Sorry to burst your bubble, but there never was anyone named Annisteen Allen. Wait. Wait. Don't be too quick to throw out your records; there was a singer who went by that name and turned out some very nice music.
Actually, though, I'm not really sure what her name was. When she originally set up a Social Security account in October 1938, it was as Ernestine Grace Allen, daughter of Ernest Allen and Grace Arrington. (However, their 1920 marriage record calls them Ernest Allen and Grace Patterson. After a lot of digging, I'm convinced that the "Patterson" is correct.) By April 1955, it was Ernestine Letitia Williams (although I have no idea who Williams was). In February 1969, it was Ernestine Letitia Allen (as it was again in June 1990). At some point (no date was given), it was Ernestine Grace Shaw. Finally, in June 1998, it was plain Ernestine Allen.
Some of that troubles me. I can't, of course, see the actual Social Security records, so I have to rely on what's reported. I know that people can copy these things incorrectly, because "Letitia" was spelled "Lotitia" in reporting the April 1955 change. Since, according to a 1987 interview, her mother died when she was only six days old, it would make sense for her to have been named Ernestine Grace after both her parents. (However, her mother died on September 19, 1921; there was an obituary that mentioned Ernestine as being 10 months.) It's possible that, somehow, the records of two different women (Ernestine Grace and Ernestine Letitia) have somehow been conflated. I tend to reject that because I can't believe that she didn't set up a Social Security account until 1955.
She also lied about her age to Social Security. She was actually born, in Champaign, Illinois, on November 11, 1920, but she told them it was 1919. Her father was single in the 1920 census, which collected data as of January 1 that year. Her mother only seems to show up in the 1910 census, the 1920 marriage record, and her 1921 obituary.
If she really was Ernestine Grace (and she always called herself Ernestine, regardless of what was on records or marquees), who was Shaw? For that matter, who was Williams? Normally, I'd find out these things from the highly-unreliable gossip columns that make up most of my research. In this case, however, she was never mentioned in any of them. All reports of her in newspapers had to do with appearances and recordings. So this time, I'm limited in my snarky comments about how stupid press agent blurbs are.
From 1953 to 1960 there was a Mrs. Ernestine Shaw at 412 Lenox Avenue in Manhattan. However, there was no other Shaw who ever lived at that address. From 1946 to 1949 there was a Mrs. Ernestine Williams in Manhattan. It's possible neither one is her.
Since her mother had died when Ernestine was only 10 months old, her father, presumably unable to raise her by himself, sent her to live with relatives in Toledo, Ohio. I think I can find her in the 1930 census: Ernestine Allen is 9 years old and her parents were both born in Mississippi (which is correct). She's living in Toledo with, and is listed as the "daughter" of, Martin and Ruth Marshal. Actually, Ruth is the sister of Ernestine's mother and is, therefore, her aunt.
Ernestine Allen died of a heart attack, in Manhattan, in August 1992. Confusing me till the end, it was either on August 10 (her burial record) or August 11 (her Social Security record). I can't find an obituary.
Now that I seem to have taken care of everything known about Ernestine Allen's personal life, let's examine her singing career.
Ernestine later claimed that, after graduating high school in 1939, she vacationed in San Antonio and began performing at bandleader Don Albert Dominique's Keyhole Club (at Pine and Iowa Streets). A problem immediately pops up: the Keyhole Club didn't open until 1944.
That 1987 interview continued that she stayed in San Antonio, married someone (presumably Williams), and, at some point attended Tuskegee Institute, which is in Macon, Alabama. I don't think she was making up any of these things, but I'm convinced that she got the timeline all wrong.
The first hint of her singing career came in 1945, when the September 8 New York Age had this: "Maestro Lucky Millinder who dropped Judy Carroll and blues singing Wynonie Harris and took on Leon Ketchum as vocalist has another good-looking damsel set for his band." Is this Ernestine? It didn't bother to say.
What we do know is that Duke Ellington frequented the Keyhole Club when he was in San Antonio, and one night he went there with Louis Jordan. Both of them were impressed with Ernestine and, because neither of them needed a singer at the time, told Lucky Millinder about her. Millinder (may have) hired her without an audition, based on the rave reviews from Ellington and Jordan. She'd later credit Millinder with teaching her everything she needed to know about how to be a performer (and she'd stay with him for at least seven consecutive years). There's no record of her first appearance with the band, but it would have been in the fall of 1945.
Lucius "Lucky" Millinder had one of the more successful bands around at the time. He smiled a lot and was quite charismatic. Occasionally singing and dancing, his function was simply to lead the band (he didn't play any instrument).
But soon, Ernestine was gone and, in her place was "Annisteen". Where did that name come from? The easy answer is that Millinder came from Anniston, Alabama (which is true) and changed her name as a tribute to his home city. However, she later told interviewers that it was a label error caused by press agent Joe Bostic. However, it happened, she was stuck with it, but never liked it, nor did she ever answer to it off-stage. [It may have no bearing at all on this, but there was another singer named Annastean [Haines], who was active in the 1930s, singing at Leon & Eddies in New York. She married a white man named Joseph Hilton Smyth, who received a nine-year jail sentence for not registering as an agent of the Japanese government. It's possible that her name was in the back of Millinder's or Bostic's mind.]
Lucky Millinder's Orchestra had a complicated recording career (which I'll mostly leave to others to untangle). At the time, he was under contract to Decca, but he allowed his musicians to record for other labels. Since he didn't play any instrument himself, he wouldn't really be violating his contract.
Annisteen (I'll drop the "Ernestine" for now) first recorded for King Records' Queen subsidiary. (King was headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, known as the "Queen City".) On December 19, 1945, she waxed a half-dozen songs with "Bull Moose Jackson & His Orchestra". Benjamin "Bull Moose" Jackson was one of Millinder's saxophone players, as well as a vocalist. I don't know why, but Lucky encouraged Bull Moose to form his own band, although he remained with Millinder for a few more years. The other musicians on the session were from Millinder's band as well: Harold "Money" Johnson (trumpet), Burnie Peacock (alto sax), Benjamin "Bull Moose" Jackson (tenor sax), Sam "The Man" Taylor (tenor sax), Sir Charles Thompson (piano), Bernie Mackey (guitar; he'd left the Ink Spots in the spring of 1945), either Beverly Peer or Jerry Cox (bass), and David "Panama" Francis (drums).
This is the full roster of tunes recorded that day: "Oo-Oo-Ee Bob A Lee Bob", "I Know How To Do It", "Jamin And Jumpin", "The Blues Done Got Me And Gone", "More, More, More", "I Want A Man (Who's Gonna Do Right)", and "I've Got Big Bulgin' Eyes (For You)". All had Annisteen's vocals, except for "Jamin And Jumpin".
"Oo-Oo-Ee Bob A Lee Bob", issued the same month, was part of the "Baba Leba" recordings, started by Helen Humes' "Be-Baba-Leba", which was a huge hit. The flip was the instrumental "Jamin And Jumpin". The main credit on the disc was "Bull Moose Jackson & His Orchestra"; Annisteen was on her way.
On December 26, 1945, Lucky and crew began a southern tour, along with Savannah Churchill (both acts were booked by the Gale Agency). The gimmick was that Savannah and Annisteen were pitted in a singing "Battle Of The Blues". Since Savannah was from New York and Annisteen was from San Antonio, it was a battle of North against South. (Let's forget, for the time being, that Savannah was born in Colfax, Louisiana and Annisteen in Champaign, Illinois. What? You never got anything backwards?) The tour took them to Roanoke, Charlotte, Macon, Knoxville, Nashville, Atlanta, and Raleigh.
