[AUTHOR'S NOTE: I finally got my wish: an artist who was fairly easy to research. There weren't many people named Mabel Scott (although a good deal of the time papers spelled her name "Mable".)]
Mabel Scott recorded one of my favorite songs ("Googie Woogie (Jungle Boogie)"), a wonderful piece of inspired nonsense. Happily for me, when I started listening to her other numbers, I found several more that I really liked.
There has been a lot written about Mabel on the Internet; a good deal of it is incorrect. What I found most interesting is that, while all accounts talk about her marriage to singer/pianist Charles Brown, not a single account (even in newspapers of the time) ever noted that marriage was more of a hobby with Mabel than anything else. She went to the altar seven times in a 25-year period (Charles was merely number five). I'll mention them all in turn, but, in truth, I'm not even 100% certain that I've uncovered all of them.
Mabel, the daughter of Thomas and Rachel Scott was born in Richmond, Virginia, on April 30, 1915. When she originally registered with Social Security in May 1937, she gave her name as Mabel Bernice Jackson Scott. I've not been able to determine what the significance of the "Jackson" was. It's either part of her given name or there was an eighth marriage that I'm unaware of.
Mabel's family moved to New York City around 1921. In 1925 (when there was a New York State census) Thomas (a chauffer) and Rachel lived in the Bronx with their three children, Wilbert, Robert, and Mabel. However, by the time of the 1930 census, Rachel was living in Manhattan with Robert and Mabel. There's no trace of Thomas Scott, although Rachel said she was married. Brother Wilbert seems to have disappeared too, unless he's the Wilbert Scott who turned up as a lodger in Washington, DC in the 1940 census. Since there was almost no information given for him, I assume that he was never home when the census taker came and the family he was living with did the best they could to fill in the blanks.
At the age of seven, Mabel began taking piano lessons and singing at the Metropolitan Baptist Church (128th Street and 7th Avenue in Harlem). Supposedly, she formed a female gospel group called the Song Cycles, however, I can't find any mention of them in the press.
But the lure of secular entertainment was great and, by August 1930, at age 15, she began performing at Harlem's Alhambra Theater (although, because of her age, she only appeared at matinees, not evening shows). The August 23, 1930 Pittsburgh Courier mentions Mabel as part of the cast of the musical comedy "Radio Wives" [sic; should be "Radio Waves"] at the Alhambra (starring Amanda Randolph). Note that these revues generally only ran for a week.
The week beginning May 16, 1931, she was back at the Alhambra, in a production called "Hit And Run", starring Lillyan Brown. She was there again in August, along with "Jazzlips" Richardson. This time, she got more than just her name mentioned in the press: The New York Age of August 8 said, "Freddie Robinson, Norman Astwood and Mabel Scott are well received and Emmett Matthews [sic] and his band keep the show pepped up." Mabel was on her way. (Bandleader, singer, and soprano saxophonist Emmett Mathews would eventually join the Red Caps, and Freddie Robinson would become half of the comedy team of Freddie & Flo.)
October 1931's Alhambra show was called "Paris Follies". Mabel made it to the cast list immediately before "and others".
As soon as that week-long show closed, she was hired by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson to be part of a production called "Hot From Harlem" that was now "working the west" at R.K.O. and Keith theaters. I could find mentions of them in Atlantic City, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Chicago, Akron, Buffalo, Toronto, and Boston, but I don't know exactly when she joined (nothing ever mentioned who was in the cast). Considering that Mabel was only 16, it's possible that her mother or brother went along. She left the show when it returned to New York in December, although it kept going for at least another six months. Also, considering that she was only 16, it really says a lot about her talent that she'd been hired by Bill Robinson.
Mabel immediately became part of a show on December 26 at the Dunbar Palace (on Seventh Avenue in Harlem). The New York Age (January 2, 1932) said, "A very pleasing bill was presented by Mr. Perci Johnson, master of Ceremonies, who introduced the snappy Mabel Scott in one of her bewitching song and dance numbers." On January 29, she performed at the Rockland Palace. The January 30 New York Age said, "It was left to the popular Mabel Scott to climax the entertainment with the introducing of a new song 'Old Man Depression.' She was ably assisted by Cecil Scott's orchestra and had to give several encores. The only unpleasantness of the evening was the charging of 25 cents by the cloak room attendant for the checking of wraps." These reviews certainly give the impression that she, at 16, was well-known on the Harlem entertainment circuit.
In March 1932, the entertainers at Harlem's Smalls Paradise made a movie called "Smash Your Baggage". It was filmed at the Brooklyn Vitaphone Studio and released in May by Vitaphone's parent company, Warner Brothers. (It was playing at the Des Moines [Iowa] Theater on May 12, and the Liberty Theater [Sedalia, Missouri] on May 15.) Vitaphone had been filming as many Vaudeville and other stage acts as possible. They were taking advantage of the new sound medium to bring these acts to parts of the country that would never get to see them perform any other way. For example, they filmed Burns & Allen, Baby Rose Marie, the Foy Family (Eddie Foy's children, in a really embarrassingly bad routine), and many, many others.
"Smash Your Baggage", a 10-minute extravaganza, told the heartwarming story of Red Caps (railroad baggage handlers) putting on a show to raise money to pay the hospital bill for one of their own who had a problem with a "berth mark" [don't ask]. The cast included Wayman Carver, Leonard Davis, Doris Rheubottom, singer Emmett "Babe" Wallace, bandleader Elmer Snowden, saxophonist Al Sears, trumpeter Roy Eldridge, drummer Sid Catlett (many years before he recorded "Open The Door, Richard"), trombonist George Washington (many years before he recorded "Open The Door, Richard"), trombonist Dicky Wells, and dancer Henry "Rubberlegs" Williams. It also had a rope-skipping tap dancer and really highlighted the fine entertainment that was offered at Smalls Paradise. Relatively new to the cast, Mabel was in the film as the lead female dancer (wearing a black blouse). All over the Internet, it says that Mabel is the female singer doing "Stop The Sun, Stop The Moon", but that's clearly a different woman, as you'll see in the accompanying photos (most probably Doris Rheubottom). The only cast credit in my copy says "Small's [sic] Paradise Entertainers". (Note that, although you'll see "Small's Paradise" and "Smalls' Paradise" the club's name is correctly spelled without an apostrophe, at least on the club's marquee, which is good enough for me.)
Mabel's first documented appearance at Smalls Paradise was on April 5, 1932, She appeared as part of the "High Brown Rhythm Revue", along with Elmer Snowden's Band. (This was at the time when the Harlem nightclub, at 135th Street and 7th Avenue, was run by its original proprietor, Edwin Smalls; in the 1950s it would be purchased by Tommy "Dr. Jive" Smalls, who was no relation. In the 1960s, it was bought by basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain.)
On Friday June 10, she was part of the "Rhapsody In Rhythm Revue" at the Lafayette Theater ("America's Leading Colored Theater"), starring Claude Hopkins and his Roseland Band. Also on the bill were the 3 Ink Spots (nope, not them, this was a jive band and dance team). Mabel was back with the "High Brown Rhythm Revue" at Smalls Paradise later in June. It now featured Doris Rheubottom, Emmett "Babe" Wallace, Danny Brown, Roy White, "and a chorus of beauties".
November 4, 1932 found the Smalls Paradise crew as part of the entertainment at the Grand Charity Ball thrown by the New York Urban League.
On December 4, 1932, Smalls Paradise hosted a benefit cabaret party for the Colored Mothers Fund. Entertaining was the "Black Rhythm Revue" (which had started in mid-October), with Charlie Johnson & His Paradise Orchestra (the regulars at Smalls). The cast included the Palmer Brothers and Mabel Scott (plus many others I've never heard of). Also performing were Bill Robinson, Jimmie Baskette and the Nicholas Brothers (all of the Cotton Club), and the Berry Brothers (from Connie's Inn). Mabel's big number was "Rhythm Mad". The review of the show in the October 15 Pittsburgh Courier said, "The chorus whirls away! The applause is deafening as Mabel Scott enters to do her number ... She sings! And can she sing? It is a pleasure to hear the girl croon."
Then there was the Stein Club's Xmas Eve Revelry, held at the Dunbar Palace on December 24. The Smalls Paradise crew was there, as were entertainers from the Radium Club. The December 24 New York Age said, "The tantalizing Mable Scott, one of Smalls Paradise song-birds will sing request numbers as only she can chirp them." [Note that I'm not going to correct any "Mable" spellings; there are just too many of them.] She's getting pretty well-known at only 17.
As an aside, I'm surprised at how many times, over the years, Mabel is referred to as just a "dancer", rather than a singer who also dances, or as just a "pianist", rather than a singer who also plays the piano. Once, she was termed a "singing comedienne".
In April, 1933, Smalls Paradise hosted the "Howard Elmore Revue", with the 3 Speed Demons, William Sellman, the Palmer Brothers, Mabel Scott, and Charlie Johnson's Paradise Orchestra. Elmore was the show's director.
And now [pause for drum roll], we come to the first of Mabel's marriages. On May 3, 1933, she married Willie Ward in New York. While he made many gossip columns over the years, none of them ever said just who he was.
After a brief honeymoon, Mabel joined the cast of "Dewey's Snappiest Revue" at the Harlem Opera House ("The Joy Spot Of Harlem"). It didn't bother to say who Dewey was (possibly Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham), but Benny Carter led the band. It was booked for only four days, from July 29 to August 1.
Then it was back to the Dunbar Palace for a Diamond Dukes dance on October 7. The New York Age (September 9, 1933), talking about the upcoming show, called her "Harlem's tragedienne of song". October 21 found her at the Renaissance Ballroom. The October 28 New York Age raved about the show, and said, "Mabel Scott, of night club fame, sang 'My Forgotten Man' as only she can."
Also in September, Warner Brothers - Vitaphone released "Rufus Jones For President", starring Ethel Waters and Sammy Davis, Jr. (a 21-minute short). In it, Mabel (uncredited) sings "Puttin' It On" near the end of the film.
And then, the Big Time, on November 2, 1933, she was part of the cast of the new Cotton Club floor show, along with Cab Calloway, Aida Ward, Sally Gooding, the Nicholas Brothers, Bessie Dudley, Herbert Brown, the 3 Dukes, Dusty Fletcher (presumably doing his "Open The Door, Richard" act), Claude Hopkins & his Roseland Ballroom Orchestra (with Orlando Roberson), and an up and comer named Leona Horne (yup, that's Lena). This was when the Cotton Club was still on 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem; it would move downtown to Broadway and 48th Street after the March 1935 Harlem riots.
Without knowing it, Mabel fulfilled a dream of all future black entertainers: playing the Apollo Theater. Not only the Apollo, but the actual opening show of the Apollo on January 26, 1934. (The Apollo had been a white burlesque house, but that night it switched over to "all-colored productions".) On the stage for the opening, along with Mabel, were Aida Ward, Dusty Fletcher, the 3 Rhythm Kings (dancers; not the contemporaneous white singing group), the 3 Farmer Boys, Norton & Margot, Ralph Cooper's band, Benny Carter's orchestra, and Troy Brown. The New York Age of February 3 reviewed the show and said of her, "Mable Scott from the Cotton Club also pleased with her songs but would be wise to pay more attention to her voice and less to wriggling and prancing about the stage." This would be a common criticism over the years, although some critics loved it.
Then it was off to the Regal Theater in Chicago, where she appeared in the "Pepper Pot Revue" along with McKinney's Cotton Pickers.
On June 23, 1934, she was back at the Harlem Opera House, along with the 3 Keys, contortionist dancer Brady "Jigsaw" Jackson, Pearl Baines, Bill Bailey, Slim & Eddy, and the Hardy Bros. Band.
The September 1, 1934 New York Age, in its gossip column said: "Rumor has it that Mabel Scott and her husband, Willie Ward, are planning a divorce." Get used to this, folks.
Presumably she'd made a hit with the Apollo audiences, since she was invited back on September 7. The September 8 New York Age said, "Mabel Scott, an old favorite [not a bad epithet for a 19-year old performer] attired in a gown, matchless in its delicate simplicity, sang a couple of songs, feelingly, and did a dance routine with pep and dash accompanied by the ladies of the ensemble." That’s the only way we know she was in the show, because her name didn't appear in the Apollo ad.
Uh-oh! The October 20, 1934 New York Age, in its gossip column again, told us, "Willie Ward is now riding around in his car alone, which has a lot of folks wondering if there isn't some truth in the report that he and his frau, Mabel Scott, the acrobatic songbird have split." Don't take it personally, Willie, she's still got a half-dozen husbands to go through. But, if it's any consolation, you were the first.
In November, it was back to the Harlem Opera House, along with the Nicholas Brothers and Honey Coles [sic; although pronounced "honey", it was actually Charles "Honi" Coles]. "Mable Scott in all her dynamic energy is turned loose on the stage and proves that she can still go over big", said the November 10 New York Age. From there, she played a week at the Howard Theater in Washington, DC.
On Friday, November 30, she began a week at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem, sharing the stage with Willie Bryant & His Band, the 4 Queens Of Rhythm, Gee Gee James, Apus & George, and the Careyettes. (Don't forget the cake walk contest on Monday night.)
The December 1, 1934 Pittsburgh Courier said "Lil Armstrong [at this time separated from husband Louis] is quite a favorite in Buffalo [New York]. She has Mabel Scott on her bill." I don't know what to make of this, since Mabel was clearly at the Harlem Opera House and the Lafayette during that time, and nowhere near Buffalo.
