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Lottie Kimbrough

Lottie Kimbrough, b. West Bottoms, Kansas City, MO, d. unknown, country blues singer, who was also billed as Lottie Beaman (her married name), Lottie Kimborough, and Lena Kimbrough (among several other names). She was a large woman and was nicknamed "the Kansas City Butterball". Her recording career lasted from 1924 to 1929. Allmusic journalist Burgin Mathews wrote that "Kimbrough's vocal power, and the unique arrangements of several of her best pieces, rank her as one of the sizable talents of the 1920s blues tradition."

Kimbrough was born in either Jonesboro, Arkansas or West Bottoms, Kansas City, Missouri, and retained close links to the Kansas City community. By 1915, she used the name Lottie Mitchell, and had married William Beaman by 1920. She was managed by Winston Holmes, himself a local musician and music promoter. Her music career began in the early 1920s, when she performed in nightclubs and speakeasies in Kansas City. In 1924 she undertook her first recording session, at Paramount Records, where she was recorded alongside Ma Rainey. Her earliest recordings used the twins Milas (banjo) and Miles Pruitt (guitar). She was later backed by Jimmy Blythe (piano). In 1925 she shared recording studio space with Papa Charlie Jackson. The same year she cut some tracks for Merrit Records, owned by Holmes. Kimbrough recorded and performed using a number of pseudonyms. She used her married name, Lottie Beaman, on almost half of her tracks, but for her 1926 recording sessions Holmes suggested that she be renamed Lena Kimbrough. He also used a photograph of her more photogenic sister, Estella, for publicity. Kimbrough also appeared billed as Clara Cary and as Mae Moran. She further recorded in Richmond, Indiana, and pseudonyms were used for issues by Gennett Records, Champion Records (which billed her as Lottie Emerson), Supertone Records (as Lottie Brown) and Superior Records (as Martha Jackson). Her Gennett sessions produced the tracks "Rolling Log Blues" and "Goin' Away Blues", which music journalist Tony Russell described as having "haunting beauty". Kimbrough's brother Sylvester appeared with her in vaudeville, and in 1926 he supplied recording accompaniment for Paul Banks's Kansas City Trio. However, it was Kimbrough's musical collaboration with Holmes which produced her better-known recordings. Holmes supplied yodels and vocalised bird calls and train whistles on "Lost Lover Blues" and "Wayward Girl Blues" (1928). Miles Pruitt participated in this recording and was a regular partner throughout Kimbrough's recording and concert career. He was featured again when Kimbrough recorded her final session in November 1929. Her song "Rolling Log Blues" (which she wrote) has been recorded by Jo Ann Kelly, Woody Mann, Son House, the Blues Band, Rory Block, Eric Bibb, Maria Muldaur, and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Little is known of her life beyond her recording career.


by Burgin Mathews
Lottie Kimbrough was a Kansas City blues woman whose brief recording career spanned the years 1924 to 1929. She shared her first recording session for Paramount Records with the legendary Ma Rainey in 1924, and much of her work demonstrates close ties to the classic blues tradition for which Rainey is well known. Kimbrough emerged from the musically rich West Bottoms area of Kansas City and was a central figure in the vibrant, close-knit musical community of her city. As her recordings demonstrate, Kimbrough performed alongside a number of the area's talented personalities and sidemen, most notably the performer and promoter Winston Holmes, who managed much of Kimbrough's career.

Kimbrough was a famously large woman, nicknamed "the Kansas City Butter-ball." Throughout her career, she recorded and performed under several pseudonyms: Half of her recordings were released under her married name, Lottie Beaman, while Holmes encouraged her to use the name Lena Kimbrough on the 1926 recordings (Holmes also substituted a picture of Kimbrough's more attractive sister Estella for one of Lottie's publicity photographs). Her first Paramount recordings, made in 1924, featured the Pruitt Twins, Miles on guitar and Milas on banjo; later that year, she produced additional sides with strong backing by pianist Jimmy Blythe. Kimbrough performed the vaudeville circuit with her brother Sylvester, and he appears, along with Paul Banks' Kansas City Trio, on the 1926 recordings. Kimbrough reached her greatest level of sophistication and creativity, however, in her collaboration with Holmes, who provided yodels, bird calls, and train whistles on the 1928 masterpieces "Lost Lover Blues" and "Wayward Girl Blues," creating a unique synthesis of styles. These recordings again featured the masterful guitar of Miles Pruitt, who remained a steady partner throughout Kimbrough's career, accompanying her final recorded performances in November of 1929. Both Kimbrough and Holmes also lent their voices to Rev. B.L. Wrightman's congregation, illustrating the breadth of the recording community to which they belonged. Though her own recorded output is relatively small, Kimbrough's vocal power and the unique arrangements of several of her best pieces rank her as one of the sizable talents of the 1920s blues tradition.