And then, only a short time after joining Millinder, Annisteen found her name in an Apollo Theater ad. The band was there the week of January 4, 1946, including Panama Francis, Bull Moose Jackson, Burnie Peacock, and vocalist Leon Ketchum, as well as Mack & Joe and Jelly Roll & Zuzu.
After that, the band went to the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. A blurb about Annisteen in the January 12, 1946 New York Age mentioned that Millinder had discovered Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Judy Carol, and Trevor Bacon; Annisteen was to be his fourth major discovery. Annisteen was described as a "provocative blues singer". Lucky found her "almost by accident in Dallas, Texas, thanks to a casual tip from Louis Jordan, who had heard her sing snatchily [?] as he was leaving a Dallas honky tonk." At least it gave some of her history, although, if it's as factual as that last sentence, it's highly open to question. The first paragraph doesn't seem too bad (although it isn't terribly accurate), but the second, oy - not a single thing in it is true!
Annisteen has been singing ever since she can remember. She began as do many youngsters, singing in the church choir in her native Toledo. In high school, she had such distinctive style, that she was chosen to sing with the school orchestra, being the only Negro member of the little combination. From there she went on to singing in YWCA groups and local amateur theatricals. Her forte was always in the torch vein so it was a natural thing that her morose nature [nice praise!] should eventually turn to blues, the form in which she has found most convincing expression. [Strange, since she told interviewer Norbert Hess that she was most drawn to Country & Western music.]
She has had her share of hard knocks. Don Albert, the band leader, passing through Toledo, hired her as vocalist and then came her period of precarious existence with a traveling band. Finally, she found herself stranded in Dallas. She decided to abandon a singing career. Two weeks at a service job and she was back haunting the night spots. Eventually she landed in a small club at wages that approached the starvation level, but her soul was happy because she was singing the blues with all her heart and soul. Then along came Lucky to be knocked cold. She was signed, as he puts it, "as soon as I could get a pen in her hand." Incidentally, she was signed on the back of a menu in the club. Next week [at the Howard] the eastern music world will learn if Lucky has unearthed another nugget; whether the [Rosetta] Tharpe, [Trevor] Bacon, [Judy] Carol pattern will be repeated. [Note that Trevor Bacon left Millinder for Tab Smith's Orchestra in late April 1944; a year later, he was killed in a car crash.]
In February, Millinder made his 100th appearance at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom. He'd been appearing there on a regular basis since the mid-1920s.
On February 26, 1946, the Millinder orchestra had a session for Decca. Of the five songs recorded ("How Big Can You Get, Little Man?", "More, More, More" (the same song that had been recorded, but not yet released, for Queen), "(Ah-Yes) There's Good Blues Tonight", "Shorty's Got To Go", and "Chittlin' Switch"), the first three feature Annisteen; "Shorty" is led by Lucky; and "Chittlin' Switch" is sung by Bull Moose Jackson. The musicians, most of whom were on Annisteen's Queen session, were: John Bello, Archie Johnson, Harold "Money" Johnson, and Leon Merian (trumpet), Alfred Cobbs, Frank Mazzoli, Eugene Simon (trombone), Sammy Hopkins, George "Big Nick" Nicholas, Burnie Peacock (alto sax), Benjamin "Bull Moose" Jackson, Sam "The Man" Taylor (tenor sax), Ernest Purce (baritone sax), Sir Charles Thompson (piano), Bernie Mackey (guitar), Jerry Cox (bass), Panama Francis (drums).
The session was reported in the March 9, 1946 Pittsburgh Courier under the heading "Lucky Waxes 5 New Songs". The article called him "The Stokowski Of Syncopation", and praised the tunes as "five potential hits". It brought out that "(Ah-Yes) There's Good Blues Tonight" was a take-off on radio newsman Gabriel Heatter's opening line: "There's good news tonight".
In March or April, the orchestra filmed a short called "Lucky Millinder And His Orchestra", in which Annisteen sings "I Want A Man" (with some sax work by Sam "The Man" Taylor). Probably released in mid-July, this film has a special place in entertainment, according to film historian Mark Cantor. In this quote, he's talking about the history of black and white musicians appearing together on the screen:
But the most striking example of all, at least before the 1950s, is a film featuring Lucky Millinder's 1946 orchestra in which six of the musicians are white. This fully integrated band was not one put together for the appearance in this movie short. Rather, it is a touring band that not only played the Apollo Theater in New York City, but worked in the Deep South as well.
What motivated Lucky Millinder to bring white musicians into his band is something that can only be inferred, although it appears that "progressive thoughts" played a large part in his decision to integrate the orchestra. Certainly, there was a wealth of talented and available black musicians in New York City, especially those who were section players and would not be expected to solo. In other words, bringing white sidemen into the band was a matter of choice, not necessity.
Sometime in April 1946, Bull Moose Jackson's organization (with substantially the same members as in the prior December) recorded five more tunes for Queen: "Arkansas", "Give It Up ('Cause You Can't Take It With You)", "She Lost Her Re-Bop", "Big Foot Sam From Birmingham", and "Bluer Than Blue". The first three feature Annisteen, the other two would be released as "Sam Taylor & His Alabama Swingsters".
In April, Decca released "(Ah-Yes) There's Good Blues Tonight" / "Chittlin' Switch" (vocal by Bull Moose Jackson & the Lucky Four). All Decca releases were credited to Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra, with the vocalists also mentioned on the label.
Also in April, Queen issued "I Want A Man (Who's Gonna Do Right)" / "I've Got Big Bulgin' Eyes (For You)". All Queen releases (other than "Oo-Oo-Ee Bob A Lee Bob") were credited to Annisteen Allen & Her Home Town Boys.
The April 20 New York Age said: "Next week Lucky's band will once again provide a delightful assortment of jump tunes and symphonic numbers in swing tempo. Annasteen [sic] Allen and Buell Thomas [who'd replaced Leon Ketchum] are the vocalists with Lucky's band. Miss Allen has been with him for some time and sang on some of his most successful recordings. Buell Thomas is a newcomer. Advance reports indicate that he is an unusually fine tenor and that he will give Apollo Theatre goers a thrill." The only problem is that Millinder wasn't at the Apollo the following week (nor at any future time in all of 1946). I have no explanation.
In May 1946, Queen released the second record by Annisteen Allen & Her Home Town Boys: "The Blues Done Got Me And Gone", backed with "More, More, More". The record was reviewed in the June 8 Billboard, but didn't fare well. It didn't help that DJ copies were pressed with "More, More, More" on both sides: "... the copy received by The Billboard had both sides stamped with More, More, More. Allen and Her Home Town Boys hit a dreary beat for Lucky Millinder's song, but the chirp herself tries hard to capture its flavor. Piano intro gets things going, and there are some ensemble passages in the background, topped by a brief, open trumpet. What happened to the other side? Little interest for jukes here."
The next Queen release by Annisteen Allen & Her Home Town Boys was in July 1946: "She Lost Her Re-Bop", backed with "Give It Up ('Cause You Can't Take It With You)". The disc got a lukewarm review in the August 10 Billboard: "Top side ["Re-Bop"] is a jive ditty, with vouty lyrics on Hey Baba Leba vein. Be-bop wordage is not intended to make sense. Musical portions aren't good music, but they do have a certain amount of rhythmic drive. Give It Up has lyrics open to interpretation and as a result is not recommended for radio. Annisteen Allen shouts both sides, assisted by Bull Moose Jackson and vocal ensemble. Race locations may take to the jitterbug beat of this brace of sides."
