Author: amyess

The Great Flood of 1927

Welcome to Sonosphere the podcast that explores the sounds all around us in art and music movements through history. Sonosphere is now on WYXR 91.7 FM in Memphis, TN every Monday from 4-5pm. Today’s episode is a harrowing tale of a natural disaster that ravaged much of middle America, especially the South.

The Great Flood of 1927 was one of the most catastrophic floods in our nation’s history. In the summer of 1926 heavy rains started to fall along the Mississippi River, these heavy rains kept up and in March of 1927 levees started to break which led to flooding from Illinois to Mississippi displacing nearly 650,000 people and destroying 16 million acres of land. 

In this episode we will discuss the formation of the Mississippi River, the events that led to the flood, the red cross’ response and how they used the media to shape public opinion, as well as  Blues songs that helped inform the public about the human turmoil that was a direct result of the flood. Listen in as we hear from Christopher Morris, Scotti Parish and David Evans about this extraordinary event.

Blues musicians presented the most accurate details about the Great Flood of 1927. There was greater Public awareness of the atrocities happening along the Mississippi. Blues songs of the time captured the events and hardships that black people endured during the flood. Though many blues songs were made about the flood we decided to showcase Backwater Blues by Bessie Smith. We spoke with David Evans about the origins of the song, how it became an anthem of the flood, and how the song inspired more musicians to sing about the flood. 

Today we’ve heard songs by BBQ Bob, Memphis Minnie, Bessie Smith, and many of the blues songs feature artists like pianist James P Johnson who got their start with Black Swan records in early 20s. Sonosphere covered the short tenure of America’s first black-owned record label, Black Swan and the opera singer who shares the labels name – check it out on sonospherepodcast.com to hear the episode on the opera Singer, Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield and stay tuned for the Black Swan record label episode’s release in June.

Today we presented the story of possibly the worst natural disaster in our country’s history. The great flood of 1927 was of epic proportion. The flood displaced 650,000 residents and destroyed 16 million acres of land. The toll wrought along the Mississippi River from Cairo to the Gulf of Mexico forced people to seek refuge in Red Cross concentration camps. These camps were run in a manner that kept up the status-quo. Black men were forced to work on the levees in order to receive provisions. The levees were patrolled by armed national guardsmen. If anyone tried to escape they were severely beaten or killed. The government and Red Cross used technologies such as radio broadcast to disseminate information about the flood. Northerners got on board with the narrative that they were helping the desperate south. The South rejected this notion as they saw very little relief if any at all. 

Blues songs of the day projected the struggles and tragedies in the delta. We highlighted Bessie Smith and her song Backwater Blues today. Although it was not written about the flood of 1927 it was released just as the Levees were breaking along the Mississippi. The song gained national notoriety in America. The song became an anthem of the Flood and led the way to many more songs written about the Great Flood of 1927 as well as songs pertaining to other natural disasters. When you listen to any of the songs about the flood you are transported there you gain a perspective about those that were affected by the great flood. These songs are time capsules of a time of havoc and disillusion in Black southern America. 

Underscore: Steven R. Smith

Welcome to the Sonosphere podcast. This episode we feature Steven R. Smith.

Steven is behind projects like Hala Strana, Ulaan Khol, Ulaan Passerine, Ulaan Markhor and releases solo recordings under his label, Worstward Recordings. Active since the mid-90s, Smith releases a solo album this year called Spring and out in September is his project’s Ulaan Passerine’s Sun Spear. We will hear tunes from both plus a playlist curated by Steven himself. Join us!

Model Zero

Today we feature a live performance by Model Zero from the WYXR studio in Memphis, TN. Sonosphere interviewed the band after their latest single release, “Little Crystal.” The band performed this song and the b-side “Leather Trap” on our show along with a few other songs from their self-title LP from 2019. We also talked with the guys about the difference between the last album and this new single. Join us!

Black Swan Records

Welcome to Sonosphere the podcast that explores the sounds all around us, in art and music movements through history.

