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Tue, 02.14.1893

Perry Bradford, Composer born

Perry Bradford

*Perry Bradford was born on this date in 1893.  He was a Black composer, songwriter, and vaudeville performer.

Born in Montgomery, Alabama, Bradford grew up in Atlanta, where his family moved when he was six, and in 1906 started working in minstrel shows. He played in Chicago as a solo pianist as early as 1909 and visited New York City the following year.  Through extensive experience with traveling minstrel shows and theatre companies, Bradford obtained exposure to Black folksongs. Bradford broke down walls of racial prejudice that had kept African American singers from recording.  

Before Bradford's influence, Black artists recorded in a style closely similar to white dance orchestras. There was little to no trace of Black musical characteristics in their recordings. Bradford persevered in getting the recording industry to value recordings of African American artists recording in the style of their Black subculture.  Bradford worked in theatre circuits throughout the South and the North from 1908–1919 in a song and dance act billed as "Bradford and Jeanette."  While in New York City, Bradford convinced Fred Hager of Okeh Records to record Mamie Smith and became her musical director.  Smith starred in Bradford's show Made in Harlem (1918). Bradford was also responsible for Smith being the first Black blues singer to appear on record (singing his "Crazy Blues") in 1920.  

Bradford claimed that his revue, Made in Harlem, was the first stage production that offered blues matter to the large, northern audience in Harlem. Bradford organized the first recording session, "That Thing Called Love," highlighting a black artist, accompanied by a white studio band, performing material specific to the African American culture.  He toured and recorded with Smith, worked with Alberta Hunter, and headed seven recording sessions from 1923–1927. Among Bradford's sidemen were Johnny Dunn, Bubber Miley, Garvin Bushell, Louis Armstrong (on two numbers in 1925), Buster Bailey, and James P. Johnson.  

He continued to promote blues and jazz recordings by publishing and managing. Bradford's influence in the recording industry was negatively affected by the crash of the stock market, as well as by the added character of jazz and African American songs.  With the rise of the Great Depression, Bradford slipped away into obscurity. In later years, he appeared to exaggerate his role in early blues, possibly a reaction to his being nearly forgotten. In 1957, Little Richard had a hit with Bradford's "Keep A-Knockin'."  In 1965, his autobiography Born With the Blues was published (New York: Oak Publications) with a foreword by Noble Sissle.  Perry Bradford died on April 20, 1970, in New York City.  

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