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Kitty Brown

Active 1920s - 1930s.

Kitty Brown purred her way to minor glory on the classic blues scene with a series of sides cut in 1923 and 1924, and briefly reappeared in the following decade as a vocalist with the Les Brown big band. She is sometimes mistaken for some kind of jazz advocate based on her 1924 record entitled "I Wanna Jazz Some More," apparently considered as an advertising theme for the massive Ken Burns Jazz documentary. Even the somewhat dim Burns must have realized that Brown wasn't singing about music at all, her song a typical example of the smutty background the word "jazz" is tainted with. Not all of Brown's recordings were associated with sex and/or bodily fluids, but like any female blues singer from this era she certainly must have been under pressure to come up with this type of title. She also must have been under pressure to record more songs than her contract agreements under the name of Kitty Brown allowed, as she also piled up a series of recordings under various pseudonyms.

Her first release was the sinister combination of "Evil Blues" and "Mean Eyes," the former track cut in collaboration with bluesman Rickett Stars, most likely not a real name. Another of her musical sidekicks was LeRoy Morton, who was the manager of the somewhat better-known blues belter Clara Smith as well as a songwriter. This pair recorded "He's Never Gonna Throw Me Down" by Horace Brooks and "Keep on Going" by Al Bernard for Okeh, a typical recording project of this era in which material was provided directly through the record company's growing publishing contacts. Her last blues session under her own name produced some of the best material, including the intriguing "Family Skeleton Blues" recorded with spooky swinger Jazz Casper. Her later run with the Les Brown band resulted in only one recording, a cover version of Cole Porter's "It's De-Lovely."

It is highly likely that her releases under other names outnumber the actual Kitty Brown material, but this may be as mind-boggling a fact to determine as the real location where Noah parked his ark. One problem is that the pseudonym of Bessie Williams seemed to be particularly popular among established recording artists. Brown has been credited with being the voice behind several recordings on the Domino label done under this name, one in conjunction with another singer who called herself Flora Dale. However Rosa Henderson, Sally Ritz, Josephine Thomas, Gladys White, and Viola McCoy also made use of the Williams name. Henderson was also the real Flora Dale, one of several secret identities she had that included Rosa Green, Mae Harris, Mamie Harriat, and Sara Johnson. Listeners who feel they can keep track of all this can listen to the duet by Bessie Williams and Flora Dale and try to figure out who is Henderson, who is Brown, and which one is pretending to be Williams; oh, nevermind. As for McCoy, her real name was Amanda Brown, enough of a coincidence to launch a separate theory that Kitty Brown was really Amanda Brown, or rather Kitty Brown was really Viola McCoy who was really Amanda Brown. McCoy also used the pseudonyms of Daisy Cliff, Fannie Johnson, Gladys Johnson, and Clara White as well as the slight variation of Violet McCoy. She also cut tracks as Susan Williams, no doubt a sibling of Bessie Williams based on the theory that people who do not exist can be related to each other.

That settles the Bessie Williams question, or rather explains why it will never be settled. But Brown also recorded as Jane White, Dixie Gray, and Rosa Green, perhaps inspired by a trip to the paint store and all for the Oriole label. Dixie Gray was also the name of one of the gunslingers polished off by the legendary Doc Holliday. Yet another fake recording name she used, Mazie Leroy, may have been a tribute to Brown's partner Morton.
by Eugene Chadbourne