Fortunately, the August 12 Cash Box was there to save the day: "'Hot' is the word for this offering called 'She Lost Her Re Bop.' Lots of voices join in to lift it into the hit class but that of Annisteen Allen is the one we liked best. She's really good and gets lots of help from Bull Moose Jackson to real advantage. Were it not for the fact that this tune is out of the 'Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop' family, this platter might cause a sensation. As it is, it's still top juke box fare, with lots of rhythm, lots of stomp, lots of flash. And the flip, 'Give It Up' is just as good. If you have any boxes in Harlem-type locations, give this platter a listening."
Do you get the feeling that they were listening to different records? Generally speaking, Cash Box gave Annisteen more favorable reviews than Billboard.
Not waiting to see what happened with "She Lost Her Re-Bop" (not much, as it turned out), Queen released another Annisteen Allen & Her Home Town Boys record in August 1946: "I Know How To Do It", coupled with "Arkansas". (Note that "Arkansas" is the same song that Lil Green would release as "Take Me Back To Little Rock" the following year.)
Billboard reviewed the disc on September 21, having this to say: "Bass and rhythm kick off top side ["Arkansas"], saxes take up the chant for a stanza, and then Annisteen comes in for the lyrics which constantly repeat the line 'Rock Me in Little Rock, Arkansas.' Tenor sax solo, and some ensemble lyricizing which is a wee bit sour, follow. Better side for the race location jukes is the peppy I Know How To Do It on the flipover. Tune, like its mate, is a Lucky Millinder composition and has been waxed before - but seldom with as much enthusiasm. Side, however, tends to be slightly marred by the roughness and varied quality of the band. 'Arkansas' ditty strictly of local interest; other side will get play on race boxes."
In early September 1946, the Millinder crew was at the Million Dollar Theater in Los Angeles. The September 14 Billboard review of the show started with this less-than-stellar opinion: "Current bill has no top names to pack the house" (although the sentence continued with "but those who came enjoyed every act and left feeling they got their coins' worth"). The aggregation was referred to as "Lucky Millinder's ork (18)", but I'm not sure if the 18 members includes the singers or if it means 18 musicians. Others on the bill were the Businessmen Of Rhythm (a tap-dancing duo) and Joe Wong ("Chinese ambassador of mirth"), who did imitations of the Ink Spots, Perry Como, and Frank Sinatra. Of Annisteen, they said: "Canary Annisteen Allen pulls down the house with her projection of Take Me Back To Little Rock, Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop and Good Blues Tonight. Voice is okay but most of response comes from her swivel-hip selling."
From there, they journeyed to St. Louis, to appear at the Club Riviera, starting the week of September 20. They shared the stage with Chuck & Chuckles ("riot team") and Salt & Pepper ("Queens Of Dance"). On occasion, Millinder was referred to as the "Dynamaestro Of Swing".
The October 5, 1946 Pittsburgh Courier had a strange little article. It said that Lucky Millinder was being challenged over his right to use Annisteen's services by Fred Johnson of Champaign, Illinois. Johnson claimed that he'd discovered Annisteen years ago and had a contract giving him exclusive rights to her services (rights which hadn't been exercised in five years). She, on the other hand, denied that such an agreement existed and claimed that she didn't even know Johnson. While there was no follow-up article, it seems that Fred Johnson sank back into the woodwork.
Record companies are strange animals. There was a big King ad in the October 7, 1946 Cash Box. It mentions "She Lost Her Re-Bop", as well as Bull Moose Jackson's "I Know Who Threw The Whiskey In The Well", but the ad's screaming title (complete with drawing) is "Big Foot Sam From Birmingham" (recorded, if you remember, at the same session as "She Lost Her Re-Bop" and released as by "Sam Taylor & His Alabama Swingsters"). The ad says that it was Queen 4126 and points out that it was "selected by CASH BOX as the DISC of the WEEK", but fails to mention who it was by!
In October, Annisteen's segment of "I Want A Man" was taken from the "Lucky Millinder And His Orchestra" short and released as a Soundie.
From now on (at least for a while), the whole aggregation will be on the same label at the same time, all credited to "Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra". Their next release, on Decca, was "How Big Can You Get, Little Man?", coupled with "More, More, More" (both sung by Annisteen), issued in February 1947.
The disc was reviewed in the February 24 Cash Box, which said: "Shaping up nicely, Annisteen Allen offers a pleasant vocal rendition on both sides. It's slow stuff in a mellow mood, with the chirp taking honors all the way through. Ops who use this brand, might do well to get next to this pair."
Billboard, however was negative again [and, I have no idea what the first five words mean; should it be "It's" or "Its"?]: "It's colorless and somewhat rhythmpations that Lucky Millinder rides out for this twosome, spinning like they were cut a long time ago. [True, they were recorded a year earlier.] Band is in ensemble formation, geared to a solid beat, with just a dash of saxing to each of the sides. And sharing the spinning and just as drab, is the husky thrushing of Annister [sic] Allen for both a bouncy 'More, More, More' and a slower 'How Big Can You Get, Little Man?' It's the same lack of enthusiasm for both band and chanteuse. All adds up to naught for nickels."
Annisteen's next Decca session took place on April 11, 1947, recording "The Spider And The Fly", "Let It Roll", and "Begging For Love". Annisteen did the first two and "Begging For Love" was handled by new male singer Paul Breckenridge. (This is the same song that would later be done by the Wrens.)
They were back at the Apollo Theater the week of May 9, 1947, along with Deek Watson & His Brown Dots, the Edwards Sisters, and Pigmeat Markham.
Also in May, Decca issued "The Spider And The Fly", backed with the Paul Breckenridge-led "You Can't Put Out A Fire (By Fanning The Flame)". "The Spider And The Fly" had potential; it was also recorded by the Aristo-Kats, Stan Kenton, and Myra Taylor.
The June 14, 1947 Indianapolis Recorder proclaimed: "Millinder And Ork Wax 8 New Ditties". It went on with this silly hype: "Breaking a long standing tradition, the Decca company is releasing two potential 'hit' songs on one record: 'The Spider And The Fly', rhythmic novelty with vocal by songstar Annisteen Allen, and 'You Can't Put Out The Fire By Fanning The Flame', spine-tingling ballad by Paul Breckenridge, America's most widely discussed young singer, newest addition to the Millinder aggregation." Really? Breckenridge is "America's most widely discussed young singer"?
Once again, Billboard (June 21, 1947) had nothing good to say; I'm sensing a trend here. "The Lucky Millinder band laying down a solid rhythm base, it's the full-voiced and throaty warbling of Annisteen Allen, assisted by the ensemble, for the spiritual-styled 'Spider And The Fly' saga. Gives way in her song only for a breath of saxology. But neither the singing nor the playing builds up to the feverish pitch. For the flip, Millinder is geared to melody lines, the solo trumpet teeing off for the 'Put Out A Fire' torch with Paul Breckenridge's sweet tenor pipes making the wordage count. Little here to excite the phono fans for a coin spree."
When that one failed to take off, Decca released "Let It Roll", coupled with "Begging For Love" in September. Once again, Annisteen led the top side and Paul Breckenridge the flip. This time, Billboard avoided a negative review by not reviewing it at all (neither did Cash Box).
