One of the stranger musical artifacts of the early XXth century, this record straddles the fence between the minstrel shows, country music, and early jazz. Emmett Miller is a white man in blackface, doing the minstrel routines, complete with stand-up comedy and singing. His backing band, the Georgia Crackers, is truly a stellar assembley of the early jazz luminaries, including Gene Krupa on drums, the Dorsey brothers on clarinet/sax and trombone, and Eddie Lang on guitar.
Miller is a cult figure among the connoisseurs of the weird and the obscure. Virtually nothing is known about him, which only adds to his mystique. Only two photographs survive, but he is in blackface on both, and it is impossible to tell what he really looked like. We are unsure of his birth and death dates, and we don't know where he lived, outside of the short period in the late 30s, when he was recording in New York.
Many reviews say that Emmett Miller's recordings are interesting only for the backing musicians, and trad jazz fans are usually put off by the presumed cultural imperialism of a white man having his way with black music, by the racial stereotyping of his - not always tasteful - jokes, and by the his minstrel show roots, which are associated with the segregation, oppression and the indignities suffered by the american blacks for so long. However, if one is to look at it in the cultural context, one would see a middle-class white boy who loved the negro music enough to make it his life's ambition, and who was stuck in the minstrel mask complete with the watermelon-stealing, happy-go-lucky stereotypes, because he perceived it as a ticket into the jazz circles.
None of this would elevate Miller beyond a footnote in a history of jazz, if it wasn't for his singing. He may have been a part of a tradition, doing jokes from the old minstrel repertoire and singing jazz standards, but his singing style is truly his own, sounding like nothing else before or since. His singing is a cross between a jazz balladeer, a pigmy yodel, and a cat's meow. He often breaks into his signature melisma, switching from the chest voice to make several shaky slides from one falcetto note to another, and then back, sounding like a baby crying inside the chest of a grown man. My favorite tracks here are Dusky Stevedore and St. Louis Blues. These are truly unique sounds - enjoy!
Emmett Miller - The Minstrel Man From Georgia
VBR 160, 66mb
1. God's River
2. I Ain't Got Nobody
3. Lovesick Blues
4. The Lion Tamers
6. St. Louis Blues
7. Take Your Tomorrow
8. Dusky Stevedore
9. I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None Of This Jelly Roll
10. (I Got A Woman Crazy For Me) She's Funny That Way
11. You Lose
12. Right Or Wrong
13. That's The Good Old Sunny South
14. You're The Cream In My Coffee
15. Lovin' Sam (The Sheik Of Alabam')
16. Big Bad Bill Is Sweet William Now
17. The Ghost Of The St. Louis Blues
18. Sweet Mama (Papa's Getting Mad)
19. The Pickaninnies' Paradise
20. The Blues Singer (From Alabam')