In March and early April 1935, Mabel appeared at the Memphis Club in Philadelphia, along with these other "shining lights": Alfreda Allman, Margaret Simms, Julia McKenny, Lulu May, Marcia Marquez, Annabelle Laws, Roscoe Simmons, and "Fats" Smith..
A distressing headline in the April 27 Pittsburgh Courier: "Smashed Glasses; Actress Is Fired". It went on to say that, "For starting a row during the last floor show at the Villa Maurice Club, Newark, Mabel Scott, pretty entertainer from Harlem was finally discharged by the proprietors of the place, it is charged". It went on to say: "Before she cooled off, however, it is alleged that the angry girl had hit an entertainer in the mouth.... [and] abused members of the orchestra, and then, to add a jingle to her departure, smashed several shell glasses on her 'black out'." However, the next sentence strangely said, "Miss Albert was quite popular ...." It turns out, that they were actually talking about another entertainer named Mabel Albert and, after Mabel Scott wrote an angry letter to the Courier denying that it was she and saying that, "For the past two weeks I have been working with Don Redman's unit. Previous to that, I worked two clubs in Philadelphia, the Onyx Club and the Memphis Club. I have been embarrassed to the point of distraction by the article, and trust that the entire story is corrected, for the benefit of the entire reading public."
That did the trick. The May 11, 1935 Pittsburgh Courier contained a retraction (and a very nice one at that): "May it please your honor, Miss Mable Scott, if I beg your pardon for placing your name on the blame column last week concerning that glass smashing and cabaret disturbance in Newark, It wasn't you, it was Mable Albert, the proprietor told me. But it was you whom I saw smashing attendance records at the Lafayette and Harlem Opera House, when I saw you last. Your unique style of selling a song makes you a public favorite. Keep it up and good luck."
Mabel appeared with Don Redman (the "Crown Prince Of Rhythm", although the article repeatedly spelled his name "Redmon") at the Albee in Providence, Rhode Island in April, immediately after her stint at the Memphis Club. The show got rave reviews in the April 20 Pittsburgh Courier, which said: "The spice of the specialties were done by a fidgety young lady, Mabel Scott, who sang, danced and pranced throughout three especially written songs, begging off after three bows." Another article that talked about their prior show at the Paramount Theater in Syracuse, New York (in the April 13 New York Age), also misspelled his name as "Redmon".
On June 28, 1935, she began another week at the Apollo Theater. The headliner was Ethel Waters, with Clarence Robinson's Revue. Listed separately was "Sunshine Sammy and Band, with Mabel Scott". Ernest "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison had been an original member of the "Our Gang" movies, when they were still silent films. On September 20, the Sunshine Sammy Revue opened at the Lincoln Theater. Along with Mabel, the cast of 50 included the Hardy Brothers Orchestra, the Washboard Serenaders, the 3 Little Words, and Chink Evans ("the world's laziest man").
A few days later, Mabel appeared at the Stable, in Philadelphia along with Gladys Mike, Bee Morton, Lulu Mae, and Harold Allen & His Jockeys. Although there are no prior listings for her there, a blurb said it was a return engagement for Mabel, who seemed to also be performing at another, unnamed, Philadelphia theater at the same time.
On November 1, 1935, Mabel was back at the Apollo, this time with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. The show was called the "Derby Day In Dixie Revue" and also featured the 4 Gobs, the Giants Of Harmony, 2 Jockeys & A Tout, Jelli Smith, Hattie Nolles, Little Bits & Jo-Jo [sic; should have been "Yo-Yo"], Buster Newman, Ventriloquist Rogers, and Louise Warner.
An interesting blurb ran in the November 30 Pittsburgh Courier. Headed "Mable Scott", it went:
She has been in this game several years. Her success, like yours or mine has been mild and as you would say, nothing to brag about. But as this is written, Miss Scott stands right in the doorway which will lead her far beyond the horizon of a great success. She has always had the stuff, but there was no one to give her that real chance. Therefore, while others are happy and thankful for this or that, she should lift her eyes towards the setting sun and give thanks for the creation of ones like Lunceford and Oxley whose faith in the development of talent has given to her the great chance.
I don't know. It seems to me that she'd been doing pretty well before this, although the writer didn't seem to think so. "Oxley" is Harold Oxley, Jimmie Lunceford's manager, who also became Mabel's. I suppose that this apotheosis of Oxley was written by one of the press agents he employed.
In early December 1935, the "Derby Day In Dixie" revue played in Cleveland. The Pittsburgh Courier review of December 7, 1935 loved the music and acting, while hating the show itself. "Putting Jimmie Lunceford and his band of master musicians into such a revue is like putting a beautiful diamond in a brass ring." The criticism fell on the show's producer, Harry Gourfain: "Mr. Gourfain may be one of the nation's leading producers, but he evidently knows nothing about Negro wit, humor or how to stage a show with Colored talent. He goes to extremes with his putrid touches of alleged production genius. His opening is to have Jimmie Lunceford and the musicians dressed up like an old-time darky minstrels brass band. They strut and prance silly-like about the stage.... Dan G[r]issom, Chicago boy vocalist, Willie Smith, Dusty Fletcher, and Jimmie Lunceford do their best to put over what is known in theatrical parlance 'as a sad show'. They deserve the Nobel prize for their stellar work." The review didn't mention anything about Mabel, other than her name. From there, it was on to Detroit and New York, before turning "Derby Day In Dixie" over to Blanche Calloway at the end of the year.
When he left "Derby", Lunceford took his band and some of the cast to Fays, in Philadelphia. Along with Mabel, said the ad, were the 4 Bobs (actually the 4 Gobs), Yo-Yo & Little Bits, Pauline Edwards, Pigmeat Markham, Jimmie Baskette, and John Mason (possibly doing an "Open The Door, Richard" routine).
The gossip hound in the February 15, 1936 Pittsburgh Courier had this to say: "Mabel Scott and her hubby will soon be melted and she will try it all over again with a horn tooting papa in Jimmie Lunceford's band." Since he was never further identified, here are some 1936 possibilities from the orchestra: Earl "Jock" Carruthers (sax), Joe Thomas (sax), Willie Smith (sax), Ed Brown (sax), Dan Grissom (sax), Paul Thomas (trumpet), Eddie Tompkins (trumpet), Paul Webster (trumpet), Sy Oliver (trumpet), Elmer Crumbley (trombone), Russell Bowles (trombone), and Eddie Durham (trombone). Pick one you like (heck, pick several, if you like).
There was this interesting piece in the March 20, 1936 Brooklyn Daily Eagle: "Clifford Fischer, director of the Folies Bergere, was so impressed with the work of Mabel Scott, a member of the sixth edition of the Ubangi Club Follies, that he immediately signed her to an eight-week contract. Miss Scott will shortly leave for France to join the Paris edition of the show." Sailing for Europe in June (see below), she made such a big hit that the eight weeks became six months.
Mabel, with Lunceford, was back at the Apollo the week of March 27, 1936. Also on the bill were "Pig Markham", Jim Baskette, Ray & Trent, and a cast of 50. The show was reviewed in the April 4 New York Age: "There ought to be a law compelling every metropolitan race resident to look in on Jimmy [sic] Lunceford's band at the Apollo this week and see to what heights of versatility and novelty it is possible for an orchestra to ascend." More to the point, "Mabel Scott, the tempestuous song shouter, managed to work herself up to a fever pitch in putting over 'The Day I Let You Get Away.' She's a novelty these days. Believe it or not, she doesn't use a microphone."
All accounts of Mabel Scott say that she moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1936, but I don't believe it. (If it's true, I'd like see some objective proof.) Looking ahead a bit, when she returned from Europe in December 1936, she gave her address as 22 West 135 Street, in Harlem. It was 236 West 135 Street when she next returned from Europe in October 1938. Finally, in April 1940, at the time of the census, she was living in Harlem. So when was she in Cleveland?
In June 1936. Mabel made her first trip to Europe, starting in Paris. The New York Age of August 8 crowed:
For the past few weeks, Mabel Scott, the American song stylist, has been creating a terrific sensation because of her captivating entertainment at the exclusive Chez Florence. Miss Scott was engaged for the famous Parisian night club by Clifford Fischer, well-known impresario of New York City and London.
Miss Scott has been held over because of her remarkable success following her debut here eight weeks ago. There is a possibility that the talented American bronze songstress will tour the entire European Continent before returning to her native soil.
Then, it was off to various venues in London. [NOTE: Most of Mabel's European experiences were documented in English papers and magazines. Much of what follows was taken from the summaries of those accounts found at the National Jazz Archive.]
On September 7, she began a week's stay at the San Marco Restaurant in London. In November, she was at the Cocoanut Grove, also in London. Actually, as far as I can tell, all of her English appearances were limited to London.
A December 26, 1936 Pittsburgh Courier article mentioned that she'd also appeared at the San Marco and Oddenino's restaurants in London. More interesting was this sentence: "She appeared in the official opening of the British television program and can therefore claim to be the first colored artist to be televised in England."
What they're talking about is "Cabaret", a weekly 25-minute television show that featured music, comedy, and novelty acts. Mabel appeared on its initial November 7 broadcast. (I never heard of any of the others on the show; they were, presumably, well-known in London.) On November 2, the BBC had begun its first regular television broadcasts. How many people could have seen them? No more than 500 television sets existed in London at this time and the station was only on the air from 3:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon and 9:00 to 10:00 in the evening. I imagine that most of those 500 sets were in public viewing areas, rather than in private homes. [Just as in the early days of radio, no one knew exactly what to do with the new medium at the beginning. On November 20, for example, the BBC broadcast a 15 minute demonstration of ironing in both time slots!]
Only four days later, she appeared on a second TV show: a 30-minute program called "Burnt Sepia", with an all-black cast, broadcast twice on December 11, 1936. (And when I say "twice", I mean that, since the station was only on the air for two separated hours, and since there was no way to record shows in those days, the entire show was re-done, live.) Mabel sang "Swing Is The Thing" and "Rhythm Is My Nursery Rhyme". The show also had (Buddy) Harris & (Bert) Howell, dancers, as well as Buddy Bradley's Sepia Chorines, pianist/singer Garland Wilson, and trumpeter Cyril Blake. (Now that I think about it, her November 7 appearance on "Cabaret" was probably broadcast twice also.)
According to a later article (in the March 18, 1944 Pittsburgh Courier), Mabel had been in the British movie "Dreamy Lips" (actually "Dreaming Lips"), starring Elizabeth Bergner and Raymond Massey. Filmed during her 1936 stay, it was released by Trafalgar Films in May 1937. Her name doesn't appear in the cast list and she's only seen very briefly, while performing "Dreaming Lips" in a nightclub setting.
In spite of subsequent reports that she'd been in Europe for two straight years, Mabel sailed for home, on the S.S. Normandie, on December 18, 1936, arriving in New York on December 23.
Home at last, Mabel was the subject of a December 26, 1936 Pittsburgh Courier piece whose headline screamed "London Society Acclaims Mabel Scott As A Miracle Of Loveliness". I have to say, and it surprises me to do so, that much of what was written about Mabel over the years wasn't the normal press agent drivel that I'm constantly making fun of. Many blurbs were quite restrained. Not so this piece of junk. Just the above title and the phrase "her vernal freshness" had me reeling. Interestingly, I've found that some form of the verb "acclaim" in an article's title always serves to indicate that most of what follows will be nonsense.
After a little time off, she appeared with Jimmie Lunceford at the Apollo Theater the week beginning February 2, 1937. Also on the bill were the 4 Step Brothers, Jelli Smith, Taps Miller, Pauline Edwards, Adelaide Marshall, Pigmeat Markham, and Jimmie Baskette (whom you know as "Uncle Remus" in Disney's "Song Of The South"). The February 6 Pittsburgh Courier let us know how lucky Apollo audiences were: "Featured on the Lunceford farewell bill at the Apollo [he'd soon be off on a European tour] will be Mabel Scott, who is making her first American appearance since returning from Europe where kings and queens applauded her singing rhythm...." I suppose there were actually people who believed this stuff!
In April, Mabel and Lunceford were at the Nixon Grand in Philadelphia. Others in the cast were the Phantom Steppers, Sandy Burns, Dusty Fletcher (probably doing his "Open The Door, Richard" routine), George Wiltshire, the Six Cotton Club Boys, and my own personal favorites: "others".
In July 1937, Mabel was off to Europe again, this time taking her own pianist, Bob Mosley (sometimes appearing as "Mosely"), whom she had met at the Kit Kat Club in New York. The gossip column of the March 12, 1938 Pittsburgh Courier documented the event as only it could: "It might surprise George (Playboy) Williams to know that his supposed heart-beater, Mabel Scott, and her pianist, Bob Mosley, are running a temperature in Europe, with nobody to stop them." George Williams was a Harlem businessman, restaurateur, and man-about-town whom we'll meet again in a bit. (However, he's not the George Williams who was Jimmie Lunceford's arranger.)
Their first engagement seems to have been the Chez Victoria, in Cannes, France. Mabel didn't reach England again until December 1937, opening at Le Trianon, in London's Hotel Jules. By mid-January 1938, she was at Chez Henri, also in London. Later that month, she was back at Le Trianon for a week.
Then, it was the Havana Club (London) on February 4 for 10 days (she was followed by Una Mae Carlisle).
Mabel had been in a movie, been on television, and, presumably been on radio (although I haven't seen her name listed up till this point). Now it was time for the next medium: recordings. Probably in late January or early February 1938, she and Mosley recorded two songs for Parlophone, in London. However, these particular sides were never released and their titles are unknown.
