Today, the stars aligned while I was alphabetizing the “J” section of the ARChive’s collection of 78 rpm records – a small collection here of about 8,000. Tucked in between the Harry James and the James Johnson was a runty nine-inch record on Zon-O-Phone. I pulled it out to take a closer look. The cut: George W. Johnson’s “Whistling Girl,” Zon-O-Phone, C 5852. More intriguing, however, was this sticker on the back dates the record to this day in 1903. That’s 105 years ago boys and girls!
We’re not sure if this is the date the record was released or the date Victor bought Zon-O-Phone’s assets (probably the latter), but maybe more interesting that the synchronicity of the find is that George W. Johnson was one of the first African-American recording artists and was cutting records back when that meant singing the same song over and over into a horn. Unfortunately, however, his recorded legacy was relatively limited. He’s most famous for two songs, “The Laughing Coon” and “The Whistling Coon.” “Whistling Girl” was another opportunity for him to show off his fantastic whistling skills. (These last two link to recordings of Johnson’s songs by S.H. Dudley, the recording alias of Victor Records employee Samuel H. Rous who simply seems to be riding on Johnson’s coattails.)
There’s lots more on George W. Johnson in Tim Brooks and Richard Spottswoods history of African-Americans and the birth of the recording industry, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919.
PS: Today is her last day for a while, folks, and we’re all sad — DTN
The Whistling Girl
by Dorothy Parker
Back of my back, they talk of me,
Gabble and honk and hiss;
Let them batten, and let them be-
Me, I can sing them this:
“Better to shiver beneath the stars,
Head on a faithless breast,
Than peer at the night through rusted bars,
And share an irksome rest.
“Better to see the dawn come up,
Along of a trifling one,
Than set a steady man’s cloth and cup
And pray the day be done.
“Better be left by twenty dears
Than lie in a loveless bed;
Better a loaf that’s wet with tears
Than cold, unsalted bread.”
Back of my back, they wag their chins,
Whinny and bleat and sigh;
But better a heart a-bloom with sins
Than hearts gone yellow and dry!