Annisteen recorded another tune for Decca on October 1, 1947: "Don't Hesitate Too Long". Also in October, the Millinder band was at Club El Sino in Detroit.
The Millinder organization appeared at the Sunset Terrace (Indianapolis) in November. The huge headline in the November 8, 1947 Indianapolis Recorder read: "Lucky Millinder's Band Here Sunday, Nov. 9th - Featured With The Band Are Annasteen [sic] Allen, And 'Bull Moose' Jackson". They'd just finished another engagement at New York's Savoy Ballroom, from which they'd also broadcast three times a week.
Annisteen's "Don't Hesitate Too Long" was released on Decca in March 1948. The flip was "Tonight He Sailed Again", featuring Paul Breckenridge.
On March 26, 1948, they started another week at the Apollo Theater. Bull Moose Jackson's big hit of "I Love You, Yes I Do" was mentioned in the ad. The New York Age of March 27 had this hype: "Fortune has been smiling very kindly on two other featured members of Lucky Millinder's band, Annisteen Allen and Paul Breckenridge. The former's recording of 'Let It Roll' is so popular that juke box manufacturers have designated next week as national 'Let It Roll Week.' Meanwhile Annisteen's recording of 'Don't Hesitate Too Long' is also highly successful. Paul Breckenridge, too, is very unusually successful with his recordings. One which he made years ago 'Tonight He Sailed Again,' has been revived."
I don't really understand that last sentence. He'd only recorded the tune about six months previously (although it had been copyrighted in December 1944). It was actually a pretty WW2 song about a sailor going off sea and doesn't really make sense as a 1947 recording. But it would pop up again in a successful 1952 lawsuit against King Records by Decca, which claimed that "I Love You, Yes I Do" was based on "Tonight He Sails Again".
As far as the rest of the nonsense about how popular "Let It Roll" and "Don't Hesitate Too Long" were, neither made the national charts. However, Annisteen continued to be identified with "Let It Roll" (even though she later said she hated it) and would record it twice more in her career.
Amazingly, Billboard gave "Don't Hesitate Too Long" a 74 and a good review, although they had more to say about Millinder's backing. Cash Box (April 3) said: "Annisteen Allen chirps pretty ... to offer a pleasing piece for the crowd that loves to jump." However, both reviews liked "Tonight He Sails Again" better.
On April 28, King Records held a cancer fund benefit at the Paradise Theater in Detroit, giving away 1000 records to donors. [Amazing! King owner Syd Nathan giving something away!]. There were 15 DJs present (called "platter jocks" and "tallow turners" in the May 8 Billboard write-up), as well as the Millinder band, which was the headline act that week.
And then, they got a radio show. From July 7 to August 25, they were the summer replacement for the popular Dennis Day Show over the NBC network. Called the National Minstrels Show, it also had the 4 Tunes, Jackie "Moms" Mabley, and the Hall Sisters as regular performers.
Somewhere along the way, the Millinder Orchestra had filmed some performances for the All American News movie "Boarding House Blues". Filmed in New York, it was released in September 1948. "Anistine Allen" (as she appeared in the credits) sang "Let It Roll", Paul Breckenridge sang "Sweet Slumber", and Bull Moose Jackson warbled "I Love You, Yes I Do". The September 4, New York Age was all over it; the first sentence read: "Dynamaestro Lucky Millinder's new starring film, 'Boarding House Blues', a full length feature production, will be released nationally in early September, for screening in a majority of America's movie houses." Good try, guys, but Millinder doesn't appear until an hour and five minutes into the film and I'm sure that it was shown mostly in theaters that had large black audiences. The band begins with a rousing instrumental number (whose title I don't know), followed by Breckenridge, Allen, and Jackson, and then the band again, closing with "The Hucklebuck".
The first 40 minutes of this fairly stupid movie isn't really worth watching, but then, it's saved by performances by the Berry Brothers, Una Mae Carlisle, Stump & Stumpy, Moms Mabley, Lewis & White, and Dusty Fletcher, as well as Millinder. (But the real jaw-dropping performance, for me, was by Crip Heard, a one-armed, one-legged dancer, who doesn't balance on an artificial leg as Peg-Leg Bates does.)
On September 25, RCA Victor announced that it was retaining Lucky as a talent scout and an advisor on R&B to their Artists & Repertoire department. He'd been lured away from King, where he'd been doing the same kind of work. (Of course, the band, along with Annisteen, would come along.) The actual signing was announced in November.
On October 29, Lucky was back at the Paradise Theater in Detroit, this time along with the Rimmer Sisters, Miller & Lee, and Lockjaw Jackson. I don't know when the following happened, but it was probably at this time. Millinder was at the Paradise and an unknown singer named Ruth Brown was at the Frolic Show Bar. Lucky heard Ruth and offered her a job with his band, although there wasn't really a place for her. But he took her along so she could observe and learn arrangements. (Ruth later credited Annisteen as being like a mother to her during this time.) For a month, Ruth observed and learned (but didn't sing). Then, the band appeared at Turner's Arena (Washington, DC) and it was Ruth's big break. She sang "Evil Gal Blues" and "Tomorrow Night", getting a good reception from the crowd. But then, offstage, one of the musicians asked her to get them some sodas. She did. Millinder saw it, and fired her on the spot, saying that he'd hired a singer, not a waitress. She was now stranded in Washington, with no back pay. (Fortunately, Blanche Calloway, manager of the nearby Crystal Caverns, gave her a job that paid her enough to get back home.) By June of the following year, when Ruth Brown again appeared at the Frolic Show Bar, she was advertised as "Song Star Formerly with Lucky Milner [sic]".
To complicate my life, the New York Age of January 29, 1949 had an article titled "Anisteen [sic] Allen Now With Decca". It called her "former girl vocalist featured with the Lucky Millinder orchestra", said she'd "direct her own all-star instrumental group", and had signed a "Millinder management contract". Her first releases would be "due in early spring". I have no idea what that was all about, since she continued to appear with Lucky, continued to record with him, and had no Decca recordings until signing with them again in 1956.
I don't have recording dates, but in 1949, Annisteen recorded four tunes with Millinder for RCA: "Moanin' The Blues", "In The Middle Of The Night", "Let It Be", and "I'll Never Be Free" (a duet with Big John Greer, a tenor saxophonist with Millinder at the time).
RCA released "Moanin' The Blues", backed with "How Would You Know" (vocal by Jimmy Carnes) in April 1949. This seems to be the only time that Carnes is mentioned as a member of the troupe.
On May 6, Millinder opened at the Paradise (Detroit), along with the Orioles, Pee Wee Crayton, and the Rimmer Sisters.
"Moanin' The Blues" received a 62 in the May 14, 1949 Billboard: "Jump blues doesn't come over. Thrush Annistene [sic] Allen, who shouts fine, is hampered by a repetitious lyric, while ork plays loudly but doesn't get anywhere." At least they liked her.
Her next RCA release, in August, was "In The Middle Of The Night", backed with the instrumental "Awful Natural". It was reviewed in the September 3 Cash Box: "... the flip with Annisteen Allen to chirp the lyrics is gonna bring in a bushel full of buffalo coins [they couldn't just say "nickels", could they?]."
Millinder was back at the Apollo the week of December 9, 1949, with a stage show called "Modern Minstrels". Others named in the ad were Tim Moore, Bob & Al (the Jivadeers), Ford & Harris, Lockjaw Jackson, Paul Breckenridge, and the Charlie Ventura Band.