Next came the Paradise Club, where she started on February 14. The very next day she also opened at Ciro's. I'm not sure how long the double engagements continued, but her Paradise Club appearances were only at 1:00 AM and 2:30 AM, so that gave her plenty of time to work a second job. This all probably stopped in late February, when she opened in the Revue Folies De Can Can at the Prince Of Wales Theater, a show that lasted until May 20.
Sometime in March 1938 she was on a radio show, called "Tunes Of The Town", which featured some of the numbers from the Folies. Mabel (with Bob Mosley at the piano) sang "Dinah" and "Yeah, Ma'am".
On April 12, 1938, she recorded two more sides for Parlophone: "Mighty Like The Blues" and "More Than That". These were released in June, as the first ever Mabel Scott record, but I doubt that many Americans ever heard them. Her only accompaniment was Bob Mosley's piano.
In late April, she was at the Trocadero (in London's Elephant And Castle district), as part of the "Dixie Revels" show, with Al Craig & His Band. Next came the Sunday Afternoon Swing Session, held on May 1 at Levy's Sound Studios. While some of the session was recorded, none of Mabel's vocals seem to have been.
On May 2, 1938, she was back at the Havana Club. Three days later, she was part of "Blue Jam", another BBC television program. She sang "Mighty Like The Blues", but, although five other titles were listed, no one noted which ones, if any, were her vocals.
When the Revue Folies De Can Can closed, Mabel appeared, for the week beginning May 30, at the Paramount Theater on Tottenham Court Road, along with Al Craig & His St. Louis Swing Band.
On June 23, 1938, there was still another television show, this one called "Hot Jam". This time, her songs were documented: "Yeah Ma'am", "You're Driving Me Crazy", "Solitude", "Them There Eyes", "What You Going To Do When There Ain't No Swing", and "Shine".
Crossing the Channel, Mabel was booked into the Folies Bergère, in Paris in early September. It was supposed to have been an extended engagement, but, it was said, because she didn't speak French, she decided to cut it short.
Mabel left for home on the S.S. Queen Mary on October 19, 1938. She landed in New York on November 3. Pianist Robert Mosley remained in Europe for another year, returning home on December 22, 1939. He went on to join Benny Carter, Jack McVea, and Plink, Plank & Plunk.
A large article about Mabel in the November 12 New York Age (which mostly said nothing), did confusingly say that she'd been in Europe for the past two years and that this was her second trip abroad. It gushed about her personal friendship with the "former King Edward and Mrs. Simpson" (a truly detestable couple whom you'd do yourself a favor to read up on; his abdication probably saved Britain).
This appeared in the November 19, 1938 Pittsburgh Courier (yes, in the gossip column again): "Mabel Scott has been in from Europe almost two weeks now and still no opening has appeared for George Williams, who was the ruler of her heart when she departed for the old country more than two years ago. Mabel is [unreadable] chirping absence makes the heart grow fonder for somebody [unreadable] even if he is a musician."
Mabel was one of the entertainers at a dance thrown by the Istmica Club at Harlem's Renaissance Casino (boyfriend George Williams was the club's treasurer). Other acts were the 3 Chocolateers and the Wallace Brothers.
The Pittsburgh Courier of February 25, 1939 had this to say: "ON THE HITCH: Husband ... Mabel Scott is quite in accord with George Williams, who will become her main on the hitch come June." [In English, which this columnist doesn't seem to have mastered, Mabel will marry George Williams in June.]
On April 21, Mabel was once more at the Apollo. This time, she shared the stage with the Edgar Hayes Orchestra, Von Grona's Swing Ballet, Chilton & Thomas, Rubberlegs Williams, Jimmie Baskette, and Pigmeat Markham.
Actually, she didn't wait until June to marry George Williams. The New York Age of May 20, 1939 informed us, "Somebody said that Mable Scott is the most gorgeous 'chocolate colored mama' in the stage show business today .... anyway, her new husband, George Williams, is loco with that idea .... that birthday party was a solid killer, and the story goes that poor playboy George was left clean out of the picture when somebody said that he was Mr. Mable Scott .... great women make great men, and vice versa." Good luck in trying to understand all that, but the "...." are theirs; I didn't leave anything out. Her birthday was on April 30, so if the party had been on that day, it would mean that her second marriage had taken place in April; otherwise in May.
On Monday, June 5, Mabel was part of an Apollo Theater benefit show for the Harlem Children's Center of the Children's Aid Society. It ran from 1 AM through 5:30 AM and had an amazing lineup: Eubie Blake's Orchestra (in the theater's orchestra pit), plus the orchestras of Chick Webb, Jimmie Lunceford, and Mercer Ellington. There were also the bands of: Slam (Stewart) & Six Spirits Of Rhythm, Dr. Sausage & His Pork Chops, John Kirby, and Noble Sissle. Other bandleaders present (I couldn't figure out from the blurb if they brought their own orchestras): Duke Ellington, Charlie Barnett, Rudy Vallee, and Cab Calloway. If you're tired of bands, they also had: Babe Wallace, Bardu Ali, Jigsaw Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, Pigmeat Markham, Jimmy Baskette, Vivian Harris (the comedian who was called the "Voice Of The Apollo"), Billy Rowe, Dan Healy, the Southernaires, Ralph Cooper, Buck & Bubbles, Helen Kane, Willie Bryant, Billie Holiday, Stump & Stumpy, Aida Ward, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Benny Payne, Joe E. Lewis, Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, Orson Welles, Sister Tharpe, Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson, Maxine Sullivan, and Bob Parrish. Unfortunately, 18 acts had to be cancelled for lack of time, including: the Plantation Revue, Sally Gooding, the Smalls Paradise Revue, Taps Miller, Rubberlegs Williams, Honi Coles, the Cole Brothers, and Hall Johnson's World's Fair Choir. Bet you wish you'd been there.
The drama rolled on with this in the August 26 Pittsburgh Courier: "Willie Ward, Mabel Scott's ex, finding that tune which advises 'Don't Worry About Me,' to his liking and has furnished himself a bachelor apt. that's got all the [unreadable] talking ... But George Williams, the Scott lassie's present heart perker-upper, is out to open himself a new eatery on Seventh Avenue in the form of a showboat without a show." I don't think they had English As A Second Language classes then, so you'll have to forgive them. Translated, it says: Williams opened a restaurant called George's Show Boat.
The Pittsburgh Courier followed up, on September 16, with this silliness: "You might have known that George Williams, whose show boat restaurant on Seventh Avenue is among Harlem's better spots, and Mable Scott, who goes into the Cafe Society nitery in the Village this week, got married ages ago, but we'll wager you didn't know that Willie Ward, her ex-main-on-the-hitch came by the other moon time and invited George to a duel or something." C'mon, you need to know this stuff! (Or, at least, since I have to suffer with trolling through all this garbage, you have to suffer along with me.)
On September 30, 1939, the Pittsburgh Courier printed a large photo of Mabel with the caption "Auditioned For Follies". The accompanying blurb told about how she auditioned for J.J. Shubert and "may get a prize spot in the forthcoming Ziegfeld Follies". Of course, nothing further came of this.
In November, Mabel was part of the cast of the new show at George McGough's Troc, starring Roy Sedley and his Stooge. I suppose it was originally called the Trocadero, but at the time, this night club on "Swing Row" (Manhattan's 52nd Street) was just advertised as "The Troc". The New York Age of November 11 called her a "gorgeous little dimpled dancer" and "Late from Europe, she says she heard that war coming [sic] and came home before the rush." She was still there at the end of December.
In February 1940, "Mr. & Mrs. George Williams (Mable Scott)" catered or threw a party (the blurb in the February 17 New York Age was unclear) for Mr. and Mrs. John Jones of Great Neck, Long Island.
But true love will win out (for a short while, at least) and the New York Age of March 16 reported: "Mable Scott, internationally famed dancer is sporting a new Oldsmobile since she returned to her original hubby Willie Ward - hubby number two - George Williams is busy with his barbecue station and [if] he's worrying about the Mable brownskin sugar, he won't admit it."
To complicate matters more, on April 2, 1940, Mabel told the census taker that she was "Mrs. William Ward" (although Willie was nowhere in sight). Living in Harlem, she ("singer - music") has three lodgers with her, one of whom (Mabel Garrit) was a Cotton Club showgirl. In July, she divorced George Williams, leaving him to his restaurant.
A month later, she was off to Cleveland, appearing at the Cedar Gardens in early May (with, we are told, her new 1940 Oldsmobile). While there, in spite of all those nasty gossip columns (and her own listing as "Mrs. William Ward"), she took on husband Number Three. The New York Age of August 24, 1940 told us: "The charming exponent in brownskin loveliness, Mable Scott, the song and dance artiste, who is gathering in the applause at the swanky Cleveland nite spot [which was not worthy of being named], who recently secured her final papers, tied the knot again with one Kenneth Givens, a handsome beau brummel .... He's an aviator from Tuskegee, more than six feet tall .... They will honeymood [sic, but I think they meant it] it to California, and will return to Harlem, where the honey child, Mabel, has a swanky apartment on 'Sugar Hill'." [I guess those pesky lodgers will have to be evicted from her West 153rd Street apartment.]
Fortunately, I found her Cleveland marriage record online. On August 20, 1940, Mabel Scott wed James Kenneth Givins (a bus boy in a hotel, but "aviator" sounds so much more romantic). You wanted her living in Cleveland? OK, she gave a Cleveland address on the marriage certificate. (However, it was just the Majestic Hotel, where she was staying while appearing at the Cedar Gardens.)
She wasn't quite honest on the marriage document, claiming to have only been married once before, giving her married name as "Ward", and the divorce date (actually from George Williams) as July 26, 1940.
But what of George Williams? Not to worry, because the Pittsburgh Courier of September 7, 1940 lets us know: "George Williams is trying his best to forget Mable Scott with a new rendezvous on Sugar Hill and the company of Baby Smalls [a Harlem dancer]."
And Willie? The Pittsburgh Courier of November 23, 1940 kept us up to date about him, too: "Willie Ward, who featured [in] the divorce courts with Mabel Scott a while back, is looking for trouble again among the chorines backstage." This stuff may not be particularly relevant, but at least it ain't boring.
At this point, Mabel falls off the radar until July 1941, when she and Savannah Churchill were at Dave's Night Club in Chicago. On August 30, she opened at the Casa Manana in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Then, another long, empty stretch, until the Pittsburgh Courier ran a large photo of her in their May 18, 1942 edition. The accompanying caption told about how she's returned to New York after spending two years on the road. Her last out-of-town venue was Abe & Pappy's in Houston, Texas. Unfortunately, she came back to New York because she needed an operation of some sort. It was reported (Billboard May 5) that she missed some shows at Abe & Pappy's because of the flu; it must have been something more serious.
It couldn't have been too serious, however, because in October she was at the Paradise Theater in Detroit, along with Jimmie Lunceford, Bob Howard, and the Miller Brothers & Lois. In November, she was at Charlie Glenn's Rhumboogie in Chicago, along with Son & Sonny and Pot, Pan, & Skillet.
The week beginning January 1, 1943, Mabel started off the new year with another appearance at the Apollo. She was once again with Jimmie Lunceford, Bob Howard, and the Miller Brothers & Lois. That show went into Fays (Philadelphia) for a week and then the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh (where they held a "Birthday Ball" to celebrate president Roosevelt's birthday, as many other show people did all over the country). The February 6 Pittsburgh Courier reviewed that show and said of Mabel, "Mabel Scott, long a feature of Gotham's gayest spots, came on with a bang in her 'jump' versions of 'Yankee Doodle Never Went To Town' and 'My Bonnie.' Miss Scott, a very energetic human dynamo, literally jumped all over the place to win her share of the plaudits."
Then it was back to the Rhumboogie in Chicago, where she opened on March 19. Getting top billing, she shared the stage with T-Bone Walker, the Beachcombers, the Edwards Sisters, George Layne, and Milton Larkin's Orchestra.
On April 3, 1943, the Pittsburgh Courier reported, "Mable Scott To Appear On Gold Coast". The article went on to say (in its finest purple prose): "CHICAGO, April 1 - Hollywood, cinematic city of 'Make Believe,' reached forth its glittering arms to another Easterner this week as Mabel Scott, whose song presentations at Charlie Glenn's Rhumboogie in this city had won her nation-wide fame, embarked at the Santa Fe [railroad terminal] for a berth in Bill (Bojangles) Robinson's new musical comedy soon to go into rehearsal, as well as a chance at the films. The toast of two continents when she toured Europe some years ago, Mabel is a New Yorker and ranks as one of the nation's top song stylists. Though no definite plans have been made, Mabel's contract runs high in the three figure bracket and is of the 'run of the show' variety. Bo's [Robinson's] famed manager, Marty Forkins, planning to handle her film debut personally."
Bill Robinson's musical was called "Born Happy" and it began life at the Alcazar Theater in San Francisco, where it opened on April 12, 1943. The cast included the Delta Rhythm Boys, Emmett "Babe" Wallace, Whitey's Jitterbugs, John Mason (who may have done his "Open The Door, Richard" sketch), Judy Carol, and the 3 Peppers.
Papers lauded the 3 Peppers (and, of course, Bill Robinson), but not much else. The Oakland Tribune of April 13, 1943 had this to say, in an article headed "3 Peppers Prove Riot Of S.F. Show":
Relatively two hours and 20 minutes after the curtain lifted on "Born Happy" at the Alcazar Theater last evening, the Three Peppers arrived on the scene, three young Negroes armed with a midget piano, a medium sized guitar and bull fiddle and a generous portion of talent and personality.
