Wild Women Don't Have the Blues (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 20, Number 3, September 1990
- pp. 71-72
- Additional Information
FILM REVIEW Wild Women Don't Have the Blues. Produced by Carol Doyle Van Valkenburgh and Christine DaIl in association with WTTW, Chicago, PBS. Directed by Christine Dale. Production company: Calliope Film Resources. 1989. 58 minutes. Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith and Ida Cox, all AfricanAmerican singers in the early twentieth century, gave Americans their most enduring original song: the blues. Wild Women Don't Have the Blues tells the story of their careers from the early years in traveling vaudeville and minstrel shows to more glamorous times as recording artists and actresses in the 1920s and 1930s. Their music, though originally performed on the Theatre Owners Booking Association (TOBA) circuit for African-American audiences, eventually captivated the nation as the blues craze began in the 1920s. Wild Women Don't Have the Blues is largely an oral history of women blues singers in the early twentieth century. Interviews with former blues entertainers Ida Goodson, Mae Barnes, Doll Thomas, Blue Lu Barker, Danny Barker, and Sammy Price reveal the origins of the blues phenomenon and its private impact on the African-American artists who gave it life. Contemporary blues singer, Koko Taylor, tells how these early musicians spoke to her experience as an African-American woman and inspired her own desire to sing blues. Interspersed with these interviews are black and white photographs, film clips, and early sound recordings of the more famous artists. A narrative fills in some factual gaps and holds the disparate interviews together. Many of the blues singers discussed in this film came from the rural South, where they had grown up hearing traditional African-American work songs and church music, from which they derived their own music. Some of their songs told of the personal pain from the trials of life or of unfaithful lovers. Others contained sexual innuendo and double entendres. As Mae Barnes recalled of her career: "That's all I did in some of the clubs - just sing dirty songs all night long. You've never heard such songs!" Their music was an important part ofthe revolution in manners and morals we've come to associate with the American 1920s. 71 These "wild women" and the songs they sang also had a significant impact on the place and image of African Americans in the United States. Although they did not overcome racial segregation and racism in the nation, blues singers helped open up opportunities for other black performers - on the TOBA circuit and eventually in white-dominated recording studios. And in so doing, they presented themselves in attractive clothes, elegant poses, and in autonomous roles, all of which ran counter to the prevailing stereotypes. They adopted such names as "The Empress" and "The Georgia Peach" to fit the parts they now played in the American entertainment industry. Wild Women Don't Have the Blues is appropriate for courses on twentieth-century American culture or in African-American studies courses. The interviews, photos, and early recordings show the profound effect these talented artists had on the dominant white culture. Though they could not always surmount racial barriers in society, these women helped alter the form and style of popular entertainment in America and created a lasting place for African-American music. Susan Curtis Purdue University 72 ...