Friday, October 16, 2015

Frankie was a good girl.

Frankie was a good girl.

Frankie Baker was not a prostitute and she didn't run a brothel.

And here we go again, ruining long-held myths for hundreds of elderly blues music fans.

Over the years, St. Louis' American music legends have turned blue.
Staggerlee has been recast as a pimp and Frankie Baker of the song Frankie And Johnnie has been described as a prostitute although neither characterization is true to the historical facts.

Frankie Baker who shot her lover Johnny, was a proper lady and her virtue had nothing to do with the story.

But that's the how the stories were altered as they became popular over the last century.
I don't know why that happened.
It seems some people just want their folk legends to be in the sex trade.

The song lyrics were quite clear about her, Frankie was a good girl. Ev'rybody knowed.
Yet over the years, other versions have mistreated and defamed our city's famous femme fatale of American balladry.

The popular song, (and folktale, movie, play and ballet,) dramatized the blues of a fallen woman mistreated by a no-good man.

Poor Frankie tried to move on with her life after the court found her innocent of murder.

She hoped the insults would stop but they didn't. So she moved out of town.
And then she moved to Oregon.
Nearly 40 years later, poor and aged, Frankie went to the courts again and sued (twice) to clear herself of the accusation of a, woman of unchaste character, a harlot, an adulteress, a person of lewd character.

 Baker contended that she was a respectable woman although she was being described as a, woman of easy virtue, and as a murderess in the consort of gamblers and notorious criminals.

She said that the public portrayal of her caused, scandal, infamy, shame and disgrace, and that the legend held her up as an, object of hatred, ridicule, shame and contempt.

Establishing that she was not a tramp was her only wish.

Frankie was betrayed first by her boyfriend and then in the St. Louis courthouse.

Tyrrell Williams, the Dean of Washington University's law school said that Frankie could not be harmed because the song was not about her. He testified under oath that he thought that maybe there might be an older "Frankie" song.
There is no evidence, no proof of that older song, but he said he had read about it.

Then in 1988, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, our hometown newspaper, characterized our hometown heroine as an opportunist trying to swindle money from Hollywood,
…Frankie Baker, went to the movie and saw green. She sued the movie company in 1938, complaining that it hadn't paid her a dime for what she called her story.

And as recently as 2013, St. Louis blues fans continued to slander her by writing that,
Baker ran a boarding house that probably, like many of the houses in the neighborhood, included a brothel.

Baker didn't have a boarding house.
Her occupation was not listed as Sporting as the prostitutes were called, it was Domestic, meaning she was a maid or a laundress.

One of her neighbors testified that, Frankie was a nice girl and behaved herself like a lady, and another said, There weren’t any sporting people lived there.

In the defamation trial, no one accused Frankie of immorality.
The defense was not arguing Frankie’s virtue, they sought to prove that the song wasn't about this Frankie Baker.

So now, after more than 100 years, the shaming of Frankie Baker needs to end.
And if righting this wrong ruins the song for some people, well then so be it.
She was not a courtesan, cyprian, or soiled dove and she didn't run a bawdy house of immoral purpose.
Poor Frankie was a good girl and everybody knowed.

For trustworthy information, Tim O'Neil is another very careful researcher and writer. 
His Look Back series at stltoday is always very good.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A memorial to St. Louis' jazz gentleman Clark Terry.

    "St. Louis is a jazz town - it was all around my neighborhood, and I heard it every day."

  St. Louis musicians rarely are described as such when tributes are written. Anecdotes of their life growing up in the city are sometimes left out and especially if the artist wasn't living in St. Louis when he passed. But Clark Terry always spoke highly of his hometown and had wonderful stories and lots of pride for St. Louis and its arts. As a memorial to Clark Terry who passed away yesterday, Devil At The Confluence presents Terry's words and stories of St. Louis.

