Alberta Hunter: Downhearted Blues, Live at the Cookery

[30 November 2011]

By Steve Horowitz

Coming back for more

Albeta Hunter was one of the founding women of recorded blues. When she was just 16 years old, Hunter sang in front of King Oliver & His Creole Jazz Band (that included Louis Armstrong). In 1921, she put out her first record, “How Long Sweet Daddy”. She continued to record throughout the ‘20s and was backed by such luminaries as Fats Waller and Fletcher Henderson. She hosted a radio program during the ‘30s, performed on Broadway, joined the USO during the Second World War and toured the globe. During the ‘50s, the 60 year old singer began working as a nurse and gave up her musical career, That’s the first half of her story. She was rediscovered in the ‘70s by John Hammond and began recording again. This live disc from 1981 has her backed by a small combo (Jimmy Lewis on bass, Gerald Cook on piano) and has her strut through a rollicking set of steamy numbers like “You Can’t Tell the Difference After Dark” and “Two-Fisted Double-Jointed Rough and Ready Man”, in addition to old standards, including “Downhearted Blues,” which she wrote back in the day and was more famously recorded by Bessie Smith. Hunter fully engages the audience, whose applause and laughter good naturedly interrupt the set. She may sing about being downhearted, but everything on this live disc is uplifting.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/150628-alberta-hunter-downhearted-blues-live-at-the-cookery/