In December, RCA released "I'll Never Be Free", backed with Paul Breckenridge's "Journey's End". It was reviewed in the January 21, 1950 Billboard, with "I'll Never Be Free" receiving an 86: "Should be a big rhythm and blues disking. It's a good new Benjamin-Weiss ballad which is delivered in quasi-spiritual style in a duet and choral production."
They were right: "I'll Never Be Free" rose to #8 on the R&B charts. This was the first time that Annisteen had scored nationally. ("I'll Never Be Free" had originally been done by Savannah Churchill, some two months before the Millinder version.)
In March 1950, Annisteen was part of a Millinder tour that also included Big John Greer and Wynonie Harris. During this time, she played the Howard (Washington, DC), the Royal (Baltimore), and the Regal (Chicago). Wynonie had been Millinder's vocalist from April 1944 to September 1945; when he left, his vocal slot was taken over by Bull Moose Jackson.
RCA's next release was "Let It Be", backed with Paul Breckenridge's "Sweet Slumber" (a reprise of the 1943 Millinder release that had been sung by Trevor Bacon; can't decide which version I like better). They came out in June 1950.
Cash Box reviewed them on June 24, 1950: "Fresh sides by the Lucky Millinder gang, with Anisteen [sic] Allen taking it on the top deck in sock vocal style. Tune makes you wanna listen, as the gal's vocal has loads of feeling in it. Coupling has Paul Breckenridge and a choir going off the deep-end on a tender ode. Platter rates a spot in music ops' machines." Billboard wasn't impressed, giving "Let It Be" a 60: "Annisteen Allen delivers a spirited vocal of a trivial rhythm item. Solid orking gives the etching some added merit."
Also in June, King Records announced that they'd signed Lucky Millinder. He'd already recorded his first session and two of the tunes "Let It Roll Again" and "My Little Baby" (neither with Annisteen) would be released in July. Annisteen would continue to record with Lucky (on King) and on her own (on King's Federal subsidiary).
RCA re-released "I'll Never Be Free" and "Journey's End" in October 1950, and they were reviewed again in both Cash Box and Billboard. Whereas Billboard had given "I'll Never Be Free" an 86 in January, now it only rated a 67. Cash Box still gave it praise, but it sounded like they'd never heard of it before. Fame is so fleeting.
Sometime in May 1950, Lucky had recorded "The Jumpin' Jack" (vocal by Big John Greer) for King. This was paired, for a March 1951 release, with "Mr. Trumpet Man", featuring Annisteen. But when was "Mr. Trumpet Man" actually recorded? Its master number is 5861, so it shouldn't be too hard to approximate a date. Or should it? It turns out that 5845 (Tiny Bradshaw's "Walkin' The Chalk Line") was recorded on February 8, 1950, but 5856 (Bobbe Caston's "You Don't Know What Love Is") has an October 23, 1947 recording date. (But that doesn't count, since King purchased or leased it from Staff Records, and was just booking the original recording date along with a new master number.)
On January 5, 1951, Annisteen recorded four songs for Federal in New York: "Hard To Get Along", "Cloudy Day Blues", "Lies Lies Lies", and "Too Long". There were two more on February 28: "I'm Waiting Just For You" and "Bongo Boogie".
Because of the odd recording arrangement, there were two Annisteen Allen releases in March 1951. The first, on King (credited to Millinder, vocal by Annisteen), was "Mr. Trumpet Man" (with "The Jumpin' Jack" on the flip). The other (credited to Annisteen) was "Cloudy Day Blues" / "Lies, Lies, Lies" on Federal.
"Mr. Trumpet Man" was reviewed in the March 10, 1951 Cash Box: "Flip [of "The Jumpin' Jack"] is a slow loud number with Annisteen Allen doing the vocal. Lucky always makes good music." Two weeks later (March 24), Cash Box reviewed "Lies, Lies, Lies" and "Cloudy Day Blues": "Annisteen Allen comes up with two sides on this waxing that should do fairly well in the machines. She does some pretty chirping on both numbers, which move along with a jumpy tempo. These tunes show Annisteen to good advantage. Ops would do wise to listen in this direction."
May 1951 saw the release of two more records. On King, there was Lucky Millinder's "I'm Waiting Just For You" (vocal by Annisteen and John Carol), backed with "Bongo Boogie" (Annisteen). On Federal, we got two Annisteen solos: "Hard To Get Along", coupled with "Too Long".
Cash Box reviewed "I'm Waiting Just For You" in its May 12 edition: "Lucky Millinder comes through with a couple of interesting sides. The upper half features a duet by Annisteen Allen and John Carol on a very slow number while on the bottom end Annisteen goes it alone singing out the lyrics to a dance. Ops oughta tune in."
I guess they did; "I'm Waiting Just For You" was Annisteen's second national chart hit, rising to #2 on the R&B charts and, amazingly, #19 on Pop. John Carol's contribution to the song was minimal. When you hear a single voice it's hers; when you hear two voices, hers completely dominates his. It wasn't a good duet pairing. I can't find out a single thing about the enigmatic John Carol and there doesn't seem to be a photo of him either.
"Hard To Get Along" and "Too Long" both received a 74 in the May 19, 1951 Billboard. They said "Thrush drives an up blues with fervor, as combo rocks hard in back." and "Gal registers with an effective slow blues."
On June 28, 1951 there was another King session, in which Annisteen recorded "The Right Kind Of Lovin'" (vocals by Annisteen, Melvin Moore, & John Sellers), "No One Else Could Be" (Annisteen & Melvin Moore), and "It's Been A Long, Long Time" (Annisteen & Melvin Moore). The band also waxed "The Grape Vine", with a vocal by Melvin Moore & the Millinderites.
In August 1951, "Lucky Millinder and his King Recording Band" were at the Club Harlem in Philadelphia.
Also in August, King released "No One Else Could Be", backed with "The Grape Vine". The disc was reviewed in the September 1, 1951 Billboard, with "No One Else Could Be" receiving an 81 (they'd obviously gotten a different reviewer over the years). It said: "Annisteen Allen and Melvin Moore get a good duet sound going in this direct sequence to 'I'm Waiting Just For You'. The beat is there, good sound. Not on a par with the original, but could do well." I find that the sound is better than "I'm Waiting Just For You". Melvin Moore isn't relegated to the background as John Carol was. He sings some lines (as does Annisteen) and his is the voice that dominates duet singing (Millinder still hadn't figured out that duet voices should blend, not dominate). Moore had first signed with Lucky in 1945 as a trumpet player; he seems to have replaced John Carol on vocals.
On October 12, 1951, the Millinder troupe was back at the Apollo Theater. They shared the stage with dancers Tip, Tap, and Toe, Pigmeat Markham, and Bobby Lane & Claire.
On October 31, Annisteen (with the Gene Redd Orchestra) recorded two more songs for Federal: "The Bittersweet" and "The Bluest Blues".
In January 1952, King released "The Right Kind Of Lovin'", backed with "It's Been A Long, Long Time". The latter song has Melvin Moore, John Sellers, and Annisteen mostly singing in unison. She's only heard on a couple of lines and her name doesn't appear on the label (theirs do). It doesn't seem like the record was reviewed.
The other January 1952 release was Annisteen's "The Bittersweet" and "The Bluest Blues". The February 9 Billboard was back to downplaying her efforts. "The Bluest Blues" got a 68 ("Chirp Allen hands an up-blues an okay rundown, while a tenor sax plays harmony to her chanting"); the flip was handed a 65 ("Rhythm and blues ballad with an intriguing lyric is handed a listless chant by the thrush.").
