July 17, 2015

50 Lionel Hampton (1908-2002) and his Orchestra with Illinois Jacquet (1922-2004) “Flying Home” 1942

Hampton popularized vibraphones in jazz bands and was introduced to tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet by Nat King Cole. Their hit featured Jacquet’s solo which influenced future rhythm and blues (The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz).   

July 15, 2015

49 Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) “Pastures of Plenty” 1941

“sung in the voice of the migrant agricultural worker” (Hard Travelin’).

48 Charlie Christian (1916-1942) and the Benny Goodman Sextet “Solo Flight” 1941

“the first modern jazz guitarist to play single-line improvisations on the electric guitar.” He auditioned for Benny Goodman (1909-1986), who “hired him on the spot.” Tuberculosis ended a brilliant career (The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz). 

47 Bob Wills (1905-1975) and his Texas Playboys “Take Me Back to Tulsa” 1941

Will’s music career started when he was ten in a Turkey (Texas) dancehall. His recipe for Western Swing: mix jazz dance sophistication, cowboy hats, and a San Antonio Rose with “fun and good times” (Country Music: The Rough Guide). 

46 The Will Bradley Orchestra “Down the Road a Piece” 1940

Born Wilbur Schwichtenberg, Bradley (1912-1989) formed a short-lived but successful band with drummer Ray McKinley (1910-1995) known for boogie-woogie hits. His later works were influenced by classical music. He played trombone for many years in bands such as the CBS studio orchestra (The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz).

45 The Dixie Hummingbirds “I'll Live Again” 1940

James B. Davis (1916-2007) formed this gospel group that performed at the legendary New York Café Society and “influenced other popular African American gospel vocal groups, as well as mainstream pop vocal groups from Motown” (Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music).

44 Bill Monroe (1911-1996) and the Blue Grass Boys “Mule Skinner Blues” 1940

In their first Grand Ole Opry appearance, Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys performed this Jimmie Rodgers song and made it “his own” (The Big Book of Country Music).

Bill Monroe "Mule Skinner Blues"

43 The Ink Spots “If I Didn't Care” 1939

A popular quartet in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Lead tenor Jerry Daniels (1915-1995) became ill and was replaced by Bill Kenny (1914-1978), whose smooth falsetto made the song a major hit. The Ink Spots performed “If I Didn’t Care” in the 1941 film, “The Great American Broadcast” (The Encyclopedia of Popular Music).


42 Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) “Pretty Boy Floyd” 1939

“Like many an Oklahoma farmer, he had long taken a dim view of bankers” (Pete Seeger, Bound for Glory): “through this world I’ve wandered I’ve seen lots of funny men; Some will rob you with a six-gun, And some with a fountain pen.” 

41 The Port of Harlem Jazzmen “Rocking The Blues” 1939

Elijah Wald writes that rock & roll evolved directly from the swing dance music. The same jazz musicians who played in swing dance bands easily transitioned into rock & roll bands. Louis Armstrong said, “There ain’t nothing new. Old soup used over”  (How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll). The Jazzmen “were a tremendous all-star ensemble” that “featured trumpeter Frankie Newton (1906-1954) and trombonist J. C. Higginbotham (1906-1973)” (www.bluenote.com).

Port of Harlem Jazzmen "Rocking the Blues"

July 14, 2015

40 Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973) “This Train” 1939

The Godmother of Rock & Roll, Sister Rosetta “redefined the spaces between sacred and secular, black and white, traditional and commercial, and male and female” (Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music).

Rosetta Tharpe "This Train"

39 Big Joe Turner (1911-1985) and Pete Johnson (1904-1967) “Roll 'Em Pete” 1939

Turner and pianist partner Pete Johnson were regulars at the integrated Café Society nightclub and injected their boogie-woogie rhythm-and-blues into mainstream white pop music. “Rock & roll would never have happened without him” (Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll).

Joe Turner "Roll 'Em Pete"

38 Jimmy Yancey (1894-1951) “Midnight Stomp” 1939

Yancey was a groundskeeper for the Chicago White Sox who, in his spare time, influenced jazz and blues with his boogie-woogie piano (The Big Book of Blues). 

