Negro League Baseball team The Homestead Greys w/ the legendary Josh Gibson ('The Black Babe Ruth? Hell no. Ruth was the white Josh Gibson!' is Homestead and Pittsburgh holy writ), Homestead can surely use Sullivan as an important female grace note to its predominantly ultra-macho history.

At any rate, I'd be amazed if this track doesn't eventually draw some advertizing interest. Can't you just hear it floating around some perfume or other luxe product? Fairport Convention's folky version not so much. Hippies.

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