In May 1952, Annisteen joined Bull Moose Jackson and Big John Greer on a one-nighter tour through the Middle West and the South.
Sometime in 1952, Lucky Millinder started cutting down on appearances, becoming a music publisher and disk jockey, finally giving up the band altogether. In July 1952, he was referred to as "bandleader, disc jockey and song plugger". In November 1952 he became the host of a weekly radio show called "Harlem Amateur Hour" (which was actually only 45 minutes long); it continued until March 1953. He also had another radio show called "Lucky's Lounge". A June 13, 1953 blurb in the New York Age referred to him as "ex-band leader Lucky Millinder", although he put together a band for a week at the Apollo starting August 14 of that year; it was supposed to be on a one-nighter tour after that. By September, he'd taken over the Apollo Theater band.
This left Annisteen on her own. Some sources say she stayed with him until 1954, but there's no further association of their names for years. Fortunately, she was up to the task.
1953 began with another recording session for King. At this point, she was switched to the parent label and there would be no further Federal releases. The four songs (recorded on January 28) were: "Trying To Live Without You", "My Baby Keeps Rollin'", "Yes I Know", and "Baby I'm Doin' It".
"Baby I'm Doin' It" and "Yes, I Know" were selected for a February 1953 release. "Baby I'm Doin' It" was an answer to the 5 Royales' "Baby, Don't Do It" and "Yes I Know" was an answer to Willie Mabon's "I Don't Know" (a song I've always found annoying for some reason).
The February 21, 1953 Billboard liked "Yes I Know", giving it a 77: "One of the answer versions to 'I Don't Know,' this disk will get plenty of box play as well as spins by r.&b. deejays. Vocal by Annisteen Allen is belted out with telling effect. Backing is effective." Of "Baby I'm Doin' It" (rated a 68), they said: "Annisteen Allen does considerable shouting on this side; but disk lacks the drive and appeal of the flip." Cash Box (same date) gave both sides a B. They said of "Baby I'm Doin' It": "Annisteen Allen belts a moderate tempo cutie with her powerful voice. Reading is stimulating and commands attention."
It turns out that Cash Box was right and Billboard was wrong. "Baby I'm Doin' It" became Annisteen's third (and last) national hit, rising to #8 on the R&B charts, although it only charted for two weeks. We'll come back to it a bit later.
April 1953 found Annisteen appearing with Bull Moose Jackson at the Ritz Theater in Akron, Ohio.
In May, King released "Trying To Live Without You", backed with "My Baby Keeps Rollin'". On May 23, it was Cash Box's Sleeper Of The Week:
Annisteen Allen, who stirred waves of action with her previous dish, "Baby I'm Doing It", follows with another enthusiastic etching that should further build the reputation of the gal. The tune and lyrics are infectious and Miss Allen belts it with a zestful performance. Both the middle tempo tune and the thrush have the spirit and bounce and we look for spins on this one. The under lid, "Trying To Live Without You", is a slow beat bounce performed in subdued, but effective style by the effervescent songstress who sells the love tune potently. Orking is solid on both sides and lends color to the diskings.
On May 25, 1953 Annisteen had another King recording session, recording "Wanted", "I Don't Want No Substitute", "Down By The River", and "My Brand Of Loving".
"Wanted" and "My Brand Of Loving" were released on King in July. Cash Box gave "My Brand Of Loving" a B ("Lusty voiced Annisteen Allen sings a slow Latin tempo blues with emotion for an exciting etching.") and the flip a C+ ("The lower lid is another slow emotional deck. Gal performs capably.").
On October 2, 1953, Annisteen made a solo trip to the Apollo Theater. She shared the stage with Lloyd Price, Tommy Reynolds, Jones & Wilbert, Vicki David, and "Crackshot" & Co.
Around the same time, Apollo Records sued King Records over "Baby I'm Doin' It". They finally realized that it was somewhat similar to the 5 Royales' "Baby Don't Do It". (It certainly took them long enough. "Baby I'm Doin' It" was only on the charts for two weeks, back in March.) Apollo asked for an injunction, damages, and an impounding of the master until the action was resolved. I don't know how the lawsuit turned out, but King's Syd Nathan, always watching out for his pennies, deducted the legal costs from her royalties. (Yes, I know he probably didn't pay her any royalties to begin with, but bookkeeping is bookkeeping.)
January 1954 started off with King issuing its last Annisteen Allen record: "Down By The River" and "I Don't Want No Substitute". "Substitute" was ranked a 77 in the January 30 Billboard, and "Down By The River" a 74 ("Watch it", they said). Cash Box gave both sides a B ("A solid effort that could garner sales.").
I'll stick this here because I can't date it: King issued an EP called Lucky Millinder And His Orchestra - For Your Dancing And Listening Pleasure. It contained "I'm Waiting Just For You" (Annisteen and John Carol), "Chew Tobacco Rag" (John Carol), "Loaded With Love" (Corky Robbins & Johnny Bosworth), and "Bongo Boogie" (Annisteen). ("Loaded With Love" had originally been issued in mid-1952 and "Chew Tobacco Rag" in the spring of 1951.)
In April 1954 she was reported as being booked by Universal Attractions, but I don't know when that started.
And that was the end of Annisteen's relationship with King/Federal. In August, she signed with Capitol Records, which was trying to expand its R&B presence. She held her first session on August 25 in New York, recording "No More Lovin'", "Take A Chance On Me", "I've Got Troubles", and "Nothing Can Replace You". One blurb mentioned that she was managed by Dan Fisher.
On October 1, she opened at the Howard Theater (Washington DC), along with the Orioles and the Joe Morris Orchestra.
Also in October, Capitol released her first record: "Take A Chance On Me", backed with "No More Lovin'". Both were ranked B in the October 16, 1954 Cash Box: "Annisteen Allen makes her bow on Capitol with a slow rhythmic blues effort. Gal sings in the authentic blues vein and sells the sorrowful lyrics with feeling. The flip moves in quick Mambo tempo. Miss Allen swings in the Latin kick and the current popularity of the Latin beat could help sales. Good juke box material."
The October 30 Billboard said that she was due to open at Atlanta's Waluhaje Hotel "in a few weeks". With a name like that, you know I had to look it up. The name came from WA(lter) Aikens (the developer), LU(cy) Aikens (his wife), and her two siblings: HA(zel) and JE(fferson).
Annisteen had another session for Capitol on November 23, 1954, recording five songs (an unusual number; it's usually four in a session): "Fujiyama Mama", "Wheels Of Love", "Everybody Knows I Love You", "G'wan About Your Business", and "Slow But Sure". By the way, the group behind her on this session is not the 5 Keys, although you'll find that "fact" all over the place. I asked Bernie West, bass of the 5 Keys, and he assured me that they never backed her up on anything.
In early December, Capitol issued "I've Got Troubles" backed with "Nothing Can Replace You". They were reviewed in the December 11 Cash Box. Both received a B, although the review of "I've Got Troubles" was a lot better than its flip: "Allen picks up steam on this deck. She's gusty and belty [that's what it said] on a strong piece of material."
In February 1955, Capitol released "Fujiyama Mama" and "Wheels Of Love". Although "Fujiyama Mama" is probably the song she's most remembered for, it was never a national hit (nor was the cover version by Eileen Barton on Coral). Wanda Jackson recorded it for Capitol in October 1957, but that wasn't a national hit either.