Jimmy Yancey "Midnight Stomp"

37 Billie Holiday (1915-1959) “Strange Fruit” 1939

“Whether they protested in Selma or took part in the March on Washington or spent their lives as social activists, many say that it was hearing “Strange Fruit” that triggered the process. It was Holiday’s signature song at New York’s integrated nightclub, “Café Society” (Strange Fruit). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

36 The Golden Gate Quartet “Rock My Soul” 1938

Together with the Mills Brothers, the Golden Gate Quartet (formed in 1930) introduced jazz harmonies, rhythms, and improvisations into vocal music. Eleanor Roosevelt scheduled them for her husband’s inaugural gala in 1941 (Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music). The founding members were students at Booker T. Washington College: William Langford (1910-1969), Henry Owens, Willie Johnson, and Orlandus Wilson. Their 1938 recording of  “John the Revelator” is listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

The Golden Gate Quartet "Rock My Soul"

35 Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973) with the Lucky Millinder (1910-1966) Orchestra “Rock Me” 1938

Her “bell-like voice, winning smile, and Cotton Club notoriety” made gospel music glamorous. She was the first successful gospel singer for Decca Records (Shout, Sister, Shout).  

July 13, 2015

34 Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996) and Chick Webb's Orchestra “Rock It For Me” 1938

A “nonpareil interpreter of American songs,” Fitzgerald achieved fame singing an old children’s song ("A Tisket a Tasket") with Chick Webb (1905-1939) (The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music). 

33 Bob Wills (1905-1975) and his Texas Playboys “Ida Red” 1938 and “New San Antonio Rose” 1940

“According to both Wills and his musicians, the band in the late thirties and early forties was the best Wills ever had. This band—actually, two bands in one—gave Wills such breadth of repertory that it is doubtful any other orchestra in American musical history ever approached it. The band was reputed to have had a repertory of thirty-six hundred selections by 1938. This may account, at least in part, for Wills’s appeal to people of all ages and stages of life” (Charles Townsend, San Antonio Rose, 1976). A hit song for the Playboys, Chuck Berry would later transform Ida Red into Maybellene. Their 1940 recording of  “New San Antonio Rose” is listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys "Ida Red"

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys "New San Antonio Rose"

32 Sonny Boy (John Lee) Williamson (1914-1948) “Early in the Morning” 1937

Taught himself harmonica as a young boy and traveled about as a hobo during the 1920’s and early 1930’s (The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music).

31 Sonny Boy (John Lee) Williamson (1914-1948) “Good Morning (Little) School Girl” 1937

Not to be confused with the other “Sonny Boy” Williamson (who also played a mean harmonica), “the first truly virtuosic blues harmonica player” “who, more than anyone else, shaped the course of Chicago’s classic blues” (Blues Who’s Who). Mugged and murdered outside a nightclub in Chicago. 

Sonny Boy Williamson "Good Morning"

30 Count Basie (1904-1984) “One O'Clock Jump” 1937

Basie put together one of the greatest Kansas City blues style swing bands. This song was their signature number (The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

29 Robert Johnson (1911-1938) “Hell Hound on My Trail” 1937

“Robert Johnson is a chilling confrontation with aspects of the American consciousness. He is a visionary artist with a terrible kind of information about his time and place and personal experience.” His first wife and her baby died in childbirth (Blue’s Who’s Who). His 1936-1937 recordings are listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

Robert Johnson "Hell Hound on My Trail"

28 Robert Johnson (1911-1938) “Love in Vain” 1937

“…all parties agree: He loved whiskey and women.” Johnson probably died of bad liquor poisoning (Graves, Crossroads). His 1936-1937 recordings are listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

27 Robert Johnson (1911-1938) “I Believe I'll Dust My Broom” 1937

Johnson’s song “became a post-war anthem of electric blues” (The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music). His 1936-1937 recordings are listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

26 Robert Johnson (1911-1938) “Sweet Home Chicago” 1936

“one of the most popular pieces of the Chicago blues and beyond, thanks to Magic Sam, Junior Parker, and the Blues Brothers” (Encyclopedia of the Blues). His 1936-1937 recordings are listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

Robert Johnson "Sweet Home Chicago"

