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Monday, April 25, 2011

Blue Lu Barker

Blue Lu Barker/Blu Lu Barker

November 13, 1913 - May 7, 1998

Singer Blue Lu Barker was born, raised, and buried in New Orleans; her funeral even turned into a popular video broadcast spotlighting the town's jazz funeral traditions. Like many early Louisiana performing artists, claims to her paralyzing influence over the entire country's jazz and blues scenes tend to be made with great regularity. Thus the tale of Blue Lu Barker is one in which jazz critics on one side of the fence comment on her limited vocal range, while others come up with quotes such as this one, attributed to legendary jazz vocalist Billie Holiday: "Blue Lu Barker was my biggest influence." In both the '30s and '40s she was one of the more popular blues performers, often appearing alongside artists such as Cab Calloway and Jelly Roll Morton. Sometimes it was her husband, musician Danny Barker, who opened the doors to musical groups such as Sidney Bechet's, but no bandleader ever tossed her offstage when she clambered up for a vocal, especially once she started cutting hit records. Barker's most famous recordings were done in 1938. "Don't You Feel My Leg" was a well-crafted song that seemed to encourage promiscuity and restraint simultaneously, always a good thing for the music business. The song got a second round of popularity in the '80s courtesy of Maria Muldaur. The early Barker material features her husband on banjo and guitar and the couple would continue performing together until his death. Her career continued after that, all the way up to a last recording taped live in 1998 at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. That's unless the video of her funeral is counted, as her presence is majestic enough to almost be considered a performance. Players who are still alive and jamming at this event include the majestic Big Al Carson on tuba.

Barker was born Louisa Dupont Barker and her father ran a grocery store and pool hall, cashing in big time during prohibition with a stock of bootleg liquor. At 13, she left school and married Barker. In 1930 the couple moved to New York, hooking up a variety of performing situations including the contact with Morton. At the 1938 Vocalion session during which she cut her first vocals, the producer checked her out and came up with the Blue Lu Barker stage name. The couple were contracted to Decca in the '30s and the Apollo label the following decade, joining a roster at the latter label that included rhythm & blues and jazz greats such as Wynonie Harris, Dinah Washington, and Luis Russell. One of the couple's Apollo sessions even featured a jam with the mighty Charlie Parker. Blue Lu Barker was inducted into the Louisiana Blues Hall of Fame in 1997, one year before she died. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi 

Here's a few recordings:

A little bird told me
At the animal fair
Blue deep sea blues
Bow legged daddy
Don't you make me high (Don't you feel my leg)
Down in the dumps
Georgia grind
Handy Andy
He caught the B & O
He's so good
Here's a little girl from Jacksonville
I don't dig you Jack
I got ways like the devil
Jitterbug blues
Leave my man alone
Loan me your husband
Love that man
Lu's blues
Marked woman
Midnight blues
Never brag about your man
New Orleans blues
Nix on those lush heads
Now you're down in the alley
Round and round the valley
Scat skunk
That made him mad 2
That made him mad
Trombone man blues
What did you do to me
When the wagon comes
You ain't had no blues
You've been holding out too long
You're going to leave this old home, Jim

Blu Lu and Danny Barker

Louisa Dupont (Barker) was born in New Orleans in November of 1913. As a young girl she was heavily influenced by the singing styles she heard from the family wind-uip gramophone, an early record player. She heard the blues on record by such greats as Ma Rainey, mamie Smith, and of course Bessie Smith. Young Louisa would sing along to these landmark performances on record, dreaming of the day she could emulate her girlhood heroes. Her father ran a pool hall and it has been said, a thriving business in bootleg liquor during the time of Prohibition. She was part of a local entertainment group called The Merrymakers for a while, and then at a very young age Louisa ran off with a New Orleans musician named Danny Barker, and from about nineteen thirty until her passing nearly seventy years later, they would remain together in music as in life.

Danny Barker became a well known and respected musician in the New Orleans area. Through his talent on banjo and guitar, Danny and Louisa came in contact with many of the top name jazz and blues players of the time. By the early nineteen thirties they had moved to New York City and after a time Louisa had the opportunity to record under her name. It was under a change in names that she began to put her vocals on record. At one of her first sessions for Decca, she was given the name she would become famous as - Blu Lu Barker. In the late thirties she recorded a number of songs for Decca that made her famous. "Don't You make Me High" (also known as "Don't You Feel My Leg") with "New Orleans Blues" on # 7506, "Never Brag About Your Man" with "Midnight Blues" on # 7683, "Jitterbug Blues" with "Down In The Dumps" on # 7713, and "I Don't Dig You Jack" with "Lu's Blues" on # 7770. Danny Baker wrote many of the songs and led the backing band known as The Fly Cats. They were Red Allen on trumpet, Buster Bailey on clarinet, Sammy Price on piano, Wellman Brauch on bass, Paul Barbarin (Danny Barker's uncle) on drums, and Barker himself on guitar.

After a few years of inactivity in the recording studio, Blu Lu recorded a few sides for the Apollo label with the Danny Barker Sextette. The songs were "That Made Him Mad" and a remake of "Don't You Feel My Leg" on Apollo # 376, "There Was A Little" on # 382, and "Buy Me Some Juice" and "You Gotta Show It To Me Baby" on # 399. Barker began to get more of an R & B feel in her style as she played a number of club dates in the New York City area. In late 1948 her version of "A Little Birdie Told Me" (with "What Did You Do To Me?" on the flip) on Capitol # 15308 was a good national seller doing better than Paula Watson's original, and not too far behind Evelyn Knight's big number one seller. Later in 1949 "Leave My man Alone" and "Here's A Little Girl From Jacksonville" on # 15347. In February of 1950, Capitol released "Bow Legged Daddy" and "Love That Man" on # 807. In May of the year "At The Animal Ball" and "Round And Round The Valley" was issued by Capitol on # 977. From about 1952 Blu Lu barker was inactive on the music scene. By the mid nineteen sixties the Barkers moved back to New Orleans and resumed making music together in club dates and recorded for some local jazz and blues oriented record labels. The Barkers also appeared at New Orleans music events such as the Jazz And Heritage Festivals. Danny barker worked at the New Orleans Jazz Museum, formed a traditional marching brass band, and wrote of the musical history of the city. 

Blu Lu Barker still was singing into the 1990s. She received induction into the Louisiana Blues Hall of Fame in 1997, one year before she passed away (four years after Danny Barker passed). Although a peripheral figure in the history of American Rhythm & Blues history, Blu Lu (and by his contribution, Danny Barker) contributed so much to the entire scene that they deserve their place with all the other pioneers in the music of their time.

CDs featuring the music of Blu Lu Barker include "1938-1939" for Classics with 21 tracks from the Decca years. The follow up from Classics - "1946-1949" feature the Apollo and Capitol sides. The one cd that captures the Barkers in a live performance is "Live At The Jazz & Heritage Festival" from Orleans in 1998 of a 1989 performance with 10 tracks by Blu Lu in front of a fine combo led by Danny Barker.


  1. possible re-up? thanx

  2. its too bad this isnt available since it represents almost all of her discography..its nowhere else..thanx

  3. hope this is the top of ur list to re-post. thanx