10 Facts About Jacksonville's Black History

February 26, 2014 16 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

In honor of Black History Month, here are ten facts about Jacksonville's African-American history that you might not be aware of.

2. The First Documented Blues Song Recorded in Jacksonville

An example of Jacksonville's musical talent: Down The Country by Jacksonville's Blind Blake and Leola "Coot Grant" Wilson (married to Jacksonville's Catjuice Charlie) was recorded in November 1926. Catjuice Charlie, also known as Wesley Wilson was a musical talent in his own right. Playing both the piano and organ, Wilson's recordings included "Blue Monday on Sugar Hill" and "Rasslin' Till The Wagon Comes."

Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis and the Mississippi Delta may claim the Blues, but Lynn Abbot and Doug Seroff have identified the first published account of blues singing on a public stage, as occurring in Jacksonville. The word was used to describe a performance in Jacksonville's LaVilla on April 16, 1910.

In an Indianapolis Freeman “Stage” section article entitled “Jacksonville Theatrical Notes,” the reviewer states that Prof. John W. F. Woods, a ventriloquist, and his doll Henry, “set the Airdome wild by making little Henry drunk."

He uses the ‘blues’ for little Henry in this drunken act.

We can be fairly certain that visiting vocalists had adopted this style elsewhere and carried it into these theaters.

LaVilla regular, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey was the conduit through which the blues first moved onto many vaudeville stages. When John W. Work interviewed Ma Rainey at the Douglas Hotel in Nashville during the early thirties, she described memories of her first experience of this music. While touring with a tent show through a small Missouri town around 1902, she heard a girl who “came to the tent one morning and began to sing about the ‘man who had left her.’”

Rainey learned this “strange and poignant” song and used it in her act as an encore. The overwhelming response to this song convinced her to give this music a “special place” in her act.

Work documented that “many times she was asked what kind of a song it was, and one day a few years later she replied, in a moment of inspiration, ‘It’s the Blues.’”

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