Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ella Fitzgerald - "Darktown Strutters Ball" (example, lyrics, and more)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post is Part II of a two part series on the Jazz classic "Darktown Strutters Ball".

Part II showcases a 1936 example of "Darktown Strutters Ball" that was recorded by Ella Fitzgerald and the Chick Webb band. The lyrics of this version are included in this post.

The Addendum to this post presents two brief excerpts of biographies of Shelton Brooks and a bonus video of Shelton Brooks singing one of his other compositions, "Hole in the Wall".

Click for Part I of this series,
Part I provides information & comments about the meaning of the words in the title "Darktown Strutters Ball". That post also provides a sound file & lyrics of that early Jazz classic, and information about the song's composer, Shelton Brooks.

The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Shelton Brooks, the composer of "Darktown Strutters Ball", Ella Fitzgerald, and Chick Webb & his band for their musical legacy. Thanks also to the publisher of this featured soundfile and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

"Just a year after [composing] Walkin' the Dog, Brooks wrote what is his most lasting hit. I suspect that even now, nearly one hundred years later, many people could still sing at least the opening phrase of the chorus; "I'll be down to get you in a taxi honey." It is no doubt his most recorded song as well. Popularized by Sophie Tucker, it may have been introduced on Vaudeville by the young lady on the cover, Blossom Seeley. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers performed it in the film, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle in 1937. It was also performed in other films including, Broadway (1942), Incendiary Blonde (1944), The Dolly Sisters (1946) and Little Boy Lost in 1953. Seeley was born Minnie Guyer, in San Francisco, California. A top vaudeville headliner, she was known as the "Queen of Syncopation" and helped bring jazz and ragtime into the mainstream of American music. She introduced the Shelton Brooks classic "Some of These Days" in vaudeville in 1910, one year before Sophie Tucker recorded it in 1911.

This is one of "ragtime's" greatest hits and it simply speaks for itself. Enjoy the music..

SHOWCASE SOUND FILE: Darktown Strutter's Ball by Ella Fitzgerald

Fireworksandsunshine, Uploaded on Jul 29, 2011
Here are two comments from this sound file's discussion thread.
oldtimeswinger, 2012
"The recording was made on 19 November, 1936. The backing may be by Chick Webb's Band."

Sovery Strange, Aug 13, 2012 in reply to oldtimeswinger
"Definitely Chick Webb:)"
Click for information about African American Jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996).

Click for information about African American jazz and swing music drummer as well as band leader Chick Webb(February 10, 1905 – June 16, 1939).

(originally written by Shelton Brooks [1917], This version as sung by Ella Fitzgerald)

I'll be down to get you in a taxi honey
Better be ready 'bout half past eight
I mean don't be late
Be there when the band starts playin'
Remember when you get there honey
Dance all over the floor, dance all over my shoes
When the band plays the Jelly Roll blues
Say t'morrow night at the darktown strutters ball


I'll be down to get you in a push cart honey
Better be ready 'bout half past eight
I mean don't be late
Be there when the band starts playin'

'Member when you get there honey
Shim sham wins them all
Dance all over my shoes
When the band plays the Jelly Roll's blues
Say t'morrow night at the darktown strutters ball

This is a shortened version of the 1917 lyrics for "Darktown Strutters' Ball".

"Jelly Roll Blues" (The OriginalJelly Roll Blues" is a 1915 fox trot song that was composed by African American pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton. Click for more information about this song.

Notice the substitution of the "Shim Sham" dance for the two step, the buck and wing and other dances that were mentioned in the 1917 version of this song.

