Parlophone's Race Series

By Tolley, Trevor | IAJRC Journal, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Parlophone's Race Series


Tolley, Trevor, IAJRC Journal


Among the Parlophone series was the Race Series of the late nineteen-thirties. The records included in it came from the OKeh and Columbia catalogues of the nineteen-twenties and early thirties. Only seventeen records were issued between January 1936 and October 1937! All are master pressings - as indeed are almost all Parlophone issues of American jazz material. Most of the series was deleted in 1943, when the Japanese invasion of South-East Asia resulted in a shortage of shellac. The two records by Bessie Smith seem to have been repressed or continued after the war, when the interest in traditional New Orleans music in England led to an associated interest in the great blues singers.

What is of interest is the relatively small number of records sold in some cases, indicating rather small pressings. This appears to have been the case in pre-war days for many Parlophone jazz records, pressings of just three hundred being not uncommon. This means that the Race Series records are far from common themselves; and American collectors should not despise them. Most of them sold between six and eight hundred copies. Only the two Bessie Smiths, the Victoria Spivey (with Louis Armstrong's Hot Five, but oddly, without Earl Hines) and the Harlem Foot-warmers Snake Hip Dance, an Ellington record via OKeh, sold more than a thousand copies. Among the most difficult of the records to find are R2147, R2203 and R2243, which have Clarence Williams recordings on both sides; and R2380 by the Black Devils.

There are some oddities. From number nine onward, the series is sub-titled, with notable political in-correctness, 'The Negro and His Music'; yet three sides are by the white singer Emmett Miller, whose accompanists include such notable white artists as the Dorsey brothers. In addition, the label of the Ethel Waters record boasts that the performance is with Benny Goodman and his Orchestra.

It is worth noting that this Waters recording from 1933 uses different takes from those issued in the United States - the only case of this in the series.

An additional oddity concerns the Bessie Smith records. R2344 is Cold in Hand Blues backed by St. Louis Blues. Both are master pressings. Parlophone also issued the Bessie Smith Album, which originated on American Columbia in 1936. This is to be distinguished from the two albums issued on American Columbia in the nineteen-forties. The American Columbia album of 1936 contained twelve recordings, all of which are dubbings. Parlophone evidently received these, and proceeded to use these dubbings; though they added to the album four recordings from their own vaults, Soft Pedal Blues, I Used to be Your Sweet Mama, Preachin' the Blues and Thinking Blues, which were all master pressings. …

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