Less than two minutes later, this trio, described as fresh from successes at the Florentine Gardens in Southern California, had a packed house in the cup of their hands and the aforesaid packed house was having its first opportunity to sit back and whack its palms in genuine glee.
It may be that in faster company the Three Peppers would not be such a riot, but I doubt it. From where I sat it seemed that these three boys would be able to hold their own in any company, even if they chose to retain the questionable lyrics of one song - they are accomplished instrumentalists, and they have showmanship.
They paved the way for Bill Robinson, who promptly settled down to work and chaos was turned to into order....
But unless there is some drastic routining [sic] of "Born Happy" there isn't much point in getting to the Alcatraz [sic; should be Alcazar] until, at the very least, 10:30. True, Robinson makes an appearance in the first half but it is unimportant, limited to a few minutes of dawdling with a second-rate chorus line and taking the welcome bows that are always his in this neck of the woods.
It is set forth in the program that Sid Grauman [of Grauman's Chinese Theater fame] produced "Born Happy" and that Marty Forkins [manager of Bill Robinson, as well as Jesse Owens] was the general manager. This is pretty hard to believe. It seems much more logical that the Messrs. Grauman and Forkins went fishing while the show assembled itself. It is incredible that two men with such a practiced eye for selecting talent should have allowed it to become so jaundiced.
The single bright acts in the first act were a dancer named Holmes [half of Holmes & Gene] who could do tricks with a cigarette and a comedian named John Mason, whose impersonation of a tipsy gentleman was amusing [that is, his "Open The Door, Richard" routine]. Holmes rested on his laurels; Mason returned to make a botch of a camp meeting incident. The rest of the troupe - dancers, singers, jitterbugs - was uniformly fifth rate and that's giving it all of the breaks.
Notice how there's no mention of Mabel, who was lumped in with the rest of the fifth-rate performers.
From San Francisco, the production moved down to Los Angeles, opening at the Biltmore Hotel on May 27, 1943. First-nighters included Eleanor Powell, Shirley Temple, and Sergeant Joe Louis. The Pittsburgh Courier of June 5 remembered that Mabel was in the show (and why not, she was an East Coast star): "Mabel Scott, singing comedienne and Chicago's gift to the entertainment world, was gorgeous in a dazzling white chiffon creation, and likewise did an outstanding job in putting over her numbers." Strangely, several articles gave her origin as Chicago, but, just the month before, the Pittsburgh Courier had said that she was a New Yorker performing in Chicago.
On June 21, the show moved to the Mayan Theater; after that, it was the Orpheum, both is Los Angeles.
By that time, Mabel had made a life-changing decision: she decided to move to the West Coast. This important story broke in the July 10, 1943 edition of the Pittsburgh Courier, which had a big headline: "MABEL SCOTT MOVES WEST". She's become, it said, "so enamored about the Golden State that she has since purchased a lovely residence and will remain here." By the time that article was printed, Mabel was no longer with "Born Happy". Instead, she'd signed a contract with Curtis Mosby (brother of Esvan Mosby of the 3 Chocolateers), owner of the Club Alabam, where she'd now be headlining.
[Just to prove to you that Mabel was Big News, all the Chicago Daily Tribune had to report on that same day was "Allied Troops Storm Shores Of Sicily", "Ships, Planes Lash Japs On New Georgia", "Loss Of Ships From U-Boats At War's Low", and "War Has Entered New, Vital Phase, Says Canada Chief". Would you rather read those boring stories or an account of Mabel's moving day? And, even though it was on page 21 of the Pittsburgh Courier, the font used for that article's heading was larger than most of the fonts used on page 1 of that edition.]
Mosby placed a big, grammatically-questionable article in the July 1, 1943 California Eagle that was headed "Mabel Scott Headlines Alabam Revue":
Curtis Mosby, owner-manager of the Club Alabam, announced the signing of Mabel Scott, one of the continent's outstanding danseuse as stellar attraction for the new edition of the topflight floor revues staged at the club under the direction of Patsy Hunter.
Miss Scott is one of the loveliest exponents of the terpsichorean arts ever to perform in a night club. She is a star attraction with a record hardly matched by any stage artist in her line. A young woman, Miss Scott started her dancing career in Smalls Paradise in New York City in 1932.
Since then she has risen rapidly to a pinnacle of finished success. Her nimble dancing feet and unique forte has since carried her back and forth across the Atlantic to principle [sic] European entertainment palaces. Recently she closed an engagement as stellar dancing attraction with the Bill Robinson starring show "Born Happy".
In 1933-4 Miss Scott was headline attraction at New York's famed Cotton Club, in 1934 she was at the Ubangi Club in the same city, then to the Harlem Club at Atlantic City in 1935-6, and across the Atlantic to London, Holland, Paris, Switzerland and Italy in 1935-39. She has toured on and off with Jimmy [sic] Lunceford's orchestra. In Chicago where she just closed at the new and swank Rhumboogie Club, Miss Scott was for a long time starring the Grand Terrace ballroom. [I proofread this drivel three times and I'm certain that I accurately captured every little nuance of semi-literacy that went into its production.]
[Note that I can't find any evidence of her having appeared anywhere in Europe other than France and England.]
She was still at the Club Alabam 20 weeks later. A review of the show in the October 25, 1943 Billboard said: "Mabel Scott is heavily billed but fails to scale the heights indicated. Her tunes included Mr. Five By Five and Murder, He Says. Her voice is mediocre and her gyrations are flamboyant. Less motivation and accent on voice would make the turn a good one." But only two weeks later (November 6 Billboard) a reviewer of her contribution to an Erskine Hawkins show at the Orpheum (Los Angeles) said: "Mabel Scott ... lived up to advance billing. Her warbling was tops." Guess this stuff really is subjective.
"Say, wait a minute," you cry, "whatever happened to her husband, James Kenneth Givens?" Well, I'm glad you asked. Her lawyers were in court seeking an annulment, since they'd been separated since February 1943. (What a coincidence; that's when she finished up her engagement at the Rhumboogie and decided to move to California.) I'm not sure what grounds for annulment were, but annulled or divorced, Mabel's third marriage was over.
But there was no time to grieve, Mabel was in a new production called "Sweet 'N Hot", which opened at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles on January 19, 1944. Also in the cast were Dorothy Dandridge, Leonard Reed, Marie Bryant, Fred Gordon, Archie Savage, Miller & Lee, Edith Wilson, the Flennoy Trio, Olivette Miller, and Bob Parrish. It had 23 scenes, 17 new songs (some written by Otis Rene), and a cast of 50. Her big number was Otis Rene's "Just Give Me A Man".
The February 3 California Eagle was lukewarm in its praise. The article was headed "'Sweet 'N Hot' Beautiful, Breezy - And Not Too Bad". You knew that it might not go well with the first sentence: "Those of us who looked forward to the opening of 'Sweet 'N Hot' with great anticipation were not entirely disappointed when the curtain went up on the opening performance January 27." [It was supposed to have opened on January 19, but there were problems. This review said it finally opened on the 27th, but the January 27 Los Angeles Times said that it had opened the night before.] Actually, the reviewer pretty much liked it, other than that it was too long. A February 12 article in the Pittsburgh Courier said that it had been overhauled. A strange sentence in that article: "Noble Sissle and his band are being sought to act as regular pit orchestra, replacing the makeshift arrangement of four pianos, a saxophone and drum. [!]" They finally pulled together a real orchestra, under the direction of Curtis Mosby.
The California Eagle of February 24, 1944 had a whole column devoted to Mabel (J.T. Gipson's "Candid Comments" column, headed "SLICK CHICK CLICKS"):
Once in a while a singer comes along that solidly sends this hepcat wherever it is hepcats go when they're solidly sent. [be still, my lunch] Such a singer has appeared on the musical scene. Her name is Mabel Scott, a slender brownskin babe with pleasing, shy manner, and one of the few show-stoppers on the stem. [It's impossible to conceive of Mabel as "shy" after all I've read.]
We've written reams about the scintillating Miss Scott, the sweet singer of swing songs, and she deserves every bit of praise we've heaped upon her.
A few columns ago we wrote that she would "stop every show at the Mayan," where she's doing just that in the Arthur (Silber) supervised production, "Sweet 'N Hot".
Among the new crop of singers, Mabel is just about tops in her field. And even if you're a Sinatra fan (Perish forbid) and appreciate gal singers about as much as a gambler does a red card draw to a black card flush, you'll love the way Mabel sends thrills up and down your spine with her rendition of "Moonrise". And backed by the swingsational Lorenzo Flennoy trio, she completely wins your approval with her seductive-styled singing of "Give Me A Man".
She has poise and much charm and terrific knowledge of how to put a song over. As for sex-appeal, she's the definition of that word. "Brother," one of our agents ejaculated, "what that gal ain't got - she don't need!"
During all the months I've spent in the various clubs feasting my tireless orbs on the so-called "Hollywood material," I've never seen a gal that had as much on the ball as Mrs. Scott's little girl, Mabel. She's a chanteuse of such rare ability (i.e., she can sing) she'll have Hollywood at her feet quicker than it takes Morgenthau to run through your last year's salary. [Henry Morgenthau was the Secretary Of The Treasury at the time; he pushed President Roosevelt to raise taxes in order to reduce the country's deficit.]
She's an attractive girl with the proverbial "million dollar" smile. Furthermore, she is just bubbling over with energy and personality. And just for the records, she's got a nice, long figure, too. The kind guys whistle at.
She's knocking down about $300 a week, which ain't bad even if it's only half that much.
Harry Bigelow, co-owner of the Apex breakfast club, whose hobby is female singers (collecting their recordings, I mean) says he'd rather hear Mabel Scott sing than to be stranded on a desert island with Betty Grable.
And Harry Bigelow never tells a lie.
I'm truly at a loss to figure out how the Pulitzer Prize committee overlooked this.
Mabel's press agent got this one out to the March 5, 1944 Los Angeles Times: "Mabel Scott, whose torchy renditions of Otis Rene's song, 'Just Give Me A Man,' is one of the highlights of 'Sweet 'n' Hot,' colored musical revue at the Mayan Theater, receives many letters of commendation from servicemen who catch the show while on leave in Los Angeles." While I'm sure that's just the usual tripe, let's keep a close eye on her in case she decides to marry some of them.
A long piece in the March 18, 1944 Pittsburgh Courier says that Mabel is overdue for a break in the movies. While most of it is inconsequential, it does a reasonable job of documenting her European adventures. It also says, "Unmarried, she owns her own California bungalow and lives with her mother." Unmarried? Hang on, gang, it won't be too much longer.
Sometime in May, Mabel, accompanied by the Flennoy Trio, recorded "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy Of Company B" for an AFRS Jubilee disc. There were two other tunes by the Trio, but most of the disc was devoted to Louis Jordan. It was released in June.
By late May, Mabel was gone from the revue and back at the Club Alabam for a while. It was noted that she and Clinton Holland (of the Delta Rhythm Boys) sang at a 25th Anniversary party for the Dallas Cranes (whoever they might have been).
In late June 1944, she opened at Elihu "Black Dot" McGee's Casablanca Breakfast Club in Los Angeles, replacing T-Bone Walker. (In spite of its name, the Casablanca Breakfast Club was a night club.) With her was the Flennoy Trio, who'd also left the "Sweet 'n Hot" revue. The June 22, 1944 California Eagle called her "the lass with the honey-voiced larynx" and "While at the Alabam, she was restricted to but a few numbers in the show, at the Casablanca, she'll be on hand to sing your favorites from midnight 'til dawn [when, presumably, you could order breakfast]."
The August 5, 1944 Pittsburgh Courier had a little blurb titled "Sepia Troupe Set For Mexico City Nitery". On August 15, she was due to leave for A.C. Blumenthal's "swank nitery in Mexico City". With her would be Patsy Hunter's chorus (from "Sweet 'N Hot"), Marie Bryant, Norma Miller, the 4 Step Brothers, and Harlan Leonard's Orchestra.
[A. C. Blumenthal was a millionaire New York playboy who made the gossip columns even more often than Mabel. He had fled to Mexico in 1941 to avoid giving testimony at a tax-evasion trial. He opened Ciro's, in Mexico City, supposedly with backing from Carol II (deposed king of Romania), who denied any involvement. Blumenthal had an on-again off-again marriage to actress Peggy Fears, but, unlike Mabel, he seems to have married only this once. No need to thank me; it's my pleasure to educate.]
Possibly Montezuma took his revenge on Mabel since (said the September 23 Pittsburgh Courier), "Back in the spotlight after several weeks' illness, Mabel Scott, fresh from a sensational stay at the Streets Of Paris cafe in Hollywood, began a six weeks' engagement at Club Cobra, popular midtown [Los Angeles] rendezvous."
I don't know if the Flennoy Trio was with her at that venue, but on September 27, at Radio Recorders in Hollywood, Mabel and the Trio (Lorenzo Flennoy on piano, Robert Lewis on bass, and Gene Phillips on guitar) recorded three Soundies: "Steak And Potatoes" (released November 27, 1944), "Gee" (released December 18, 1944), and "Yankee Doodle Never Went To Town" (released February 26, 1945). The first two were mentioned in Billboard when they were released as part of Soundies programs, but there was nothing said about Mabel (good or bad) other than that she was in them.
Sometime in early October 1944, Mabel was one of the entertainers at a supper dance at the Zanzibar in Los Angeles, which featured Mantan Moreland as the MC.