Cash Box (February 12, 1955) made "Fujiyama Mama" its Sleeper Of The Week (although they kept spelling it "Fujiama"): "Annisteen Allen does a gusty [there's that word again] bit of yodeling on this latest entry, 'Fujiama Mama,' a rough and tumble middle beat that drives. The deck is loaded with gimmicks, some lusty shouting and a beat that the kids like. 'Fujiama Mama' should get a big r&b reception and a pop coverage as well."
Annisteen's last Capitol session was held on April 26, 1955, at which time she recorded "I'm Still In Love With You" and "Mine All Mine".
An interesting blurb in the April 30 Pittsburgh Courier: "Lucky Millinder's first recording in almost two years is fast becoming a hit even if 'It's A Sad, Sad Feeling.' Funniest part about it, Annasteen [sic] Allen who was scheduled to do the vocals didn't show at the last moment, and white singer Cathy Ryan, who's been waiting ...." Unfortunately, the typesetter didn't bother to finish the sentence, which would have told us that Cathy Ryan was used in her place (and might have told us what Cathy was waiting for).
Capitol released "Mine All Mine" and "I'm Still In Love With You" in June; they were reviewed in the June 25 Cash Box, with "Mine All Mine" getting a B+ and the flip receiving a B. Of "Mine All Mine", they said: "Annisteen Allen turns in a grade-A performance [then why didn't they give it an A?] as she lilts in bubbly fashion a bouncing, happy tune. Tune has a gay quality that is infectious and, Miss Allen, who has been promising to come through with a big one for several releases, might have it in this one. It has good tune, great beat and excellent performance. Has the ability to go pop." In spite of this glowing review, it sank without a trace.
And then, another mystery. This is from the July 9, 1955 Billboard: "Hal Jackson, deejay on 'The House That Jack Built' over WLIB, New York, will headline his own in-person r.&b. show when he opens a one-week stand at the Apollo, July 11. The Jackson show features Arnett Cobb's ork, the Cadillacs quartet, Little Jimmy Scott, Titus Turner and Anisteen [sic] Allen, the comedy team of Charley [sic] & Ray, dancers Bop and Lock, and the Honey Tones." The July 9 Pittsburgh Courier has the same cast, but as you can see from the accompanying ad, Charlie & Ray weren't there (but Willie Mabon was); Annisteen Allen, too, was missing (but Annie Laurie showed up). Also note that the actual date of the show was the week beginning July 8. The July 9 New York Age got it right (except for calling him "Millie Mabon").
Since Annisteen opened at Pep's, in Philadelphia, on July 11, she couldn't have been at the Apollo. I suppose we'll never know what happened.
In the "Best R&B Female Vocalist Of 1955" poll held by Cash Box, Ruth Brown led with 51,647 points. She was followed by Dinah Washington, Varetta Dillard, Faye Adams, Shirley Gunter, Ella Johnson, Big Maybelle, Lula Reed, Mahalia Jackson, Dakota Staton, and, at the bottom, Annisteen Allen with 5,642 points. (Again, think of all the singers who didn't make the list.)
By February 1956 she'd left Universal Attractions and was being booked by Shaw Artists.
Dropped by Capitol, she signed with Decca. Her first session was held in New York on October 30, 1956. The recordings were: "Don't Nobody Move", "The Money Tree", "Don't Pull The Wool (Over My Eyes)", and "That's The Music For Me", all backed by the Sy Oliver Orchestra.
Decca released "The Money Tree" and "Don't Nobody Move" in November 1956. Cash Box gave both sides a B+ and Billboard ranked them 73 and 72, respectively. However, neither review actually said anything worth quoting.
In late December 1956, she appeared at the Rock 'n' Roll Club in Pittsburgh along with Lloyd Fatman (DJ/singer/bandleader Lloyd "Fatman" Smith).
Decca supposedly released "Don't Pull The Wool (Over My Eyes)" and "That's The Music For Me" in March 1957. However, it wasn't reviewed by either Cash Box or Billboard until December. Another mystery. We'll get to the reviews in a moment.
On June 7, 1957, Annisteen had a second Decca session at which she recorded "Rough Lover", "Bells In My Heart", "Pardon Me", and "Catch A Falling Star". "Rough Lover" and "Pardon Me" were released later that month. Billboard gave them a 73 and 69, respectively; Cash Box gave them both a B; record buyers gave them both a pass.
Finally, nine months after they were released, "That's The Music For Me" and "Don't Pull The Wool (Over My Eyes)" were reviewed. Billboard (December 16) was so unimpressed that they just threw the titles into a section called "The following records, also reviewed by The Billboard music staff, were rated 65 or less."
Of course, Cash Box (December 14) had to take an opposing view, giving "That's The Music For Me" a B+ ("Annisteen Allen goes cornball on this side and comes up with a contagious rhythm item reminiscent of the music of the good old days. Catchy side jockeys should go for in a big way.") "Don't Pull The Wool" got a B: ("A clever new novelty with a pleasant lilt and a smart lyric, is handled with finesse by the polished songbird. Good coupling."
In this case, Billboard won the toss; the record sank into oblivion. I don't understand the 9-month lag in reviewing the disc, however. Decca was a major company and got their releases to the trades as quickly as possible. My feeling is that the record was really released, out of order, in very early December 1957.
1958 wasn't a momentous year for Annisteen Allen. I couldn't find a single word written about her. Actually, we don't hear of her again until October 1959, when not one, but two records appear.
The first was on Paul Cohen's Todd Records (distributed by Dot). She got back with Lucky Millinder and Melvin Moore to record "Trouble In Mind" (as Annisteen & Melvin). The flip, just by her, was an updated version of "Let It Roll". Both sides got good reviews in Billboard and Cash Box, with "Trouble In Mind" being the preferred track.
By this time, Lucky Millinder seems to have retired as a bandleader, but I guess he kept his hand in for a few recordings.
The other October 1959 entry was on a tiny New York label called Wig: "Don't Bug Me, Beatrice", backed with "Sweet William". Unfortunately, they misspelled her name on the label as "Annistein Allen". The trade paper reviews were essentially the same as for the Todd release, with "Don't Bug Me, Beatrice" getting the better press. It sounds like a recording I'd like, but I've never heard it. Billboard said: "The cat gets home at 3 a.m. and faces the wrath of his frau. Then he warns her, 'Don't bug me, Beatrice.' In the end he turns a machine gun on Beatrice and finishes her off." Since her (misspelled) name is the only one on the label, I don't know who the "meek-sounding voice" (as Cash Box put it) belongs to; I suppose it could be Melvin Moore.
Sometime in 1959, she decided that she'd had enough of an active singing career and began working in a hospital office. She stayed with it for the next twenty seven years, retiring in 1986. There are no further reports of her appearing anywhere, but she'd continue to record for another two years.
Another year went by before Annisteen is heard from again. Then, she shows up on one side of a Lucky Millinder record, "Slide Mr. Trombone" (Warwick, September 1960). The flip, "Big Fat Mama" (a reprise of a 1941 Millinder tune that had been sung by Trevor Bacon) featured Frankie Tucker and a female chorus. The Billboard review of October 3, 1960 seems positive enough, but they only gave each side two stars. They seemed to think that Millinder's band was too old-fashioned to sell. I'd pretty much have to agree; nothing wrong with the vocals, however.