"The Shim Sham" originally referred to and still refers to a tap dance routine.
"If you’re at a tap event, you’ll probably see the classic Shim Sham, which is a lot like Reed’s Goofus: A single chorus routine with four counts of eight bars each. According to Valis Hill’s recent book Tap Dancing America, these sections are: the double shuffle, the crossover, the Tack Annie, and the half break (also known as “falling off the log”). Source: [hereafter given as dancespirit:Shim Sham]
However, that tap dance evolved to a social dance called the "Shim Sham Shimmy".
"In the 1930s, the Shim Sham became the Shim Sham Shimmy when a quick shoulder shake was added to the choreography. Harold Cromer, a more-than-50-year tap veteran best known as Stumpy from the famous comedy tap team Stump and Stumpy, recalls learning the Shim Sham Shimmy with the chorus girls at the Apollo in NYC. “Over the years, the Shim Sham has mutated into a simple dance,” he says. “But it used to be a sexy dance. That’s what the girls were doing: the Shim Sham Shimmy with frills and heels.” Source: dancespirit:Shim Sham
I think that the "Shim Sham Shimmy" (and not the "Shim Sham" tap dance or the "Shimmy" shaking dance) is the dance that is referred to in that "Darktown Strutters Ball" line. Here's information about the earlier "Shimmy" dance from
"A shimmy is a dance move in which the body is held still, except for the shoulders, which are alternated back and forth. When the right shoulder goes back, the left one comes forward. It may help to hold the arms out slightly bent at the elbow, and when the shoulders are moved, keep the hands in the same position. In 1917, a dance-song titled "Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble" by Spencer Williams was published, as was "The Jazz Dance", which included the "Shimmy-She", among others. Flappers often performed the dance in the 1920s."
In that Ella Fitzgerald version of "Darktown Strutters Ball", the line "Shim sham wins them all" alludes to the dancing contest or dancing contests that occurred during that Strutters' ball.

Part I of this pancocojams series provides information about this actual annual African American event in Chicago, Illinois.

From "African American Registry
Tue, 1886-05-04"
"Shelton Brooks, a popular African American music composer, was born on this date in 1886,in Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada.

At about the age of 15, in 1901, he and his family moved to Detroit. Brooks sang, played piano, and performed in vaudeville and in musical comedies. He had a songwriting career and a radio show on the CBS network in the 1930s.

Brooks wrote some of the biggest hits of the first third of the 20th century. His compositions included "All Night Long," "At the Darktown Strutters' Ball," "Every Day," "Some of These Days," "Somewhere in France," "Swing That Thing," "That Man of Mine," "There'll Come A Time," and "Walkin' The Dog." Shelton Brooks died on September 6, 1975."

"Shelton Brooks was raised in Detroit and began his career as a ragtime piano player, initially entertaining the public in Detroit's cafes and nightclubs, then expanding his territory to include Chicago. It was right around 1909 that Brooks began to compose his own material. By this time he had also developed into an accomplished vaudeville entertainer. Brooks toured the United States of America, Canada, and the British Isles.

"Some of These Days" was published in 1910 and eventually sold more than two million units on the sheet music market. It was also destined to become a jazz standard. Barry Singer, in his biography of lyricist Andy Razaf, claims that this number was "...perhaps the landmark song of this Tin Pan Alley epoch, whereby Brooks, with sophisticated lyric colloquialism and heartfelt passion, elevated the coon song into the realm of expressive emotion." Brooks wrote "All Night Long" in 1912 and "Walkin' the Dog" in 1916. He should also be remembered as the composer of "I Wonder Where My Easy Rider's Gone."

But it was "The Darktown Strutter's Ball" that constituted Brooks' next big hit. First circulated on the vaudeville circuit, this rowdy syncopated novelty just happened to get utilized by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band at their first recording session on January 30, 1917. This first nominal jazz record sold like hotcakes, and the sheet music sales exceeded three million... It was as a performer on-stage, in movies, and on the radio that Brooks continued to circulate after he stopped composing great melodies."...

Shelton Brooks - Hole in the Wall

Adamgswanson, Uploaded on Nov 26, 2009

Shelton Brooks, composer of "Some of These Days" and "Darktown Strutters' Ball," sings "Hole in the Wall." From a 1939 all-black film, Double Deal. The credits state Brooks also wrote another song for the movie, "Jitterbugs Cuttin' Rugs," but apparently it was cut from the film.

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