October 25, 1944 found Mabel, along with Herb Jeffries and Clara Lewis, entertaining at a USO show in San Bernardino. I'm sure you'll be interested to know that Howard "Skippy" Smith, an official of the Pacific Parachute Company donated his station wagon to transport the guest artists from Los Angles. After that, she was at the Musicians' Congress Carnival, with Jack Benny as the MC.
After six months invisibility, Mabel (and Valaida Snow) appeared in the "Cafe Society Revue" at the Club Savoy in San Francisco in May 1945. Others in the revue were Chi-Chi Murphy and Saunders King and his orchestra.
By late August, she was appearing at a swing revue at Lew LeRoy's Swanee Inn in Hollywood, along with drummer Zutty Singleton, crooner Dan Grissom (late of the Lunceford orchestra), and pianist Marian Roberts. Mabel quickly moved on to an appearance at the Rhythm Room of the Hotel Hayward in Los Angeles in late September.
On October 23, 1945, she appeared in the first of the Lamplighter concerts at the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles, with MC Rudy Vallee. Sharing the stage with her were Eddie Heywood, Harry "The Hipster" Gibson, and Kid Ory & His Original Dixie Band. Backing Mabel was jazz guitarist Allan Reuss and his trio.
The California Eagle of October 25, 1945 had a quote from Mabel, "overheard" at a party: "What a beautiful wedding cake. Maybe I'll be cutting one pretty soon." Hold on just a bit longer, Mabel (and save a piece for me).
Starting December 11, Mabel was part of a week-long revue at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles, along with Gerald Wilson's orchestra and Eddie Heywood's combo. The December 22 Billboard reviewed the show and said of her: "Mabel Scott gets solid mitting [a lot of applause] for her vocal work. Gal is good and fits right into this high paced revue. She might give onlookers a break if she'd tone down a little on bouncing around the stage. This can be done without fear that set would lose any of its pep." This had been noted in her performances since 1934; some reviewers liked it and some didn't.
On January 4, 1946, Mabel opened at the El Grotto in Chicago for a 10-week engagement. The California Eagle of March 7 talked about the El Grotto gig (or at least strung a bunch of words together): "El Grotto's newest, finest, latest, and biggest sensation is that 'chocolate coated' luscious hickory nut bombshell of song and dance MABLE SCOTT ... that honeychile really has something on the ball ... she's ready as a radio [!], expends more energy than a jet-propelled rocket and is Ivie Anderson, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday all rolled up into one piece of atomic rhythm ... La Scott is the last word."
Following that, in late April 1946, she was off to New York for a run at Broadway's Club Zanzibar. And what did the Pittsburgh Courier have to say about her appearance in their May 18 edition? "Mabel Scott with some extra pounds adding to her luster, is doing the town after an absence of many years between Chicago and L.A." I'm not even sure if that was a compliment or not.
While in New York, Mabel finally got to record for an American company: Ben Bart and Jack Pearl's Hub Records. The two known sides were "Do You Know The Game?" and "Just Give Me A Man", which were released in July. The record was reviewed in the September 2, 1946 Cash Box: "Mabel Scott's version of 'Just Give Me A Man' comes out on the purple side. [It has risqué lyrics] She sings with gusto and the orchestra is pretty much in the background all the time, but it's a good buy for the Harlem and Central Avenue [Los Angeles] locations. 'Do You Know The Game?' is in the same vein with Mabel Scott warbling the vocal for all she's worth and the band beating it out in jump time. Head it for the spots that appreciate this sort of thing and it'll sell." Note that the very next Hub release was "Lullaby", the first by the Ravens.
Mabel seems to have done something else while she was in New York, as reported by the June 8 Pittsburgh Courier: "The boys are trying to get Willie Ward to take the law off Mabel Scott, his ex. who stabbed him in the side last week. The case comes up on June 11." The June 22 Pittsburgh Courier said, "Willie Ward may drop those charges against Mable Scott." Drop all you want, Willie, stabbing someone is a crime. The July 11, 1946 California Eagle let us know the resolution: "Mabel Scott, who gained a terrible [?] following here with her risqué songs, last week was freed of assault charges in New York. Mabel, currently appearing at Club 845 in the Bronx, was defendant in a case brought against her by her ex-husband, William Ward. Miss Scott explained satisfactorily to the court that a recent argument between the two climaxed years of disagreements, finally ending in physical violence on Ward's part, and that he was stabbed as she tried to protect herself." The moral: this is what happens when a divorce doesn't work out.
The week of July 7, 1946, Mabel was back at the Apollo Theater as part of a revue starring Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, billed as "Jack Benny's Shadow". Also in the show was Kitty Murray, the Steeplechasers, and Eddie Mallory's Orchestra.
In January 1947, Mabel was at the Down Beat in Los Angeles, along with the Gerald Wilson Orchestra.
On August 28, the Pittsburgh Courier, always first on the scene with information you really needed to know, printed this press agent nonsense: "Attractive Mable Scott, known to her friends as the simplest dressed female in the theatrical business, put forth the idea that she does not like the lengths and will keep her dresses the same - just below the knees. Miss Scott thinks Los Angeles women are the smartest dressed women anywhere. At present she is appearing at the Toodle House [sic; should be Toddle House] in Culver City until October. She usually designs her own gowns."
The September 27, 1947 Pittsburgh Courier had a nice photo of Mabel and said that she was at the Down Beat Room in Los Angeles, having "recently completed a successful engagement at the Cloud Room in Portland, Oregon, and since her return [to Los Angeles] has played the Toddle House, Billy Berg's and the Red Feather."
On Tuesday, November 18, Mabel began a week at the Million Dollar Theater. The headliner was Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson, making his Los Angeles stage debut after his first season in major league baseball had ended. Of Mabel, the November 22, 1947 Pittsburgh Courier said: "Thrush Mabel Scott, a lusty lass who sings with her hips as well as vocal chords, stopped the show cold with frantic versions of That's My Desire, Please Believe Me and St. Louis Blues. She shouts, wiggles, and squirms with a delivery matched by few." Also on the bill were dancers Earl & Frances, comedian Johnny "Taps" Taylor, and Gerald Wilson's Orchestra.
The blurb failed to say, however, exactly what it was that Jackie Robinson did in the show. I would have thought that he was such a hero in the black community that he could have just stood there, silently, for an hour and gotten thunderous applause. But I was wrong. According to the show's review in the November 29, 1947 Billboard, it played to a "half-empty house". Of Robinson, they said: "His brief stint earned him a respectful hand. Altho his appearance naturally lacks the polish of showbiz, he speaks with humility and sincerity, winning seatsitters immediately. Act consists of an interview by [MC] Monte Hawley, who primes Robinson with leading questions on his youth, college career, experiences with the Brooklyn Dodgers, climaxed by a message on juve delinquency, tolerance and good sportsmanship. This is not vaude fare, to be sure, but is coming from a youth who has earned the respect of the nation, his preachments are well taken."
When the dust had settled, the week was termed "disastrous" in the December 6, 1947 Billboard. The Million Dollar, which usually averaged $22,000 a week for the 2400 seat theater, had only taken in $10,400 for that show.
Around this time, Mabel signed on with Leon Rene's Hollywood-based Exclusive Records, recording at least thirteen sides for him. She held a session, probably in January 1948, that produced "Elevator Boogie", "Good Lookin' Fella", "When Did You Leave Heaven", and "Don't Cry Baby". Her first Exclusive record, "When Did You Leave Heaven"/"Good Lookin' Fella", was issued in late February 1948.
In mid-February, Mabel was headlining at the Last Word in Los Angeles. Also on the bill were Clarence Samuels ("New Blues Sensation"), Emily Foster ("Comedy - Song - Dance"), Lorenzo Flennoy ("Piano and Songs"), George Vann ("Daddy of the Blues"), and Horace Henderson's Band, featuring vocalist George Reed.
And now, [one of] the moment[s] you've been eagerly awaiting: Mabel gets married. Husband Number Four was William Lester "Willie" Jones, whom she married on February 22, 1948. There was a big write-up on the wedding in the February 26 California Eagle, but it was all boring (to me) wedding stuff. Mabel (always the optimist) wore white. The only interesting thing is that one of her bridesmaids was Nadine Coles (wife of Nat "King" Cole [whose real name was "Coles"]). There was a wedding reception for 300, given by Mabel's mother, Rachel (who, by this time, should have known better). They honeymooned in Elsinore, California. Bad choice; Hamlet didn't do too well at Elsinore. [Sadly, the photo of the (currently) happy couple is impossible to make out in the online copy of the paper.]
Although the article told us nothing about Willie, the 1940 census gives us a small clue: Will L. Jones, born in Texas (November 16, 1915), was a domestic in a private apartment. He wasn't the Willie Jones who was a local fighter, nor was he the Willie Jones who was a local baseball player.
The March 13, 1948 Billboard reviewed "When Did You Leave Heaven", only giving it a 70 and calling it a "... satisfactory debut on indie label. Phrasing forced on some passages of oldies ballad." "Good Lookin' Fella" fared better, with a 74: "Gal sells own blues [she wrote the song] with shouted enthusiasm. Band jumps right along with her." However, except for a March ad in Cash Box, that was pretty much the end of that record.
By March 20, Mabel was at the Bar Of Music in Hollywood ("Incomparable Bombshell of Rhythm Songs", said the ad).
But what's this? The California Eagle of April 8, 1948 said, "Whisperers would have you believe that newly-weds Mable Scott and Bill Jones are "spiffing," don't believe a word of it, their hearts are beating like a BULLOVA [sic] (on standard time)."
On April 10, the California Eagle mentioned them twice: "Mable Scott and hubby Bill will leave the middle of month to open at a nitery in Detroit." And also: "The place started rackin [sic] and all of the folks came down to earth when The 'Jones' family took over, the family we're talking about is none other than William 'Bill' Jones and wife Mable Scott Jones. Bill sang 'Don't Take Your Love From Me' ... and Mable followed with 'Red Light' ...." Was Bill Jones an entertainer? I don't know; both of these quotes hint at it. (Most of Mabel's husbands tended to keep well out of the spotlight.)
In spite of them supposedly going to Detroit, the Pittsburgh Courier of May 1, 1948 tells us that Mabel opened at the Beige Room in Chicago on April 30.
In May 1948, Exclusive issued Mabel's second record, "Elevator Boogie"/"Don't Cry Baby". Cash Box reviewed it on June 5: "More race material for ops to get next to - this time with chirp Mabel Scott on deck for the vocal offering. Both sides shape up as attractive wax, and of the caliber bound to increase coin play. Top deck parrots the title throughout, with Mabel rocking in excellent voice to the ditty's sensational beat. Flip is a slow, haunting piece that been kicked around a bit. Mabel's fond vocal here might prove strong enough to boom it over the top again. 'Elevator boogie' for the jump spots." This was the one that put Mabel on the map, reaching #6 on the national R&B charts, and rising as high as #2 in the Chicago area. Note that the June 19 Billboard reviews were just the opposite: they liked "Don't Cry Baby" much better than "Elevator Boogie" (ranking them 85 and 76 respectively). Supposedly Charles Brown, who had recently left Johnny Moore's Three Blazers, was playing piano on these. (We'll meet Charles again in a bit.)
DJ Symphony Sid (WMCA in New York) was quoted as saying of "Elevator Boogie": "I think it's a great rhythm novelty" in the October 2 Billboard. He claimed to be deluged with requests for the tune.
Something happened in July 1948 that you may be mildly interested in: Mabel and Willie Jones were divorced. Ah, well, it had lasted four glorious months. The July 1, 1948 California Eagle had this to say: "The Bill Jones have agreed to disagree. Wife Mable (Scott) will receive her final papers in Las Vegas sometime this week."
Late August 1948 found Mabel at the Melodee Club in Los Angeles. She was there through at least November, along with the Trenier Twins and Jimmy Witherspoon. The November 6 ad said the show was now in its tenth week.
At Mabel's next Exclusive session, she recorded "A Bippity Be Bop Pony", "Every Little Doggie Has Its Day", "Right Around The Corner From Basin Street", and one unknown title, all backed by the Maxwell Davis Orchestra.
In November, Exclusive released "A Bippity Be Bop Pony"/"Right Around The Corner From Basin Street". They received a 71 and 70 respectively in the January 29, 1949 Billboard, which basically liked the songs (and, especially, the Maxwell Davis Orchestra), but downgraded them for her "muffled diction".
Also in November 1948, Benny Ray, composer of "Elevator Boogie", sued Exclusive Records, Advance Music (a subsidiary of Warner Bros. music publishing), and St. Louis Music Corporation. He sought to determine his rights, claiming that they should all belong to him. In 1944, he said, he had interested Lucky Millinder in the tune and Millinder brought it to Advance Music. However, a year went by during which Advance did nothing with it. Ray notified them that their rights would be terminated unless they acted within 30 days, which they failed to do. In December 1947, Ray had Mabel Scott record the tune for Exclusive, and, later on, there was a new publishing contract with St. Louis Music.
Unfortunately, the tune became a hit and Advance said that Lucky Millinder never authorized Ray to take the tune anywhere else. St. Louis Music was collecting mechanical rights from Exclusive, which, Ray said, had no business paying them those fees because he hadn't yet been associated with St. Louis Music when the recording was made. All mechanical fees, he said, should have been paid directly to him. He was also on the verge of suing RCA Victor, because their version (by Bill Johnson & Musical Notes) credited Johnson with writing the song and Ray wasn't receiving any royalties from RCA. Clear as mud? Not to worry; this is just a normal day in the record business.