On May 30, 1961, she recorded nine sides for Tru-Sound, a division of Prestige Records. These were very jazzy recordings, but the shocker was that "Annisteen Allen" had finally been buried. These, her last recordings, were done under her real name: Ernestine Allen.
All the songs were done with an album in mind: "Baubles, Bangles And Beads", "Miss Allen's Blues", "I Want A Little Boy", "Love For Sale", "Lullaby Of Broadway", "Mean And Evil", "The Man I Love", "Tea For Two", and "Let It Roll".
The backing band had some famous members: King Curtis (tenor saxophone), Paul Griffin (piano), Al Casey (guitar), Chauncey Westbrook (guitar), Jimmy Lewis (bass), and Belton Evans (drums). (Paul Griffin had been with the Regals and Sonny Til's Vee-Jay Orioles. Chauncey "Lord" Westbrook had been a sometime member of the Orioles, the Drifters, and the Blenders.)
In December 1961, Tru-Sound issued the very long version of "Let It Roll" as a 2-sided single. Although the label of the single said it was taken from the album, the LP itself (Ernestine Allen: Let It Roll) wasn't released until the following month.
Throwing caution to the winds, Billboard gave the LP four stars on February 10, 1962. At least she went out with the best review of her career:
Deejays who can spare seven minutes will be interested in the title track of this LP, an exciting, no-holds-barred version of the tune which the singer made famous a few years back as vocalist with the Lucky Millinder ork. Her comeback disks after retirement to raise a family should project Ernestine Allen back into the disk picture. She also does a raunchy version of "Mean And Evil," a knowing "Love For Sale," and a very effective "Miss Allen's Blues." Strong assist from King Curtis' sax and rhythm backing.
See what I mean about her private life being completely private. This is the only indication that she had any children (and I have no idea if it's even true). Note that "Miss Allen's Blues" (usually mistitled "Miss Annie's Blues") and "Love For Sale" are always mentioned in online biographies as having been recorded for Queen in 1945. Sometimes I wonder why I bother.
The last mention (but as "Annisteen Allen" again) was when she was part of Bull Moose Jackson's "Moose On The Loose" tour in 1986 (the year she retired from her hospital job). On April 19 of that year, they played the Graffiti, in Pittsburgh.
As I said earlier, Ernestine Allen died of a heart attack, in Manhattan, in August 1992.
I like much of the work of Annisteen Allen. Considering how talented she was and how popular Lucky Millinder was, I'm surprised that she didn't have a whole bunch of hits.
Special thanks to Mark Cantor and Victor Pearlin.
QUEEN (Bull Moose Jackson & His Orchestra)
4107 Oo-Oo-Ee Bob A Lee Bob (AA) / Jamin And Jumpin - 12/45
NOTE: All Queen records were reissued on King, with the same record numbers.
DECCA (Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra)
18835 (Ah-Yes) There's Good Blues Tonight (AA) / Chittlin' Switch (BMJ) - 4/46
QUEEN (Annisteen Allen & Her Home Town Boys)
4115 I Want A Man (Who's Gonna Do Right) / I've Got Big Bulgin' Eyes (For You) - 4/46
4119 The Blues Done Got Me And Gone / More, More, More - 5/46
4124 Give It Up ('Cause You Can't Take It With You) / She Lost Her Re-Bop - 7/46
4128 I Know How To Do It / Arkansas - 8/46
DECCA (Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra)
23825 How Big Can You Get, Little Man? (AA) / More, More, More (AA) - 2/47
23949 The Spider And The Fly (AA) / You Can't Put Out A Fire (By Fanning The Flame) (PB) - 5/47
24182 Let It Roll (AA) / Begging For Love (PB) - 9/47
24384 Don't Hesitate Too Long (AA) / Tonight He Sailed Again (PB) - 3/48
RCA VICTOR (Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra)
20-3430 Moanin' The Blues (AA) / How Would You Know (JCA) - 4/49
20-3526 In The Middle Of The Night (AA) / Awful Natural - 8/49
issued on 45 RPM as 47-3005
20-3622 I'll Never Be Free (AA & BJG) / Journey's End (PB) - 12/49
issued on 45 RPM as 47-3128 - re-released in October 1950
22-0088 Let It Be (AA) / Sweet Slumber (PB) - 6/50
issued on 45 RPM as 50-0088
KING (Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra)
4436 Mr. Trumpet Man (AA) / The Jumpin' Jack (BJG) - 3/51
FEDERAL (Annisteen Allen)
12012 Cloudy Day Blues / Lies, Lies, Lies - 3/51
KING (Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra)
4453 Bongo Boogie (AA) / I'm Waiting Just For You (JC) - 5/51
FEDERAL (Annisteen Allen)
12020 Hard To Get Along / Too Long - 5/51
KING (Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra)
4476 No One Else Could Be (AA & MM) / The Grape Vine (MM) - 8/51
4496 The Right Kind Of Lovin' (AA, MM, & JS) / It's Been A Long, Long Time (AA & MM) - 1/52
NOTE: Her name isn't on the label of "It's Been A Long, Long Time", but she sings on it
FEDERAL (Annisteen Allen)
12057 The Bittersweet / The Bluest Blues - 1/52
KING (Annisteen Allen)
4608 Baby, I'm Doin' It / Yes, I Know - 2/53
4622 Trying To Live Without You / My Baby Keeps Rollin' - 5/53
4642 Wanted / My Brand Of Loving - 7/53
4691 Down By The River / I Don't Want No Substitute - 1/54
KING (Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra)
EP 268 I'm Waiting Just For You (AA & JC) / Chew Tobacco Rag (JC) //
Loaded With Love (v: Corky Robbins & Johnny Bosworth) / Bongo Boogie (AA) - ca. 54
CAPITOL (Annisteen Allen)
2937 Take A Chance On Me / No More Lovin' - 10/54
3000 I've Got Troubles / Nothing Can Replace You - 12/54
3048 Fujiyama Mama / Wheels Of Love - 2/55
3161 Mine All Mine / I'm Still In Love With You - 6/55
Slow But Sure
Everybody Knows I Love You
G'wan About Your Business
DECCA (Annisteen Allen)
30146 Don't Nobody Move / The Money Tree - 11/56
30243 Don't Pull The Wool (Over My Eyes) / That's The Music For Me - 3/57
NOTE: this may have actually been released, out of order, in December 1957 (see text)
30368 Rough Lover / Pardon Me - 6/57
Bells In My Heart
Catch A Falling Star
TODD (Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra)
1037 Trouble In Mind (AA & MM) / Let It Roll (AA) - 10/59
WIG (Annistein Allen [sic])
104 Don't Bug Me, Beatrice / Sweet William - 10/59
WARWICK (Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra)
582 Slide Mr. Trombone (AA) / Big Fat Mama (FT) - 9/60
TRU-SOUND (Ernestine Allen)
45-405 Let It Roll, Pt.1 / Let It Roll, Pt.2 - 12/61
LP 15004 - Ernestine Allen: Let It Roll - 1/62
Let It Roll
I Want A Little Boy
Lullaby Of Broadway
Mean And Evil
Love For Sale
Miss Allen's Blues
Baubles, Bangles And Beads
The Man I Love
Tea For Two
AA = Annisteen Allen; BJG = Big John Greer; BMJ = Bull Moose Jackson & the Lucky Four; FT = Frankie Tucker; JC = John Carol;
JCA = Jimmy Carnes; JS = John Sellers; MM = Melvin Moore; PB = Paul Breckenridge