Today we discuss the first black owned recording company Black Swan Records which sold popular music to black audiences. Its existence was brief, it was only active for two years from 1923 to 1925. During this time however, the label released over 180 records – more than any other black owned record company until the 1950s. Today we’ll talk about the historical context in which the founder, Harry Pace, began and operated the label with mentor W.E.B. DuBois and how his partnership with Memphis blues man W.C. Handy kicked off Pace’s interest in the music industry.

We begin our story of Black Swan Records by setting the context of the times. Performers of recorded songs were becoming pop icons and American celebrities. By the end of WWI recorded music began to take precedence over live performances as proof of musicianship. There is not a lot of information on Black Swan Records, we rely mostly on a website called Black Past, and two dissertations by graduate students Stuart Lucas Tully from LSU, and Jacqueline Brellenthin from Univ of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as well as David Suisman’s  Co- workers in the Kingdom of Culture: Black Swan Records and the Political Economy of African American Music.

According to David Suisman writing about the Political Economy of African American music, “Black Swan’s burden was to chart a course between elite culture and popular culture, between the color blindness of music and the racism of the music business, between ideologically based enterprise and the impinging realities of capitalist markets.”

Singer and actor Ethel Waters wearing costume and seated backstage, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, February – April 1940. (Photo by Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris/Carnegie Museum of Art/Getty Images)
James P. Johnson

Founder, Harry Pace was viewed as a key figure along with W.E.B. DuBois in personifying black entrepreneurialism in the 20th century and beyond.

Track List:

  1. Alberta Hunter – He’s a Darn Good Man
  2. Mamie Smith – Crazy Blues
  3. James P. Johnson – If I could be with you
  4. Ethel Waters – Down Home Blues
  5. James P. Johnson – Liza
  6. W.C. Handy – St. Louis Blues
  7. W.C. Handy – Yellow Dog Blues
  8. Katie Crippen – Blind Man Blues
  9. Carroll Clark – Carry me back to Tennessee
  10. James P. Johnson – Charleston
  11. Charles Wakefield Cadman – At Dawning (David Wright)
  12. James P. Johnson – Snowy Morning Blues
  13. James P. Johnson – Blue Note Boogie
  14. Ethel Waters – I got Rhythm
  15. Mamie Smith – Da Da Strain

Underscore: Christian Fennesz

Today on Sonosphere Amy talks with Christian Fennesz, electronic music composer and musician. Amy caught up with Fennesz at the annual Big Ears Festival in Knoxville. As the first in-person fest in two years, Big Ears was bigger than ever. Acts from all over the nation and the world descended upon the smokey mountain city and brought amazing sounds, visuals, and excellence in musical composition. Always a Sonosphere favorite!

Amy and Fennesz at Big Ears 2022

Join Chris and Amy live from WYXR studio in Memphis for some tunes by Fennesz and collaborators like Sparklehorse, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ulver, and more! Christian Fennesz left for his U.S. tour after Big Ears. For more information on Fennesz please visit his website.

Fennesz performing at Big Ears 2022

Track List:

  1. Fennesz/Ulver – Only the Poor Have to Travel
  2. King Midas Sound/Fennesz – On my Mind
  3. Fennesz/David Sylvian – Transit
  4. Glenn Gould Gathering
  5. Sparklehorse, PJ Harvey – Piano Fire
  6. Sparklehorse/Fennesz – Goodnight Sweetheart
  7. Fennesz/Ryuichi Sakamoto – Haru
  8. Tim Hecker – Celestina
  9. Jim O’Rourke/Sonic Youth – Hungara Vivo
  10. Oneohtrix Point Never – Auto & Allo
  11. Jensen Sportag – Rain Code (Fennesz Remix)

Detective No. 1

Ready to score.

Today we talk with Detective – a collective of musicians, singers, songwriters and friends. In 2019 they released an album showcasing the range of their skills – from Blaxploitation to eerie sci-fi synths, this group really does it all!

