I am a recent Princeton transplant, and a writer and reviewer for Blues Revue Magazine, Blues Music Magazine, the New York Journal of Books, and other publications. I am writing a book about African American blues singer Mamie Smith (1883-1946), who recorded the first blues by an African American, “Crazy Blues,” in August, 1920. The record was a wild success, selling over a million copies in less than a year; she ended up selling over 2 million copies — unheard of at the time.
Before this recording milestone occurred, record companies would not record African Americans singing blues or jazz, declaring that African Americans would not buy records. After Mamie’s record sales success, however, they started beating the bushes for talent, and that’s how many artists from Louis Armstrong to Robert Johnson and Ma Rainey wound up on “race” record labels beginning in 1920 and beyond.
In my reporting I discovered that Mamie lies in unmarked ground in Frederick Douglass Memorial Park in Staten Island, New York, and has been without a headstone or marker since her death in 1946. I have started an Indiegogo (www.indiegogo.com) campaign to raise funds to erect a headstone. So far we have attained almost a third of the $6,000 goal.
To join the fundraising effort please see details on indiegogo.com or http://igg.me/at/mamie-smith/x/847836. Or contact me via twitter, @mick655, or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: Cala says that he has worked in New York as an associate director of communications for a medical center, a physician educator (video), still photographer, and “now, after a dozen years writing about blues and ‘roots’ music, a modest amateur music historian.”
He adds that he “fell in love with the blues when I was 14, and found a ‘race record’ in my Italian great-grandmother’s basement. It was a woman blues pianist. The record label said it was a subsidiary of Columbia Records, so I called Columbia and was put through to the producer issuing all of Columbia’s re-mastered 78s onto brand new vinyl LPs. He traded me 42 blues LPs for my one 78 RPM record. I was hooked. I then started reading all the blues and jazz historians and fell in love with the music and the performers.”