Black Recording Artists, 1877 – 1926: An Annotated Discography                                                        GIBBS, Craig Martin(compiler)                                                                                                   McFarland &amp Co(2013)Jefferson,NC/London.                                                                             490 pp./US$95 list

Another “book of lists” that might interest some of the members! What Gibbs has done is to winkle out of his sources the usual discographical information on African American performers who recorded acoustically for (mainly) commercial enterprises. Certainly he goes before the sainted 1920 of Mamie Smith, or the 1902 date for The Dinwiddie Colored Quartet! Organized chronologically, he gives the usual info (mx#, release #, artist name, label name, personnel [when possible]) within each numbered entry – you get the picture. The compiler then lists information for his source material and available CD re-issue(s), plus his sources for this information. There is a good Preface and Introduction, followed by a table of abbreviations used, a list of recording locations in the US and abroad, followed by an example of how an entry in the text is organized. After said voluminous text from “Go” to “Whoa”, there are a number of appendices of sources beyond the obvious commercial recordings: (I) Field Recordings in the US; (II) Piano Rolls; (III) Recordings from Mexico, South America and the Caribbean: 1905 – 1926; (IV) Films (w. or without sound); (V) CD Audio Sources. He takes the “Recording Artists” idea beyond merely discs or cylinders! These five appendices are followed by a tidy bibliography. Gibbs then includes a number of indices: Individual Artists and Group Names; Recording Titles; Commercial Labels and Field Recordings. And there you are – a yeoman-like job of organizing the known information in a different fashion to previously.

One of the great truths of discography, though, is that it can never be “compleat” in all ways. Information keeps being stumbled upon and re-issues keep being compiled! When this tome was “put to bed”, I am not sure; certain obvious (to me) sources are not mentioned [e.g. – Archeophone’s two-disc set of the King Oliver Creole Band sides, for one. That was released in 2006 and reviewed by me in these pages the following year.] Gibbs tends to fall back mainly on the massive catalog of Document re-issues that Johnny Parth assembled over the decades [see Appendix V]… not that there’s anything wrong with that! But there are other sources ignored/omitted – again, probably due to when the ms was finalized as opposed to when published.

Each entry has an ID number – a useful format – and they are listed in numerical order. Then things go slightly sequentially awry, at least to my way of thinking. When there are multiple entries for a label (say, Paramount) for a generalized time period (no specific recording dates known), they are done alphabetically by artist. This destroys the chronologicality of it all: logically (to me) such entries ought to be listed numerically by matrix number. The same thing is done when there are multiple listings for the same label on the same date: alphabetically rather than by matrix sequence. It took me about half the book to figure that out and is my sole main quibble about the organization of the book!

Craig Gibbs has put a lot of effort into this publication and it is not without usefulness, once one gets used to its quirks! While some acoustic recordings took place after 1926, the compiler stops there as electrical recording had basically taken over most of the industry (save Edison!) by then. It’s a convenience/convention, similar to the 1942 pre-war/post-war cut-off point with jazz or blues discographies due to the AFM recording bans/strikes. As such, it is a cromulent decision if not a perfect one! So here’s another weighty tome to place on your shelves besides your many Rusts, your Godrich & Dixons, and other label or genre discographies you may have. It’s different enough to be useful.


p.s. – my copy’s binding is slightly shonky, as there are already some pages that have come loose.

Pub: THE IAJRC JOURNAL, Vol 47, No 1 – March 2014, p. 56.

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