Probably in November 1948, Mabel recorded a single side: the Leon Rene tune, "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus". Exclusive released it in December, backed with "Every Little Doggie Has Its Day". These were reviewed in the January 1, 1949 Cash Box (too late to do any good for Christmas sales; I can't imagine why Exclusive dragged their feet on this one). Cash Box said: "The great Mabel Scott, hotter than a ten dollar pistol offers ops a sure coin culler if there ever was one with this hunk of wax. Titled 'Boogie Woogie Santa Claus,' Mabel really lets go and does this bit up royally. Ditty has loads of drive and beat in it, with a ton of depth in Mabel's pipes ringing true to round out a terrific side. Mellow piano highlights the wax immensely and adds to its coin incentive. Coupled with 'Every Little Doggie Has Its Day,' this cookie takes on more attractive airs. It's a slow blues bit, with the lyrics echoing the title in another refrain. We go for the top deck - latch on!" While I agree that it's a rocking side, with a great sax break by (probably) Maxwell Davis, not only can't I hear a "mellow piano", I can't hear the piano at all! (I suppose they were referring to the flip, which certainly has a prominent piano.)
This one was Mabel's second (and last) national hit, rising to #12 on the R&B charts. The difference here is that "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus", unlike "Elevator Boogie", was re-released many times over the years during the holiday season.
The December 18, 1948 Billboard reported that Mabel was tentatively booked for a gig at the Adams Theater in Newark, on December 30. Others they were trying to get for that show were drummer/bandleader Buddy Rich and the Three Stooges (!!!). The article said they were "still in the dicker stage" and, since Buddy Rich was actually in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on December 30, I don't believe the show actually happened. (I refuse to investigate where the Three Stooges were.)
Ho-hum. Mabel started off 1949 by [wait for it ...] getting married. Husband Number Five, however, was someone even more famous than she: the silken-voiced Charles Brown. Long a mainstay of Johnny Moore's 3 Blazers, he'd recently left them and formed his own trio. Now, on January 16, 1949 they were married in Los Angeles. (Once again, Nadine Coles was a bridesmaid; this time, Claude and Cliff (the Trenier Twins) were ushers.) On the marriage certificate, Mabel claimed to be 28, although she was actually 33; Charles was 26.
Also in January, Exclusive's Leon Rene announced that he'd re-signed Mabel, as well as Joe Liggins, although he'd dropped Herb Jeffries and Ricky Jordan.
The February 12, 1949 Pittsburgh Courier said, "Mabel Scott wired that she's the happiest girl in the world after her coast wedding to Charles Brown...." I suppose that, by now, her press agent had a form with the groom's name left blank.
On February 10, Mabel and the Charles Brown Trio (Eddie Williams on bass and either Chuck Norris or Herman "Tiny" Mitchell on guitar) appeared at the Last Word in Los Angeles. The February 10 California Eagle gushed, "That brown bomb-shell of rhythm Mable Scott along with the Charles Brown Trio open tonight at the Last Word with a brand new show. Mable will be there with those groovy numbers you've been wanting her to do and the added attraction, the Charles Brown Trio, formally [sic] the Three Blazes [sic], with 'Charlie Boy' on hand to send you with his mellow style of vocalin [sic]." That should have said "Three Blazers" and they meant that Charles and Eddie were "formerly with the three Blazers".
Mabel had one further session for Exclusive, probably in February 1949, recording four more sides: "Googie Woogie (Jungle Boogie)", "That Ain't The Way To Love", "Gee" (written by Timmie Rogers), and "Give Me A Man".
In March 1949, Exclusive issued "Give Me A Man"/"That Ain't The Way To Love". ("Give Me A Man" is the same song as "Just Give Me A Man" that she'd done for Hub in 1946.) The sides were reviewed in the April 2 Billboard, which gave "Give Me A Man" a whopping 84 (one of the highest grades I've ever seen for an R&B tune). "This is more like it [they didn't particularly care for 'That Ain't The Way To Love', which they'd reviewed first] - a 'groovy' blues with strong impact lyrics, and Mabel gets off a heart-and-soul rendition that should make this a leading race platter in the coming weeks." In spite of that great review, it never became a hit (and it was "That Ain't The Way To Love" that made it to subsequent reissues - and why not? it had been written by Otis and Leon Rene).
In mid-April, Mabel spent a week at Chicago's Regal Theater, along with Nat "King" Cole and Jimmy Dale's Orchestra.
In June 1949, Exclusive released Mabel's final offering: "Googie Woogie (Jungle Boogie)"/"Gee". As far as I'm concerned, "Googie Woogie" is #1 material, but Exclusive wasn't doing well and never pushed it, or even sent it out for review. The company didn't survive the year, going out of business by December. (Note that Charles Brown would later record "Gee" for Aladdin.)
She then joined Eddie "Rochester" Anderson and his "Hollywood Variety Revue". At the end of July, this 2-hour show was playing at the Municipal Auditorium in Denver. Of Mabel, the July 30 Pittsburgh Courier said: "Mabel Scott, the famed Elevator Boogie Gal, did encore after encore. Finally, when she did her famous 'Elevator Boogie,' the crowd went wild." Also in the cast were the Jubalaires, the Edwards Sisters, and Joe Lutcher's band.
By October 1949, she'd hooked up with impresario Larry Steele, who'd put together the "Smart Affairs Of 1950" show that traveled all over the country (for example, at the Palace in Dayton, Ohio, followed by the Regal in Cincinnati). The revue had George Kirby, Butterbeans & Susie, Janet Sayres, Alan Dixon, the Beige Beauts & Beaux, and Gerald Wilson's band. By mid-November, it was at the Palace Theater in Memphis, held over for a second week. By this time, Milt Buckner's band had replaced Joe Lutcher's. Talking about the show, the October 1, 1949 Pittsburgh Courier called Mabel "the dancer with the shape".
On December 2, a shortened version of the show rolled into the Apollo Theater. Later that month, they were at the Regal in Chicago. By this time, the Orioles had been added to the cast.
By mid-March 1950, Mabel had left Steele's show and was appearing at Morris Levy's Birdland in New York along with Wynonie Harris, Larry Darnell, and Lester Young's band. Supposedly, Mabel was due to be on the Ed Sullivan show on March 26, but I can't verify that she actually appeared.
What I can verify is that she got a new recording contract, this time with Syd Nathan's Cincinnati-based King Records. On March 25, she recorded four songs "Baseball Boogie", "I Found My Baby", "Fine, Fine Baby", and "Have You Ever Watched Love Die". Her signing was announced in the April 15 Cash Box, along with a notice that the first two songs would be available by the end of the month.
Also in April 1950 she joined Bull Moose Jackson and Dusty Fletcher (doing his "Open The Door, Richard" routine) on a six-week swing through the South and Midwest, beginning with the National Theater in Louisville, Kentucky. Jackson had recently given up his band and formed a vaudeville revue around himself, Mabel, and Dusty. After that, in late May, she was at the Cafe Society Downtown (New York), along with Timmie Rogers, Teddy Wilson, and J.C. Heard's band. Mabel was billed as the "extra added attraction".
As promised, King released "Baseball Boogie" and "I Found My Baby" in April. They were reviewed in the June 10 Billboard with "Baseball Boogie" receiving a very high 81, in spite of their criticism that the "recording balance doesn't quite do her justice". (The flip only got a 68.) While everyone considers this one of Mabel's signature songs, it was never a national hit, nor did it even make any local charts. (Note that it's the same song as "Do You Know The Game?" that Mabel had recorded for Hub back in 1946.)
Mabel was back at the Apollo Theater the week of July 7, 1950, along with Tiny Bradshaw, George Hudson, the Earles, and John "Spider Bruce" Mason (who might have done his "Open The Door, Richard" act). After that, it was Bop City in Manhattan.
On July 24, she was booked into Johnny Brown's in Pittsburgh, following Savannah Churchill and the Striders. This time, she was billed as a "pianist".
In August 1950, King released "Fine, Fine Baby" and "Have You Ever Watched Love Die", two tunes written by Mabel. They were reviewed in the August 12 Billboard, with "Fine, Fine Baby" getting a 74 and "Have You Ever Watched Love Die" a respectable 76.
Probably also in August Mabel recorded four more sides: "Disgusted", "I'll Always Belong To You", "Willow Weep For Me", and "Subway Blues".
The August 26, 1950 New York Age said "A well known local figure whose name is associated with Barbecue [our old friend, George Williams, no doubt] has been squiring around the famed boogie pianist, MABLE SCOTT after hours ... it's a cozy picture but laden with dynamite." While gossip columns are notoriously unreliable, this one seems to be hinting that she's cheating on Charles Brown. Not only that, but she seems to be cheating on number 5 with number 2 (as she once cheated on number 2 with number 1). Since it was 11 years in the past, the columnist possibly didn't know that George and Mabel had once been married.
September 2 found her at the Baby Grand, along with Joe Medlin, the Bodagio Dancers, and Jimmy Earl Brown. Then, it was off to Chicago, where she headlined at the Blue Note with Timmie Rogers, Gene Ammons, and Sonny Stitt.
King released "Subway Blues"/"I'll Always Belong To You" in September 1950, but they weren't sent out for review. "Subway Blues" is another of my favorites; it really captures the essence of riding a New York City subway. King should have pushed this one. Actually, it's hard to figure out why they didn't. While the label says it was written by Mabel along with someone named Mann, BMI has the writers as Mabel Bernice Scott and Sydney Nathan (who just, coincidentally, happened to own King Records).
At the tail end of September, Mabel went into Philadelphia's Earle Theater for a week, along with Illinois Jacquet and Wynonie Harris. She sang "Elevator Boogie", "Please Don't Tell About My Man", "Goodbye", and "Fine, Fine Baby".
In October 1950, she told Social Security that her name was "Mabel Scott". (Anticipating the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, she'd never registered as "Mabel Scott Ward", "Mabel Scott Williams", "Mabel Scott Givins", or "Mabel Scott Jones".) Even though she'd never told them about "Mabel Scott Brown" either, this doesn't seem to bode well for her marriage to Charles.
Also in October, Mabel was featured in an ad for the Hotel America on West 47th Street in Manhattan. The text read: "Whenever in New York, I always stay at the America." This shows that her name commanded attention.
One more October event: Jack Lauderdale's Swing Time Records announced that they'd purchased masters from the now-defunct Exclusive Records. They'd re-issue "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus", coupled with the once-poorly-rated "That Ain't The Way To Love" in November. "Santa" must have done decently, since Swing Time also re-released that pairing in 1951 and 1952. For whatever reasons, this time other companies sat up and took notice. There was a cover version by Lionel Hampton on Decca (vocal by Sonny Parker); the December 2, 1950 Billboard called it an "unimpressive job" and ranked it a 65. On the other hand, Patti Page's version (the flip of "Tennessee Waltz") got an 84 in the November 11 Billboard. For what it's worth, I agree with Billboard's assessments of these two.
In late October 1950, King released the last of the Mabel Scott masters: "Disgusted" (another Mabel-written tune) and "Willow Weep For Me". In the November 4 Billboard, "Disgusted" got a 74, saying "Thrush leads this novelty with personality and humor. Gal has a way with a blues." "Willow Weep For Me" got a 71: "And here she shows versatility with a smooth, posh treatment of the mood standard".
Also in late October, Mabel checked into Harlem's Baby Grand. The November 4 New York Age gushed, "MABLE SCOTT is back in town. Back at the BABY GRAND where we caught her act last Saturday night. Superb showman, that gal. Nobody - but nobody - in our opinion can do more with the blues than MABLE ... she cuts it up in little pieces, stomps on it, romps all over the place and comes up with the spiciest, tastiest version of the blues in years. Except via record, MABLE's fairly new in these parts [how soon they forget] but already, night clubbers have latched onto her as a fave. And as for us, her version of W.C. Handy's St. Louis Blues is the most unforgettable yet. In addition, she's a sweet girl who unaffectedly wears a Cannon towel over her shoulders after her routine while she chats with the customers. This issue's CROIX DE SHOW BIZNESS to MABLE SCOTT!" Right after this engagement, she underwent some unspecified minor surgery.
At the end of November, she began a stay at Detroit's Flame Show Bar, along with Tina Dixon, Nellie Hill, Deborah Robinson, and Baby Dee.
Mabel started off 1951 with an engagement at the Surf Club in Los Angeles.
But all was not sweetness and light. Repeating a well-worn pattern, her marriage to Charles Brown was disintegrating. The February 17, 1951 Pittsburgh Courier reported: "Mable Scott, who shifted into fame with her version of 'Elevator Boogie,' and Charles Brown, whose 'Driftin' brought his name out, has [sic] allowed their not too aged marriage to go down and drift into the divorce court." [OK, OK, that last part was cute.]
Also down the tubes was her contract with King Records. This one worked out for the best, however, since she was immediately snapped up by Decca's Coral subsidiary. On May 22, 1951, in New York, she recorded four sides: "Catch 'Em Young, Treat 'Em Rough, Tell 'Em Nothin'", "No More Cryin' Blues", "Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train", and "Somebody Goofed".
Immediately after that session, she made another trip to Chicago's Regal Theater, this time with Erskine Hawkins and his orchestra, Larry Darnell, and John Mason (who might have done his "Open The Door, Richard" routine).
Then, in June, it was Baltimore's Royal Theater, followed by St. Louis' Riviera Nightclub.