25 Robert Johnson (1911-1938) “Crossroads Blues” 1936

Enigmatic Mississippi bluesman whose music became “the root source for a whole generation of blues and rock & roll musicians” (Blue’s Who’s Who). His 1936-1937 recordings are listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

24 Roy Acuff (1903-1992) and the Crazy Tennesseans “Wabash Cannonball” 1936

Acuff’s friend Red Jones sang the lead and Acuff did the train whistle in their initial 1936 recording of a Carter Family standard. A few years later it became one of Acuff and the renamed Smoky Mountain Boys’ signature songs on the Grand Ole Opry (Roy Acuff The Smoky Mountain Boy). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. Acuff is also listed on the National Recording Registry for performing on the first Grand Ole Opry broadcast in 1939. 

Roy Acuff "Wabash Cannonball"

23 Big Joe Williams (1903-1982) “Baby Please Don't Go” 1935

A bluesman traveling around the work camps and saloons of the Mississippi Delta. Williams’ adaption of a slave song became a rhythm-and-blues and rock standard. 

Joe Williams "Baby Please Don't Go"

22 Leadbelly (1888 or 1889-1949) “The Midnight Special” 1934

A southern prison song, collected by folklorists John and Alan Lomax. It was recorded for them by a living encyclopedia of folk music, Huddie Ledbetter, who killed a rival lover and was serving a prison term until John Lomax procured his release. The song speaks of “minds heavy and listless with the monotony of days and endless, unsatisfied desires” (Lomax & Lomax, American Ballads & Folk Songs). His recording of  “Goodnight Irene” (1933) is listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.  

Leadbelly "The Midnight Special"

Leadbelly "Goodnight, Irene"

21 Austin Coleman and Joe Washington Brown “Good Lord (Run Old Jeremiah)” 1934

Folklorists John and Alan Lomax recorded this example of “Ring Shout” gospel music with roots in West Africa (WFMU’s Beware of the Blog).

20 Washboard Rhythm Kings “Tiger Rag” 1932

A fluid mix of jazz musicians whose “Tiger Rag” is considered a antecedent to rock and roll (Wikipedia). 

Washboard Rhythm Kings "Tiger Rag"

19 Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933) “Blue Yodel No. 9” 1930

Rodgers fused country with the blues. Tuberculosis forced him to leave the railroad business in 1925. He turned to music and became country music’s first star. He died from a lung hemorrhage eight years later after a recording session.  His 1927 recording of  “Blue Yodel (T for Texas)” is listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

18 Blind Roosevelt (1909-1962) and Uaroy Graves “Crazy About My Baby” 1929

Brothers Roosevelt and Uaroy and pianist Cooney Vaughn formed the Mississippi Jook Band and were adept at dance and gospel music. Roosevelt left the band and disappeared into obscurity (The Big Book of Blues).

17 Blind Willie McTell (1901-1959) “Statesboro Blues” 1928

Versatile musician from Georgia, master of the 12 string guitar, a “human jukebox.” Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

Willie McTell "Statesboro Blues"

16 Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) and the Hot Fives “West End Blues” 1928

Armstrong, Earl Hines (1903-1983), and their Hot Five ensemble “put the world on notice” that here is “a new kind of music.” Armstrong and his Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings are listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

15 Leroy Carr (1905-1935) “How Long, How Long Blues” 1928

Carr and his partner, Scrapper Blackwell (1906-1962), infused the Blues with urbane sophistication. “It will be too late, I will be gone.” 

14 The Carter Family “Keep On the Sunny Side” and “Wildwood Flower” 1928

A.P. (1893-1960), Sara (1899-1979), and cousin Maybelle (1909-1978) formed the cornerstone of country music. They introduced the pathos of Appalachia in this old Pentecostal hymn. Maybelle’s guitar style has been widely imitated by Nashville elite. “‘Wildwood Flower,’ named by National Public Radio as one of the one hundred most important songs of the century, is the closest thing country music has to a true anthem. Those first Camden recordings proved for good that a lone mountain woman’s voice could speak to a vast audience (men and women, rural and not)…The tracks they set down that May have been retraced and remade for nearly three-quarters of a century” (Mark Zwonitzer, Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone, 2002). Their 1928 recording of  “Wildwood Flower” is listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

13 Mississippi John Hurt (1894-1966) “Stack O' Lee Blues” 1928

“At about the age of eight, Hurt came under the influence of a local guitarist named William Henry Carson…One evening he awoke his mother, who was astonished to discover her young son playing the same tunes as Carson. At this point, Hurt requested a guitar of his own. Unable to purchase a new guitar, his mother paid $1.50 for a secondhand guitar, ‘Black Annie,’ from a white man for whom she did household chores” (Daniel Fleck, Old-Time Herald, 2010). 

