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Thread: Blues, Stomps, & Rags #21

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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Blues, Stomps, & Rags #21

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    Little Laura Dukes (left)

    Thanks, again, to CharlesE and to his friend, Marshall Wyatt, owner of Old Hat Records in Raleigh, North Carolina, for bringing Little Laura Dukes to my attention. Laura Ella Dukes (1907-1992) was born in North Memphis. Her father was a drummer in W.C. Handy's band. Laura was a child performer. Because she was very small, 4'7" as an adult, she was called "Little Laura" or "Little Bit." Dukes was a blues singer and dancer, who first played guitar, then mandolin, banjo, and ukelele. In photos, she often holds a banjolin. She performed blues on guitar with Robert McCollum (a.k.a. Robert Nighthawk), then took up the other instruments. Like Vol Stephens (Blues, Stomps, & Rags #20), she recorded with the Memphis Jug Band, a loose collection of musicians, led by Will Shade. (Charlie Burse also played mandolin with the band, but I'm unable to hear the instrument on his YouTube videos.) Dukes also recorded in the 1950's with the Will Batts Band, and with Will Shade and Gus Cannon (the latter of Cannon's Jug Stompers). In 1972, she recorded in her own name, "Little Laura Dukes," and continued to perform into the 1980's (info from Wikipedia). YouTube has many videos of Laura Dukes in her old age, singing either with ukelele or without instrumentation.

    Here she is playing with the Memphis String Band in Chicago in 1934. If the links don't work, search YouTube for "Mary Ann Cut Off, Memphis String Band".

    Here's another recording from Chicago in 1934. I had a fruitless search for YouTube videos of Dukes playing mandolin or banjolin (at least loud enough to hear) in later times or with other musicians. If the links don't work, search YouTube for "My Love is Cold, Memphis String Band".

    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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