We cannot let June slip by without acknowledging Black Music Month and the remarkable contribution of black musicians to our culture, our history, and, dare I say, our candy. Here are three of our favorites:
James P. Johnson. In 1894 and the great African American musician and composer was born. Classically trained, he went on to bridge the gap between ragtime and jazz, as back-up player for such greats as Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith, mentor to Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, among many others, and an accompanist on over 400 recordings, and colleag
ue of George Gershwin. One of his most enduring compositions, was the song, the Charleston, likely written in 1913. The popularity snowballed a 1920s hit. The flappers adopted the song and the dance, where it was featured in images of speakeasies with overflowing and deliciously illegal cocktails. In 1925, candy-maker Donley Cross, invented a candy named for the dance and the song: Charleston Chew. Hear the Charleston. Buy a Bag of Prohibition Candy and get an old time blues CD free.
Robert Johnson: Robert Johnson was born in 1911 in an environment rife with poverty, hunger and illiteracy and the KKK. Where Johnson got his start in music is anyone’s guess, but it grew at the Saturday night dances where he watched the first generation of blues masters, such as Willie Brown and Charley Patton, play. Eventually, Johnson took to the road, playing in juke joints and other places. Robert Johnson’s first recording was on November 23, 1936: Twenty-nine more followed the next year. When he died at 27, Johnson left behind a legacy that that changed music forever. One song, “It’s So Hot” was about the Hot Tamale (AKA sex). So popular was the Hot Tamale culture, Just Born, makers of the Peep, turned it into a favorite hot-and-tasty candy. Hear It’s So Hot. Buy a bag of Hot Tamales and get an old time Blues CD free.
Billie Holiday: Billie Holiday, born in 1915, was raised in an impoverished section of Baltimore. She spent spending two years in reform school, ran errands in a brothel and worked as a prostitute. Eventually, she wound up singing in a speakeasy which launched a remarkable, international career, breaking barriers as a black woman working with an all-white orchestra. Tragically she suffered from alcohol and drug addiction which landed her in jail. When released months later, talent agent Ed Fishman convinced her to give a comeback concert at Carnegie Hall. Holiday thought no one would come. Instead, the concert was sold out. Eventually, her addiction killed her but her achievements were a model for generations. Her song, “Sugar” is a classic. Hear Sugar. Buy a bag of Prohibition Toffees and get an old-time Blues CD free.
I call my baby my sugar
I never maybe my sugar
That sugar baby of mine
He’s special ration
Funny he never asks for my money
All I give him is honey
And that he can spend anytime
I’d make a million trips to his lips
If I were a bee
Because he’s sweeter than chocolate candy to me
Sugar I never cheat on my Sugar
‘Cause I’m too sweet on my Sugar
That sugar baby of mine