Song 16 – Strange Fruit

SONG: Strange Fruit ARTIST: Billie Holiday YEAR: 1939 Listen to it here:  THE SONG: Strange Fruit originated in 1937 as a poem by Abel Meeropol, who wrote the words after seeing a photograph of the lynchings of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana in 1930.  He originally called the work “Bitter Fruit” andContinue reading “Song 16 – Strange Fruit”

Song 15 – Hellhound on my Trail

SONG: Hellhound On My Trail ARTIST: Robert Johnson YEAR: 1937 Listen to it here:  THE SONG: The phrase “hellhound on my trail had been used numerous times in other blues songs for years before it appeared as the title of one of Robert Johnson’s biggest hits. This song is a solo performance by Johnson withContinue reading “Song 15 – Hellhound on my Trail”

Song 14 – Cross Road Blues

SONG: Cross Road Blues ARTIST: Robert Johnson YEAR: 1936 Listen to it here:  THE SONG: Cross Road Blues or Crossroads was written by blues artist Robert Johnson in 1936.  The song was the result of a 3rd recording session, recorded in a hotel with a portable disc cutting machine.  Two similar versions of the songContinue reading “Song 14 – Cross Road Blues”

Song 13 – Can the Circle Be Unbroken

SONG: Can the Circle Be Unbroken ARTIST: The Carter Family YEAR: 1935 Listen to it here:  THE SONG:  “Can the Circle Be Unbroken (By and By)” is a folk song that was reworked by A.P. Carter from the hymn “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”. The song deals with the death, funeral, and mourning of theContinue reading “Song 13 – Can the Circle Be Unbroken”

Song 12 – Hula Girl

SONG: Hula Girl ARTIST: Sol Hoopii YEAR: 1934 Listen to it here:  THE SONG: There’s not a lot of information on the song itself, other than it was recorded in 1934 by Hawaiian Sol Ho’opii.  There was a big Hawaiian craze in America starting in 1915 when slack key guitar players and grass-skirted hula dancersContinue reading “Song 12 – Hula Girl”

Song 11 – Mal hombre

SONG: Mal Hombre ARTIST: Lydia Mendoza YEAR: 1934 Listen to it here:  THE SONG: This song is not of Mexican descent, even though it was made popular by a singer who celebrated and was celebrated for her own Mexicanness. Lydia Mendoza’s core repertoire was all traditional Mexican songs, but the song that made her famous,Continue reading “Song 11 – Mal hombre”

Song 10 – Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

SONG: Brother, Can You Spare a Dime ARTIST: Bing Crosby YEAR: 1932 Listen to it here:  THE SONG: Brother, Can Your Spare A Dime was written in 1932 by Yip Harburg after his appliance business went bust.  He became a lyricist and teamed up with composer Jay Gorney, who borrowed the melody from a RussianContinue reading “Song 10 – Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

Song 9 – Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl

SONG: Need a Little Sugar in my Bowl ARTIST: Bessie Smith YEAR: 1931 Listen to it here:  THE SONG: Need a Little Sugar in my Bowl is part of a sub-genre called “dirty blues”, which is exactly what you’d think: songs that discuss obscene or taboo subjects. I have to say, the lyrics to thisContinue reading “Song 9 – Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl”

Song 6: St James Infirmary Blues

SONG: St James’ Infirmary ARTIST: Armstrong and his Hot Five YEAR: 1929 Listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzcpUdBw7gs THE SONG: St James Infirmary was made famous by Louis Armstrong, but no one knows for sure the origins of this song or the author.  A man named Joe Primrose is often credited with the song, holding theContinue reading “Song 6: St James Infirmary Blues”

Song 2: St. Louis Blues

SONG: St. Louis Blues ARTIST: Bessie Smith YEAR: 1925 Listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rd9IaA_uJI THE SONG: St. Louis Blues was written in 1913 by W.C. Handy and was a massive hit, despite there being no music charts (they charted the song’s success by sheet music sales!).  Many blues songs at the time were traditional orContinue reading “Song 2: St. Louis Blues”