Archive for the ‘1933’ Category

‘Underneath The Harlem Moon . . .’

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020

I was parked at my computer, idly clicking from one track to another in iTunes, as I sometimes do, just seeing what there was among the 3,900-some tracks, when up popped one I’d not really noticed before: Rhiannon Giddens’ take on the 1930s tune “Underneath the Harlem Moon” from her 2015 EP Factory Girl.

Creole babies walk along with rhythm in their thighs
Rhythm in their hips and in their lips and in their eyes
Where do high-browns find the kind of love that satisfies?
Underneath the Harlem moon

We don’t pick no cotton; picking cotton is taboo
We don’t live in cabins like the old folks used to do
Our cabin is a penthouse up on St. Nicholas Avenue
Underneath that Harlem moon

We just live for dancing
We’re never blue or forlorn
Ain’t no sin to laugh and grin
That’s why we schwarzes were born

We shout, “Hallelujah!” every time we’re feeling low
And every sheik is dressed up like a Georgia gigolo
White folks call it madness but I call it hi-de-ho
Underneath that Harlem moon

Once we wore bandanas, now we wear Parisian hats
Once we were barefoot, now we’re sporting shoes and spats
Once we were Republicans but now we’re Democrats
Underneath the Harlem moon

We don’t pick no cotton; picking cotton is taboo
All we pick is numbers and that includes you white folks too
’Cause if we hit, we pay our rent on any avenue
Underneath the Harlem moon

We just thrive on dancing
Why be blue and forlorn?
We just laugh and grin. Ha! Let the landlord in
That’s why house rent parties were born

We also drink our gin, smoke our reefer, when we’re feeling low
Then we’re ready to step out and take charge of any so-and-so
Don’t stop for law, no traffic, when we’re raring to go
Underneath the Harlem moon
Underneath the Harlem moon

I wondered for a bit about Giddens’ purpose in recording the song, written in the 1930s by Harry Revel and Mack Gordon and first recorded in 1932 by Howard Joyner. And I’m still wondering.

The most prominent version of the song may be the truncated version Randy Newman included on his 1972 album 12 Songs. It’s been released a few other times as well – mostly in the 1930s and a couple of times in the 1980s before Giddens came along with her version, according to Second Hand Songs. Not listed there is a performance by Ethel Waters in a 1933 film titled Rufus Jones For President (starring a young Sammy Davis Jr. as the presidential candidate).

Was Giddens – who is one of my favorite musical discoveries in the years since I began blogging in 2007 – reclaiming heritage, as she is wont to do? Maybe so. It seems to me that Giddens, with her clear interest in bringing the musical past into the present – from her work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops to her current solo work – is one of the few performers who could get away with performing “Under The Harlem Moon.”

Questions? Comments?

Saturday Single No. 338

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

As the Texas Gal and I ran some errands this morning, I was pondering this post and wondering which tracks in the RealPlayer were recorded on this date, on April 20. (I have that information for maybe ten percent of the songs in the player, gleaned from various places.)

The harvest is slender: We have a trio of tunes by Blind Willie Johnson recorded April 20, 1930, in Atlanta, Georgia and released on Columbia: “John the Revelator,” “Soul of a Man” and “Trouble Will Soon Be Over.” Three years later, in Camden, New Jersey, Ramona and Roy Bargy recorded “Raising the Rent” for the Victor label.

Billie Holiday recorded “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” in New York City for the Commodore label on April 20, 1939. And shifting genres by a fair amount, the Beatles did the last bits of work on George Harrison’s “Only a Northern Song” at the Abbey Road studios on April 20, 1967.

Finally, on April 20, 1983, at the Hit Factory in New York City, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band recorded “Cynthia,” which was released in 1998 on the Tracks collection.

And simply because I’ve only mentioned her four times in the history of this blog and seemingly have only ever shared one of her tunes, I’m settling on Billie Holiday and her 1933 recording of “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” for today’s Saturday Single.