  Born on South Broadway in 1920, Terry recalled when he heard St Louis' legendary Dewey Jackson band at Sauter's Park where the Skatium is today. Jackson's dynamic trumpet playing convinced Terry to become a musician. And Terry was influenced as well by the music in a sanctified church on Iron Street in Carondelet. He didn't attend the services, but he would sit out on the sidewalk and listen to the singing and shouting coming from inside. He began playing music with some friends in a street corner kazoo band and when he was sixteen he joined the Drum and Bugle Corps of the Tom Powell Post on Enright Avenue.

  The popular Jeter-Pillar's band was at the Club Plantation and Terry was looking for his break into show business. St. Louis' Sykes Smith gave him his shot by sneaking him in,
    "He'd have me come up the back stairs of the Club Plantation. He’d put a chair in the corner and I’d sit there, and when he had a solo he’d point to me, and he let me take his solos."

  Terry was also in George Hudson's band that replaced the Jeter-Pillars group at the Club Plantation. Hudson's group was well-known to the big stars touring across the country. Terry remembered when one of the biggest stars of the time, Ella Fitzgerald came to the Plantation. At six in the morning, after playing all night, Terry and his bandmates would play a game of softball. Fitzgerald tagged along.
    "She had a great voice and a great arm. She could throw your butt out at home plate from the outfield," recalled Terry.

  Dollar Bill and his Small Change was a legendary group in St. Louis jazz history, although they were never recorded. As a young trumpet player on his way up in the scene, Terry worked with Dollar Bill.
    "He was an old piano player, one of the old pros. He smoked and chewed on long cigars all the time. His slogan was, “I’m Dollar Bill from Compton Hill. I never worked, and I never will.”
One of Terry's greatest numbers is Mumbles, his impersonation of a legendary St. Louis blues singer he knew back home.

  Miles Davis was just a boy when Terry was a professional at clubs like Birdlong's, the Tune Town Ballroom, the Elks Club and the Barrel where Jimmy Forrest played. Davis always remembered the time he worked up the courage to approach Terry while on break, but Terry was more interested in the ladies on the dance floor and paid little attention to the pestering kid. It became a favorite gag for both of them to tell later in life.

  And when Terry told this story he confessed that it was what made him determined to teach and to make time for every student. In Seattle, Washington, while playing at the Palomar Theater with Count Basie, another young man approached Terry to learn from him and Terry kindly obliged. That first student was Quincy Jones. Mentoring became his focus and his pride. A Kennedy Center concert was delayed when Terry was missing from backstage at showtime. Stagehands were sent scurrying to find him. Someone heard trumpet playing in a stairwell and found Terry giving a quick scales lesson to a student who had asked him a question.

  Lionel Hampton, Count Basie and Duke Ellington took Terry away from St. Louis and eventually he was in the NBC band and on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

  Terry enjoyed returning to St. Louis, and spoke highly of his hometown and the local music that inspired him. He was very proud of his star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame at Blueberry Hill in the University City loop.

  Clark Terry's unique artistry, like his hometown's music legacy, are both largely under-appreciated. And this inadequate understanding of the city, its arts and the music that was born here is made obvious in an interview with Terry by the National Endowment for the Arts - Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program. Knowing only what he had read in books, the interviewer began talking about King Oliver and Louis Armstrong coming up the river on boats from New Orleans to bring jazz to St. Louis, but Terry interrupted him saying,
    "No, we had our own."
    "Charlie Creath, King of Cornet. Now he could play, man. He could swing. He could swing you into bad health, and all the cats wanted to swing like Charlie Creath. This is why all of the trumpet players, if you trace all the way down the line, who hung around there, had anything to do with that, like Joe Thomas, Ham Davis, Sweets Edison, Vertna Saunders, Harold Baker, Dewey Jackson, Sleepy Tomlin, Miles Davis. All of these cats had something that hinged back to Charlie Creath."

Rest in peace, Mr. Terry.
St. Louis is proud of you too.