We discuss Detective’s influences, favorite movies and technique’s they used to arrange the album. We also talk with Josh Breeden, aka St. Francis Elevator Ride, the “visual maestro” of the group. Josh brings video and digital art and design, driving the whole band’s film noir and horror aesthetic.

Come out to Black Lodge on Friday, March 18th for the entire experience!

Black Opera: Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, the Black Swan

Welcome to Sonosphere on WYXR 91.7 FM or wherever you get your podcasts.

Today on the show we feature Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield aka Black Swan in the vocal concert tradition of late 19th century America.

We will hear from Professor Adam Gustafson who has written about Greenfield as America’s first black pop star for The Conversation an academic journal and is a professor of music at Penn State. We talk about the Greenfield’s early life and rise in the operatic and pop scene in the 19th century.

Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield came of age in antebellum America and grew her career at a time when European operatic, concert songs made singers like Jenny Lind and Catherine Hayes rich and famous.

Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, a.k.a. Black Swan

The concert soprano, Greenfield, was different. She was born a slave in Mississippi and raised by an abolitionist in Philadelphia. When she hit the pop scene in the 1850s, in Professor Gustafson words, she “shattered preexisting beliefs about artistry and race.”

In this show we’ll also exclusively hear black opera singers from Leontyn Price and Jessye Norman to Terrance Blanchard’s Fire Shut up in my Bones, which premiered at the New York Metropolitan Opera earlier this year. While there is no known recording of Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, we will hear Revella Hughes, another great soprano from the 1920s, and maybe one of the first African American opera singers ever recorded. We’ll hear a phonograph recording from 1921 from the Black Swan record label, the label named for Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield.

Thanks for joining us.

Tracklist:

Norma Act 1: Casta Dive (1980) Vincenzo Bellini, Leontyne Price, Henry Lewis

Dido and Aeneas, Z. 626 / Act 3 Henry Purcell, Jessye Norman, English Chamber Orchestra, Raymond Leopard

Porgy and Bess / Act 2 George Gershwin, Willard White, Leona Mitchell, Cleveland Orchestra

Dream with Me – Peter Pan Leonard Bernstein, Harolyn Blackwell

Tosca Act 2: Vissi d’arte, Vissi d’amore Giacomo Puccini, Leontyne Price (1963)

Green Finch and Linnet Bird (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) Stephen Sondheim, Harolyn Blackwell

Vier letze Lieder, 2 September Richard Strauss, Jessye Norman

Peculiar Grace (Fire Shut Up in my Bones) Terrance Blanchard, Will Liverman

At Dawning Charles Wakefield Cadman, Revella Hughes

Sonic Tonic 2021 Finale

Welcome to the last Sonic Tonic mixtape in 2021. We don’t know what’s in store for 2022 but we will dance somehow. Today we’re bringing some dancing tunes, some yacht rock, nervous new wave, and so much more in this Sonic Tonic 2021 Finale mix. Share with your party guests and enjoy (cautiously) the ride into 2022.

Sonic Tonic Design by Natalie Hoffman

Tracks Heard in this Mix:

1-4 in reverse
5-10 in reverse
11-15 in reverse
WYXR Studio during Sonic Tonic Happy Hour mixtape

This Sonic Tonic show aired live on WYXR 91.7 FM in Memphis on December 20th.

Underscore: Darius Jones

It’s been 5 years since Darius Jones last released a record under his own name, and Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation), a solo saxophone record, breaks new ground for the genre and for Darius as a recording artist. 

Sonosphere had the pleasure to sit down with Darius and discuss his approach to Raw Demoon Alchemy, his childhood in Virginia, improvisation and black futurism.

Cover art by Risha Rox

We also spoke about the inspiration behind the album’s art, a beautiful world built by Darius for an unknown future.

“Born out of a live performance in fall 2019, during the last stop of his tour in Portland, OR, saxophonist Darius Jones renders a solo effort that evokes sadness, rage, and confusion, all the while still holding for glimmers of hope for the future.” 

Don’t miss this one folks. Tune in weekly on WYXR 91.7 fm and monthly to wherever you get your podcasts.

Photo credit by earshot.org