Thursday, June 14, 2007

Nellie Lutcher: One of the Foundation Stones of Rock

Peggy came across Nellie Lutcher's obituary today, and although she wasn't an artist either of us were familiar with, her story convinced me she'd be someone we'd like. As one critic nicely put it, "she was one of the foundation stones of Rock."

According to her Wikipedia entry, Lutcher played with Ma Rainey at age 11 (or maybe 12, there's some question about her birth year, although most sources say 1912) when Rainey's regular pianist fell ill and Rainey was told "there was a little girl who played in church who might be able to act as a stand-in."

Lutcher's career wouldn't take off until the late `40s, when she performed at a March of Dimes talent show in Hollywood High School. Her performance caught the ear of a Capitol Records scout, and she was signed to the label. Her first hit single was Hurry On Down, which went to #2 on the rhythm and blues chart in 1947, followed by He's A Real Gone Guy, which also made #2 on the R&B chart and crossed over to the pop charts where it reached # 15.

In total Lutcher would have eight top 10 R&B records between 19437 and 1950. She also recorded two duets with Nat "King" Cole, Can I Come in For a Second and For You, My Love. But by 1952 Lutcher's career was basically over, as Capitol dropped her from the label, and her subsequent releases with Okeh and Decca came nowhere near her earlier successes. Although the Wikipedia articles notes that Lutcher retained the publishing rights to many of her songs, she apparently still had problems - as many black artists did - being properly compensated for her work, if her 1993 interview with the New Orleans Times-Picayune is any indication.

"Like a lot of other people, I was shortchanged regarding my royalties so I really have not had a desire to do any recording," she said in the Times-Picayune article. "For some reason I can't forget what happened."
Yet, Lutcher continued to perform into the 1990s, losing none of her fire. "Her buoyant sense of swing and the joy which she invests [in] everything she sings, should be part of a required observation course for anyone hoping to become a musical performer," one critic said of a 1992 performance.

Here's Nellie Lutcher with "My New Papa's Got To Have Everything," which can be found on her CD Hurry on Down.

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