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Female blues singers who weren't so blue

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Daddy, won't you please come home 'Cause your mama's so all alone. . . .

So wailed blues singers in the '20s, most of whom are gone, and many utterly forgotten. We tend to view those singers as victims of circumstances, and it's true that many blues songs are full of sorrow and self-pity. But there's a little-known body of blues songs with a whole different twist:

I ain't no flapper, just a darn good gal.

Don't want no sheik, just a real good


Rosa Henderson sang these words to ''Can't Be Bothered With No Sheik'' back in the '20s. But how many people know about that kind of blues song? If record producer Rosetta Reitz has any say in the matter, a lot more people will know about what she calls ''independent women's blues,'' exemplified in songs such as Bessie Smith's ''Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle'' and this one, sung by blues singer Susie Edwards, who used to level these sentiments at her partner, Butterbeans, in ''No-Count Triflin' Man'':

You don't mean right and you ain't

nothin,' mister,

But a no-count triflin' man.

You said those sweet things so many

times before,

It's a wonder that your jaws ain't sore.

For the past three years, Rosetta Reitz has been lovingly and painstakingly producing reissues of forgotten and little-known black women blues singers, with an emphasis on the feisty and self-sufficient in their music. A dedicated jazz historian, she has researched black women jazz singers and musicians for many years, uncovering a wealth of excellent music along with fascinating facts of these women's lives and the era they lived in.

A jazz buff since her high school days, Rosetta says, ''I've been listening to jazz for a very long time. When the women's movement started I began to wonder why jazz has always been considered a male domain. Where were the women? Why weren't there more than just a handful of them?''

This prompted her to go back to the early days of jazz and find out why there had been so few women in the field. What she found was that there were plenty of women in jazz then - they were around, all right, but nobody remembers them.

Ms. Reitz took a special interest in the black women blues singers of the '20 s and began the search for recordings and information about them. She discovered trumpeter Valaida Snow and pianist-singer Georgia White, along with a bevy of long-forgotten blues singers. She also discovered that these women were the reigning queens of the blues era, from 1920 to 1927, with three women at the forefront: Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, and Ma Rainey.


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