Podcast

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

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

Underscore: Angelica Olstad

On this episode of Sonosphere you’ll hear from pianist Angelica Olstad on her third EP, Transmute she released back in February. The NYC-based artist creates immersive experiences combining “deconstructed” classical music with electronic elements, field recordings, and film. On Transmute, Olstad re-arranges RavelGriffes, and Fauré to paint a snapshot of NYC during the first months of the pandemic.

We’ll also get to hear some songs Angelica shared that kept her moving through the pandemic at the end of the episode.