In July 1951, Coral released "Catch 'Em Young, Treat 'Em Rough, Tell 'Em Nothing" [because, she tells us, "that's what gets results"] and "No More Cryin' Blues". The record was reviewed in the July 21 Billboard. "Catch 'Em Young" (also done by another Decca artist, saxophonist Hot Lips Johnson) got a 79: "Miss Scott punches out a rocking novelty with force and persuasiveness. The chick certainly has style and a confident delivery. Side has potential." The flip was downgraded to a 74, because the reviewer didn't care much for the song, although he liked her performance.
When that one didn't take off, Coral released "Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train", coupled with "Somebody Goofed" in September. On the 15th, Billboard ranked "Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train" a 73, not liking the orchestration. The flip, a fairly dumb song, only got a 67 for being a "lightweight rhythm novelty". In both cases, they liked her performance, so it's odd that a large company like Coral wouldn't be able to muster a more effective backing. Note that, by late November, Swing Time had once again released "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus".
On October 26, Mabel was back at Chicago's Regal Theater, this time with Wynonie Harris, Gene Ammons, and Dusty Fletcher (probably doing his "Open The Door, Richard" routine).
In early December 1951, Mabel and Madeline Greene were at the Roosevelt Theater in a show called "1952 Swing Parade". January 1952 found her at the Frolic Show Bar in Detroit for a couple of weeks.
On December 15, Jet reported in their "People Are Talking About" gossip column: "Charles Brown, top money-making pianist-singer of the Three Blazers Trio, and estranged wife Mable Scott who cut short their current tours to discuss divorce proceedings. Mable once broke her engagement with Brown to marry another man, then divorced him to marry Brown. Friends blame their careers for current bust-up." Could it be that her marriage to Willie Jones was even more complicated than I'd imagined? (Probably not, I've got a great imagination.)
By mid-March 1952, Mabel had returned to the Club Alabam, in a show headlined by Valaida Snow. Also on the bill were Joe Liggins & His Honeydrippers, Foxx & White, and Happy Feet, with MC Leonard Reed acting as Mr. Interlocutor.
While she was in Los Angeles, Mabel had a second session for Coral. On March 17, 1952, she recorded "Yes!", "Shut Eye" (another Mabel composition), "Wailin' Daddy", and "Take My Love" (two early songs by Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller; this was five months before Big Mama Thornton waxed their "Hound Dog").
Coral released "Yes!" and "Shut Eye" in April. The April 26 Billboard loved "Yes!", giving it an 82: "Miss Scott sells this exciting item in first-rate style with a mighty effective vocal that socks all the way. The ork backs her solidly. This is a strong item that should catch a lot of coin on the jukes, and could break out as a big one." "Shut Eye" was rated just a bit lower at 79. Finally, Coral got the orchestration right. (Didn't really matter though, the record was a flop.)
And the misery rolled on. The April 17, 1952 issue of Jet told us, "The decision of songstress Mabel Scott and her husband, blues singer Charles Brown to halt Los Angeles divorce court mud-slinging and make a quiet settlement of the financial side of their marital difficulties." That's not really a complete sentence, but at least it tells us that the affair was dragging on to its inevitable conclusion.
[Something you may not know: In January 1954, Charles Brown was arrested for breaking into the Aladdin Records offices in order to steal his own contract. Aladdin had refused to let him see it when he claimed that they owed him $54,000. The theft suit was dropped due to "insufficient evidence", even though he admitted that he'd stolen it. I don't know what happened with his royalty claims, but long experience tells me that he didn't get much, if anything.]
She was at the Waldorf Cellar (Los Angeles) beginning May 10, as part of a new series of shows set up by nightclub owner and impresario Billy Berg. Others on the bill were Wardell Gray's Quintet and Ernie Andrews. The very next night, Mabel was part of the "Stars On Revue" at the Club Alabam, with Billie Holiday, the Nicholas Brothers, the 4 Step Brothers, Vivian Dandridge, and Eddie Beal.
In early June 1952, Rachel Ann Scott, Mabel's mother died in their Los Angeles home. She was only 60.
In September, Mabel went out on a series of one-nighters all through the Midwest with Tiny Bradshaw and his orchestra. Others in the cast were Tiny Kennedy and the Spence Twins. I don't know all the stops, but I've seen ads for Akron and Nashville.
Showing just how uninformed a gossip columnist can be, there was an article in the October 30, 1952 Jet entitled "Why Career Women Can't Keep Husbands". It talked about the failed marriages of Dinah Washington (4 divorces at this point), Maxine Sullivan (2), Ethel Waters (3), Mable Sanford Lewis (3), Pearl Bailey (3), and, of course, Mabel Scott. Of her, they (hilariously) said: "Blues singer Mable Scott, dynamic bombshell of Paris and U.S. night clubs, also failed at two experiences as a wife. Her first was to Harlem night club owner George (Barbecue) Williams, one-time professional ballroom dancer. [See how it pays to read these things? I never knew that about him.] When they discovered they were unsuited for each other, they agreeably called it quits. Her second marriage was to blues-singing piano player Charles Brown, but this, like the first, is being dissolved." I wonder how Willie Ward, James Kenneth Givins, and Willie Jones felt about having been left off the list.
In November 1952, she was at Detroit's Flame Show Bar along with the Freddy "Dinky" Cole Trio. (Freddy, the ad was quick to point out, was one of Nat "King" Cole's brothers.) When Freddy left after a week, Mabel was moved up into the headline spot until early December.
The November 29, 1952 Billboard noted the re-release of "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus"/"That Ain't The Way To Love" on Swing Time. For being a good boy that year, 4-year old "Santa" was ranked a 75. (And they still didn't like the flip.)
Meanwhile, Decca had made the decision to switch R&B acts from their Coral label to their Brunswick subsidiary. "Wailin' Daddy" and "Take My Love", those two Leiber & Stoller tunes from her March 1952 session, were released on Brunswick in February 1953. When these failed to take off, she was let go. Let's let an expert give his opinion as to why these weren't hits. Mike Stoller told me he thought he and Jerry Leiber were asked (by whom, he didn’t remember) if they had any songs for Mabel, and "we kind of scrambled together a couple of songs (probably among our worst)."
On February 23, 1953, she began a week at the Earle Theater in Philadelphia with Tiny Bradshaw and his Orchestra, Son & Sonny, the Ames Brothers, and Freddie & Flo. This was a particularly momentous occasion. Remember that Mabel had been part of the first show ever at the Apollo Theater? Now she was part of the last show ever at the Earle.
A blurb in the March 5, 1953 Jet said: "The owners of the Cherrelyn Cafe in Denver were so pleased with Mabel Scott's appearance that they signed her to a contract to work there once a month for the next seven years." Nice, but I can't find a single instance of her ever appearing there. (Truth is, I can't even find any venue called the Cherrelyn Cafe.)
In May, she was at the Club DeLisa (Chicago) for a week in a revue titled "A May-Hey Day" (which probably should have been "A May Hey-Day"). While she was in Chicago, she recorded four sides for Parrot Records: "Mr. Fine", "Mable's Blues", "Fool Burro", and "Do The Thing". On those, she was backed by the Red Saunders band, augmented by trumpeter King Kolax. Also while in Chicago, she was part of the entertainment on the Memorial Day Cerebral Palsy telethon hosted by Chicago columnist Irv Kupcinet. If you had tuned in, you'd also have seen Joni James, Dean Martin, Frankie Laine, Tony Martin, Dick "Two Ton" Baker, Jeri Southern, Charlie Ventura, Red Saunders, and the Mary Kaye Trio.
Starting on June 25, 1953, Mabel spent 14 weeks at the Harlem Club in Atlantic City as part of Larry Steele's "Smart Affairs Of '54" revue. It also featured Jimmy Tyler & his band, the Bill Davis Trio, the 4 Congaroos, Olga James, Conrad & Estelle, Princess Orelia & Jose, Dorothy Hunt, the Fontaine Trio, and Flick Montgomery with the Beige Beauts.
In July 1953, Parrot released "Mr. Fine" and "Mable [sic] Blues", two more of Mabel's compositions. Credit on Parrot labels was always "Mable Scott". They were reviewed in the October 31 Cash Box, with "Mr. Fine" ranked "B+" and "Mable Blues" rated "B". They said, of "Mr. Fine": "Big voiced Mable Scot socks out a rhythmic slow jump as she enthusiastically tells of the merits of 'Mr. Fine'. Treatment is on the hot side with exciting orking and a torrid horn rounding out a colorful side. Should get lots of action." While I agree with all that, it's really a depressing song about a man who sponges off women, stays drunk, and beats them.
The week of September 18, she was back at the Apollo Theater along with the Dominoes, Lucky Millinder, Bobby Ephraim, Bobby Winters, and Pigmeat Markham. Five years after the song's release, she was still being billed as the "Elevator Boogie Girl".
The October 9, New York Age had this stand-alone sentence that was apropos of nothing: "Mable Scott, the singing thrush from Los Angeles, Calif., is a pretty spicy looking brown gal who can really sing." Not part of any other text, it was used to fill up a column whose advertisements weren't quite big enough.
October 15, 1953 found her back at Chicago's Regal Theater for a week as, once again, a part of Larry Steele's "Smart Affairs Of '54" revue. The only other cast member listed was singer Arthur Prysock. Right after that, she ("the 'cyclone' of song") headlined at Detroit's Flame Show Bar, starting October 22.
Y'know what? It's been a really long time since we've been invited to one of Mabel's weddings. So, send that tux to the cleaners, because, on November 13, 1953, in Madison County, Alabama, she married Number Six, William Latham, Jr. The little blurb in the January 28, 1954 Jet was headed "Singer Mabel Scott Secretly Weds Nashville Cop". It went on to say that she "met her new husband while on a southern tour with the 'Big Show' [whatever that was]. During their courtship, the entertainer said that she appeared at a Nashville night club owned by Nathan's father so that she could be near him." [The only problem was that they referred to him as "Will Nathan" instead of "Will Latham", but gossip columns are what they are. The "Nathan" name was carried forward to the February 11, 1954 Jet when they talked about the couple thinking about adopting a child.] While there was a policeman named William Latham, Jr., in Nashville in 1953, there was no listing for a William Latham who owned a night club. No, I don't know why they got married in Alabama if he was from Tennessee. [And, if you're keeping score, this is her third (and last) husband named "William".]
Also in January 1954, Parrot released her second record: "Do The Thing"/"Fool Burro". It was never reviewed in the trades.
Mabel's last known turn at the Apollo Theater was the week of March 19, 1954. With her were the Harptones, Tito Rodriguez, and Pigmeat Markham. The New York Age of March 20 gushed: "What can we say about dynamic Mabel Scott that hasn't been said before? The 'Elevator Boogie' gal, like fine vintage wine, improves with each year, and she has spent virtually her entire life on the stage. From an infant prodigy [first I've heard of it], Jimmie Lunceford band vocalist, Cotton Club principal, to her present star rating is proof of the natural talents of Mabel Scott."
The Jet of April 15 told us that "The Will Lathans [sic; but they're getting closer] just bought a 1,500 acre chicken farm in California." Almost all press releases like this one are pure fiction, but, short of asking the people involved, they're impossible to disprove.
I imagine that the February 1954 blurb about them considering adoption was also total fiction, because on June 17, 1954, William Latham III (at least the New York Age got the name right) was born to William and Mabel. In the November 11, 1954 Jet, Mabel announced that she was giving up traveling and would remain in Los Angeles.
Whereas once Swing Time had purchased "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" from Exclusive, Now Don Pierce's Hollywood Records purchased it from Swing Time. It was released in November 1954, as well as in (at least) 1955 and 1956. However, this time the flip was Jimmy Witherspoon's "How I Hate To See Christmas Come Around", another old Swing Time master.
As part of her stay-at-home plan, Mabel signed with Dootsie Williams' Dootone Records (announced in the April 30, 1955 Pittsburgh Courier). I don't know if she ever recorded for Dootone, but if so, nothing was ever released. Other signings that Dootsie announced were Roy Milton and Chuck Higgins.
I'm sure this won't surprise you, but the May 5, 1955 Jet reported that "Mabel Scott, the singing bombshell who retired last year to become a housewife, is tiring of that role and will return to the stage." Note how once a star gets stereotyped, it rarely changes: Mabel the "bombshell" has just turned 40 at this point. I know that that's a somewhat prejudiced attitude, but they brought it up. Why couldn't they just call her a singer?
And when Mabel decided to return to the stage, she really returned to the stage, signing up for Larry Steele's "Sugar Hill Revue" (subsequently renamed "Harlem Blackbirds"), which was booked for an extended run in Australia. Arriving in Sydney on June 8, 1955 (to play the Palladium beginning June 17), the cast included comedians Freddie & Flo Robinson, who replaced Butterbeans & Susie at the last minute (a big ad in the Sydney newspaper showed Butterbeans & Susie, not Freddie & Flo), George Kirby, and Pigmeat Markham; pianist/singer Maurice Rocco (famous for playing the piano while standing); dancers Leonard & Leonard; tap dancer Peter Ray; and the Morocco Quartet.
[This last aggregation is the Chicago group you know and love as Sollie McElroy and the Moroccos (although they were advertised as "Harlem's Quartette Of The Year"). Aside from Sollie, they were George Prayer, Joseph Melvin Morrow, and Fred Martin. The fifth member of the recording group, Ralph Vernon, didn't go with them, since he was only 15 at the time; he'd rejoin them when they returned.]
The June 2 Jet said that this was "the first all-Negro troupe to play Australia since 1933." However, a full-page ad for the show in Sydney's June 12, 1955 Sun-Herald said that this was the "first all-coloured stage show ever to appear on any Australian stage" and "the only all-coloured revue in America". Of Mabel, the ad said: "She first achieved prominence when the Duke of Windsor, and the former Wallis Simpson dropped into a little Paris bistro, and heard Mabel singing 'Every Little Doggie Has His Day.' The Duke and Duchess applauded vigorously, while the Duke called out 'Great Scott'." Oh, my.
