BARNES Mae 1958

Some describe Mae Barnes as a "song stylist", others call her a "jazz singer". It all depends on what they are looking for, because Mae Barnes has both qualities. She aims at "putting across" a song, with a diction as clear as the old political spellbinders before the days of the microphone and publicity agent. But part of her equipment is a rhythmic beat and interpretive freedom that is of the essence of jazz. The latter side is especially brought out in this record, with the presence of such masterful jazz improvisers as Buck Clayton, Aaron Bell, Ray Bryant and Jo jones.

Mae Barnes, born 1907 as Edith May Stith, was an African-American dancer and singer whose basic swinging approach fell between jazz and middle-of-the-road pop music. From New York City, she grew up in Manhattan. At age 12 she dropped out of school, moved to Cleveland and got a job as a chorus girl. She toured the South as a vaudeville performer and in 1924 made her Broadway start in the revue "Runnin' Wild". The show, which introduced the Charleston to Broadway, also featured another legend-to-be, Elizabeth Welch. As a stage performer, Barnes was nicknamed "the bronze Ann Pennington", after the Broadway dancing star of George White's Scandals. Her dancing in the national tour of "Shuffle Along", led Bill Robinson to call her "the greatest living female tap dancer".
A car accident in 1938 fractured her pelvis and she turned to singing. "I took the rhythm from my dancing and put it in my songs", she later said.
She sang at Ciro's in Hollywood and Honolulu. For a seven-year period, she drew packed houses as the featured attraction at the Greenwich Village club Boite. Then Park Avenue beckoned, with her magnetic singing and droll comedy heard at the Blue Angel and Le Cupidon, also in New York clubs like Cerutti and Little Casino. In the early 1950's she became the main draw of the Bon Soir –nicknamed "Barnes Soir"- the cellar club on Eighth Street in Greenwich Village that later became a showcase for Barbra Streisand.

Sketch for "By the beautiful sea"

Staid England cheered the mirthful Mae at the London Colony and Astor. She worked in England as replacement for the star in Jack Hylton's revue "The Knights of Madness". She has appeared many times on television, as in "The Kitty Foyle Show".
A favorite of high society, she frequently performed at Elsa Maxwell's parties and counted the Duke and Duchess of Windsor among her friends. In 1950, Barnes also appeared in the "Ziegfeld Follies" show which starred Talullah Bankhead, and appeared in "Rainbow" with Charles Ruggles and Libby Holman. Her final Broadway appearance was in 1954 in "By the Beautiful Sea", starring Shirley Booth.
In this busy career, there has been little time for the recording studios, but, as she continued to do shows in clubs around the world into the 1960's, Mae recorded for Atlantic (1953) and Vanguard Records (1958), plus an unreleased live date for Atlantic in 1960. She is prominently featured on "The Erteguns' New York: New York Cabaret Music" (Atlantic), an anthology released in 1987.
Barnes was famous for her special material, songs like "(I Ain't Gonna Be No) Topsy", a statement of Black pride and for her mocking interpolations into familiar lyrics. She loved to poke fun at the songs of the day. Other signature songs included "On the Sunny Side of the Street", "I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter", "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "They raided the joint and took everybody down but me", all sung in a rhythmically charged style that combined the insinuation of the bawdy blues with taut jazz phrasing.
Twisting a key line in Harold Arlen's "One for My Baby", the words "set 'em up Joe", became "stick 'em up Joe".
Mae Barnes remembers... "Bessie used to wear the most fabulous costumes. Birds of paradise all in her hair. Along the sides of her gowns there were feathers sticking out from everywhere. Then she changed and wore evening gowns with beads and rhinestones; they were popular in those days. No sequins, but just beads, beads, loads of beads and rhinestones, big rhinestones".


There's been a cd edition of this Vanguard lp at DRG records but it seems out of print…

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