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Music Sheet: Crazy Blues
Mamie Smith and Her Jazz Hounds
Perry Bradford Music Publishing Co., New York, 1920
ID 99.153.1

listen to crazy blues

February 2000

African-American vaudeville artist, Mamie Smith, became the first Black female singer to record a popular record, bringing a fresh, new sound to the American recording industry. Smith's hit record, "Crazy Blues," led other record companies to record blues and other music by African-American performers.

Ethnic records had been marketed to immigrants, but African Americans had been largely ignored by the recording industry before 1920. While record companies included in their catalogs African American-inspired music by white performers, only a few Black musical entertainers, like W.C. Handy and Bert Williams, had managed to record.

In early 1920, African-American composer, Perry Bradford, convinced the white manager of Okeh records to record an African-American female vocalist. Mamie Smith's recording of Blanford's blues compositions, "That Thing Called Love" backed by "You Can't Keep a Good Man Down" quickly sold 10,000 copies when marketed in August 1920. Okeh immediately recorded Smith again, singing "Crazy Blues" accompanied by her band, Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds. An instant success, "Crazy Blues" sold more than 70,000 copies during the first month. Other record companies quickly followed Okeh's lead, producing their own recordings of African-American blues vocalists. Okeh's success even presented a serious challenge to established recording industry giants like Victor and Columbia, compelling them to become more active in the African-American and popular markets.

The success of Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues," began a new era in the recording industry, with records made by African-American performers for an African-American audience. Although initially intended for the Black audience, the music soon crossed over into the white mainstream popular market.


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