That same ad said: "It is the biggest airlift to Australia of a full Musical Revue . . . 32 Coloured Performers in one special chartered plane to fly the Pacific!" I'm at a loss to understand why this was important to anyone.
Steele told the U.S. press that he wasn't taking a band along; he'd pick up musicians locally. However, the ad for the show in the local paper also advertised "Harlem's King Of Swing", Gene Key and His Famous Hot Shot Rhythm Band. True to his word, though, Steele also used a local band: that of Les Welch. Welch, a pianist, had led a jazz band, but was switching over to the popular music scene.
(If "Harlem Blackbirds" wasn't your cup of tea, Abbott & Costello were across town at the Stadium with their "complete 2-hour revue".)
"Harlem Blackbirds" was reviewed in the June 18 Sydney Morning Herald, which said: "Was there anything at all sensational, exciting, peculiar, or different about the 'Harlem Blackbirds,' who opened last night at the Palladium? Hardly anything, except the piano playing of Maurice Rocco. ... nearly all the supposedly comic moments of the show flopped dismally - mainly due to lack of ingenuity in the script-writing." And what of Mabel? "Still, everybody worked hard - the producer and compere [MC], Larry Steele, the blues singer, Mabel Scott, and particularly the well-disciplined dancing ensemble." Hardly a rave review. Steele himself admitted that the reviews weren't too great, but that didn't really matter; they were sold out at the Palladium for six weeks, remaining there until September 3.
The July 2, 1955 New York Age (which misspelled "Sydney") said "'Harlem Blackbirds' ... is the most thrilling show piece ever to hit this country." Ever? Really? They called Mabel "... the show's 'It Girl', and soubrette singing and skipping about the stage with amazing speed and know how. She is a show stopper by all measurements." I have to admit to not knowing what the word "soubrette" means. Turns out the guy who wrote the piece didn't either. It's defined as a soprano who's a minor stock character in an opera or theater production. Meaning "conceited", soubrettes act vain, frivolous, and girlish. They appear as friends, maids, or ladies-in-waiting, not as main characters.
In mid-August 1955, Mabel, backed by Les Welch's Orchestra, recorded four numbers: "I Wanna Be Loved, Loved, Loved", "Just The Way You Are", "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus, and "Mabel's Blues" (they finally got the title correct on that one). Actually, since the master numbers on the resulting records aren't consecutive, there might have been two sessions (or those numbers could have been assigned at pressing time).
From Sydney, the show traveled to Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth, finishing up in New Zealand early the following year.
The tour lasted through early February 1956 and they flew home on February 12 from Aukland, New Zealand. The manifest shows Mabel Latham (crossed out, with "Mabel Scott" written in), William Latham (INF - which I take to mean "infant", her son), and Corliss Latham. Corliss is a complete mystery to me. It's usually a woman's name, but I can't find anyone who could be her. I imagine that it was some relative of Mabel's husband, sent along to help care for little William, but I simply can't identify her. (Of course, the good news is that it really doesn't matter.)
[I doubt this is a coincidence: starting in December 1955, a horse named "Mabel Scott" ran at Sydney racetracks for the next few years.]
With the cast of "Harlem Blackbirds" safely out of Australia, those four songs that Mabel had recorded some months before were released on the local Festival label. "I Wanna Be Loved, Loved, Loved" and "Just The Way You Are" were issued in March 1956; "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" and "Mabel's Blues" came out in April.
Of course, there's a problem. The labels on both records say "Actually recorded at 'Palladium' Theater during Harlem Blackbird Season". According to Simon Evans, currently living in Australia, "season" in that context means "the duration of the show". However, I'm not sure what "recorded at the Palladium" means. I've heard "I Wanna Be Loved, Loved, Loved" and "Just The Way You Are" and they certainly weren't recorded live. (I passed them by singer Billy Vera and he concurs.) They may have been recorded during practice backstage (although they sound studio-recorded) or it just sounded good to put that on the label. Of course, the label never mentions the word "live", so it's really anyone's guess what they meant. (I suppose it's even possible that the Palladium Theater contained its own recording studio.) Note that the accompanying photo's caption simply said "Les Welch and Mabel Scott recording a Rock 'n Roll number last week". The wording to that sentence tells me that Rock 'n Roll was just starting to catch on in Australia and recording it was seen as noteworthy.
One way or the other, these were Mabel's last known recordings. I've looked at a Festival discography and Mabel seems to be the only one of the "Harlem Blackbirds" to have been recorded (or at least released).
Then, things became quiet on the Mabel Front. There's not a single mention of her in the press in all of 1956.
There was no context for this, but the March 14, 1957 California Eagle said, "Those spectacular hats being worn by thrush MABEL SCOTT make HEDDA HOPPER look as tho' she's bareheaded!"
Several editions of the California Eagle talked about the upcoming April 21, 1957 fashion and variety show, put on by the Star-Liters Club at Ciro's in Los Angeles. (The theme, for all you ladies, was "A Pastel Fantasy".) The Red Callender Band would be there, as would the Lester Horton dancers, Rozelle Gale, Georgia Carr, Frances Neely, and, of course, Mabel Scott. (Oh, yes, the Titans would also perform.)
On December 8, 1957, the Prince Of Wales Club gave its first annual talent and charity show, at the Los Angeles Breakfast Club. Mabel was there, as were Nellie Lucher, the Johnny Hodges' band, Lillian Randolph, Bixie Crawford, Jesse Belvin, Ted Taylor, and Clydie King.
A social club called the Dandy Dukes advertised a March 15, 1958 farewell party for the Penguins at the Club Californian, since they, and Johnny Otis, were due to leave on a tour of England. The March 13, 1958 California Eagle had a screaming headline "Penguins 'Party' At Californian" that ran the full width of their show business page. Invited to the bash were Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Johnny Otis, Roy Milton, Young Jessie, Jesse Belvin, the Cufflinx, Slappy White, Lavern Baker, Jack McVea, Mickey Champion, Hunter Hancock, and Art Laboe. It's nice to invite all these people, but it's difficult to imagine that Ella Fitzgerald or Sammy Davis would show up at a party for the Penguins. Considering that the tour never happened, and that the Penguins photo that accompanied the article was actually an old one of the Clovers, who knows if the affair itself ever took place.
The California Eagle of April 17, 1958 reported that both Helen Humes and Mabel Scott had auditioned for the upcoming filming of "Porgy And Bess". Neither was hired.
Then, in June, it was off to Las Vegas, where Mabel headlined at the Town Tavern. July 18, 1958 found her at the Magic Carpet in San Bernardino, along with Tommy Carlough and Lou Baker's Esquires.
"But," I hear you cry, "it's been so long since we've heard of Mabel's husband. Where's William Latham been?" The short answer is "I don't know" (the long answer is strikingly similar). What I can tell you is that he's gone. They were divorced sometime before September 1958. Why then? Simple. On September 21, 1958, Mabel married Number Seven, Harold Long. The California Eagle of September 25 wished them "belated but hefty congrats". (Harold ended up adopting Mabel's son, Willie, who then became Willie Long.)
In December 1958, she, Nellie Lutcher, and Richie Cannon (formerly of the Ravens) entertained at the wedding reception of Lillian Cumber, owner of the Lil Cumber Attractions Agency in Los Angeles.
On September 20, 1959 Mabel ("the hostess with the mostest") was at the Guys n' Dolls luau, somewhere in Los Angeles. It was mentioned in two blurbs, neither of which gave the location. A little more than a month later (on October 29), she and Harold had a daughter, Chudi.
February 28, 1960 found Mabel at the Elks Ballroom in Los Angeles, along with Dinah Washington, Roy Milton, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Scatman Crothers, the Penguins, Rudy Ray Moore, Willie Hayden, Stuff Smith, Ben Webster, Vernon Green & the Medallions, and Benny Carter. The event was an "all star benefit dance-concert" for Julius "Stuff" Crouch. Once a bartender-waiter-major domo at Eddie "Rochester" Anderson's Club Classic, he'd become the proprietor of a popular after-hours club on Central Avenue in the 1940s (the Backstage), and had recently suffered a heart attack.
On March 17, 1960 Mabel entertained at a "Cocktail Dansant" at the Largo Club on the Sunset Strip. Given by the Pericleans Social And Charity Club, the Arrogants also performed, with music by Jeep Smith.
In May 1961, a somewhat hefty Mabel Scott was pictured dancing at a party given for Lucille Boswell, a Los Angeles publicist, at the Nite Life Club.
Mabel was one of the many mourners at the funeral of former movie and television comedian Willie Best in March 1962. While he appeared in over 60 movies (and was even a regular on two TV shows simultaneously in the early 50s), he died penniless. Amanda Randolph, Sunshine Sammy, and Floyd Ray were also present.
Many sources say that Mabel left the world of show business and turned back to church music. I have no reason to doubt that, but there's no mentions of it in the press. Actually, from 1963 through 1988, there's no mention of her at all. She was still entertaining as late as 1960.
Then, in late December 1989, Mabel was at Marla's Memory Lane in Los Angeles, performing along with headliner Charles Brown. As far as I know, with all her failed marriages, Charles was the only one she remained close to. Marla's, Billy Vera informs me, was owned by Marla Gibbs, of the "Sanford And Son" show.
Speaking of marriages, I don't know how long her seventh marriage (to Harold Long) actually lasted. She'd changed her name to Mabel Scott Long (with Social Security) in January 1959 and back to Mabel B. Scott in August 1984. Since Harold didn't die until 1988, there was another divorce somewhere along the line, probably in 1983 or 1984. Harold's Social Security death record doesn't show a wife; they're also buried in different cemeteries. (And I can't even rule out another marriage, but she may have given up by this point. I know I have.)
On March 2, 1995, at the Hollywood Palladium, Mabel's musical contributions were recognized when she was given a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. Other inductees that year were Fats Domino, Cissy Houston, Darlene Love, Arthur Prysock, the Moonglows, Inez & Charlie Foxx, Illinois Jacquet, the Marvelettes, Lloyd Price, Booker T. & the MGs, Junior Walker, and Baby Washington. Mabel certainly was in good company. Billy Vera says: "I conducted the band at the 1995 Rhythm & Blues Foundation event when Mabel was honored. She was still a "bouncy" performer in her 80s."
Mabel Scott died peacefully on July 20, 2000 at age 85. The only obituary I could find for her was this single sentence in the September 25, 2000 Jet: "Mabel Scott, 85, a veteran blues singer whose hits included Boogie Woogie Santa Claus and Mr. Fine, in her sleep in Los Angeles." You can say this about too many faded stars: "there should have been more said about them at the end".
I've had a great time making fun of all Mabel's marriages, but that doesn't detract one bit from my appreciation of her as a singer. If you're not familiar with her work, this is a good time to go and take a listen. (I strongly recommend starting with "Googie Woogie".)
Special thanks to Mark Cantor, Billy Vera, Peter Stoller, and Victor Pearlin.
PARLOPHONE (United Kingdom)
F1125 Mighty Like The Blues/More Than That - 6/38
with Bob Mosley, piano
AFRS Jubilee (accompanied by the Flennoy Trio)
81 Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy Of Company B (recorded 5/44) - 6/44
SOUNDIES (with the Flennoy Trio; all recorded on 9/27/44)
19008 Steak And Potatoes - released 11/27/44
19305 Gee - released 12/18/44
89808 Yankee Doodle Never Went To Town - released 2/26/45
3029 Do You Know The Game?/Just Give Me A Man - 7/46
263 When Did You Leave Heaven/Good Lookin' Fella -2/48
35X Elevator Boogie/Don't Cry, Baby - 5/48
67X A Bippity Be Bop Pony/Right Around The Corner From Basin Street - 11/48
75X Boogie Woogie Santa Claus/Every Little Doggie Has Its Day - 12/48
83X Give Me A Man/That Ain't The Way To Love - 3/49
103X Googie Woogie (Jungle Boogie)/Gee - 6/49
4368 Baseball Boogie/I Found My Baby - 4/50
4386 Fine, Fine Baby/Have You Ever Watched Love Die - 8/50
4395 Subway Blues/I'll Always Belong To You - 9/50
4410 Willow Weep For Me/Disgusted - 10/50
SWING TIME (the Exclusive masters)
239 Boogie Woogie Santa Claus/That Ain't The Way To Love - 11/50
(re-released in 1951 & 1952)
CORAL (Subsidiary of Decca)
65057 Catch 'em Young, Treat 'em Rough, Tell 'em Nothin'/No More Cryin' Blues - 7/51
65063 Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train/Somebody Goofed - 9/51
60703 Yes!/Shut Eye - 4/52
BRUNSWICK (Subsidiary of Decca)
9-84001 Wailin' Daddy/Take My Love - 2/53
PARROT (name spelled "Mable" on the label)
780 Mr. Fine/Mable Blues - 7/53
794 Do The Thing/Fool Burro - 1/54
HOLLYWOOD (the Exclusive/Swing Time master)
1023 Boogie Woogie Santa Claus/[How I Hate To See Christmas Come Around - Jimmy Witherspoon] - 11/54
(re-released in 1955 and 1956)
FESTIVAL (Australian label)
SP45-780 I Wanna Be Loved, Loved, Loved/Just The Way You Are - 3/56
FS-879 Boogie Woogie Santa Claus/Mabel's Blues - 4/56
(with Les Welch's Orchestra)