Mississippi John Hurt “Stack O' Lee Blues”


12 Ma Rainey (1886-1939) and Her Tub Jug Washboard Band “Prove It On Me Blues” 1928

Born Gertrude Pridgett, the “Mother of the Blues” sang about the troubles of women and Southern blacks in her vaudeville shows. “It must’ve been women, ‘cause I don’t like no men.” Her recording of “See See Rider” is listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

11 Thomas “Georgia Tom” Dorsey (1899-1993) and “Tampa Red” Whittaker (1904-1981) “It's Tight Like That” 1928

Also known as The Hokum Boys, they met through the auspices of Ma Rainey and recorded numerous hits during the Depression. Whittaker became a lead performer and songwriter in the Chicago blues scene. Dorsey, however, invested himself more into gospel music. After the 1932 death of his wife Nettie during childbirth, he wrote the hymn, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” (Georgiaencyclopedia.org). His 1934 recording of “If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again” and the 1973 album Precious Lord are listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.


10 Uncle Dave Macon (1870-1952) “Rock About My Saro Jane” 1927

Not known for his musical abilities, Uncle Dave infected music with hillbilly exuberance (Country Music The Rough Guide). He is listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress for performing on the first Grand Ole Opry broadcast in 1939.  

9 Jim Jackson (1890-1937) “Kansas City Blues” 1927

He played music on street corners for spare change, then his “Kansas City Blues” became one of the best selling records of the decade. 

Jim Jackson "Kansas City Blues"

8 Reverend William “Blind Willie” Johnson (1890-1947) “Motherless Children” 1927

A Baptist preacher, telling how it is: “Nobody on earth can take a mother’s place when Mother is dead, Lord.” Johnson's songs (such as If I Had My Way I'd Tear the Building Down) have been performed and recorded by Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Bruce Springsteen (http://www.allsavedfreakband.com/). His 1927 recording of “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” is listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

Willie Johnson "Motherless Children"

Willie Johnson "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground"

7 Blind Lemon Jefferson (1897-1930) “Matchbox Blues” 1927

Founder of Texas Blues, Blind Lemon Jefferson. Froze to death when he wandered lost in a Chicago snow storm (The Big Book of Blues). “Ain’t got so many matches, but I got so far to go.” Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

6 Blind Lemon Jefferson (1897-1930) “That Black Snake Moan” 1926

His success paved the way for other male blues recording artists (The Big Book of Blues). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

5 Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers “Black Bottom Stomp” 1926

Dave Brubeck said of Morton (1885-1941), “You can’t really call today’s jazz progressive, because Jelly Roll Morton was doing the same thing thirty years ago” (The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

4 Papa Charlie Jackson (1890-1938) “Shake That Thing” 1925

An originator of country hokum blues, Jackson was noted for his six-string banjo (The Big Book of Blues).

3 Bessie Smith (1898-1937) “Downhearted Blues” 1923

The notes and words of R&R begin with the Blues. One of the most influential singers was the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith, whose “success represented a triumph over white domination in the entertainment business” (The Big Book of Blues). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

Bessie Smith "Downhearted Blues"

2 Trixie Smith (1895—1943) “My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)” 1922

According to “Origins of rock and roll” (web), Trixie Smith was the first person to record a song with a nonreligious “rock” and “roll” in the lyrics. She was better known for “Railroad Blues” and “The World Is Jazz Crazy,” which she recorded with Louis Armstrong (The Big Book of Blues).

1 Mamie Smith (1883-1946) “Crazy Blues” 1920

“Crazy Blues” was the first blues song ever recorded. Mamie Smith’s performance style on stage was copied throughout the 1920’s (The Big Book of Blues). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.