Everyone can enjoy music. Any race or gender. It’s not normally about who is playing it. It really does not matter who is performing the music, only the notes matter. I think, however, what does matter is, who writes the notes and the lyrics. Who gets the recognition. I am happy that despite the fact that my father wrote his first song way back in 1917 his name is still listed as the writer. It’s pretty much a well known fact. And many, many people have recorded or performed Eddie’s song. Just recently a friend played it in a hotel where he works as a pianist. He was surprised how many people recognized the song, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is still being played by someone, somewhere in the world.
The song was made popular in 1919 by a White woman, Marion Harris, the first widely known White woman to sing jazz and blues. Then Sophie Tucker (the Red Hot Mama) fell in love with the song and sung it night after night in her nightclub act. Alberta Hunter took it after that. Bessie Smith, Louie Prima, and on and on. It’s been a fox trot, it’s been played with a ukulele. It was sung by Frank Sinatra in a movie joined by Shelley Winters. However, until I wrote Eddie’s biography most people were unaware that the writer of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” was a Black man.
What I have known for a long time is that there are many songs written and/or performed first by African-Americans that became widely popular through White singers who wound up getting the kudos (think Elvis and “Hound Dog”).
John Turner Layton, Jr., was an African-American songwriter, singer and pianist. Born 1894, he died in 1978. Turner Layton’s buddy, Harry Sterling Creamer, born 1879, died 1930, was also an African-American song lyricist. He co-wrote many popular songs in the years from 1900 to 1929. These men were talented, dedicated, and also patriotic as you can see by their first album. And like my father, Eddie, also appeared in vaudeville.
These two men wrote the song “After You’ve Gone” in 1918. Like Eddie’s song, Marion Harris helped make this song popular, as did Sophie Tucker. Edyie Gorme has sung the song, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra.
“Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” was also a popular song with music by John Turner Layton, lyrics by Harry Creamer. Sung by The Andrews Sisters (1950) Freddie Cannon, Bing Crosby, Jan and Dean (1963!) among others. Yet, how many people are aware of the fact that these songs were written by African-American men? Where is their recognition?
Layton and Creamer were even commissioned to do a play. ” COBURNS PLAN MUSICAL SHOW: Mr. and Mrs. Coburn. it was learned last week, have practically completed negotiations for a new musical play which they plan to produce. The play is called “The Three Showers,” and the book, lyrics and music were written Jointly by Harry S. Creamer and Turner Layton. If George M. Cohan consents to fix up the book of “The Three Showers,” as is contemplated by the Coburns.”
About 1924 Turner Layton went to Europe. He teamed up with a Mr. Clarence “Tandy” Johnstone and enjoyed a great deal of success. Per the Pittsburgh Courier, 1927: “Turner Layton, Clarence Johnstone Are Playing To Big Crowds In London.”
Like Eddie, Turner Layton was often mentioned in the Black newspapers even as late as 1950, Pittsburgh Courier, 1950: “The Turner Laytons with daughter Alelia vacationing in usual swank style on French Riviera. Turner Layton happy at relief of gas rationing . . . Rolls Royces do less than 8 miles to the gallon. ” The man had a Rolls Royce.
We hear the songs and even recognize the people who sing them and that’s cool. But the recognition of the fact that there is much widely popular music that was written by African-Americans is absent in America. There, I’ve said it. Which is why who wrote the music matters, today. Music is universal. As is the African-American contribution.
Hey, thanks, for stopping by.
Check out my book: Eddie Green The Rise of an Early 1900s Black American Entertainment Pioneer.