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Uploaded on Jul 10, 2008
Marion Harris (1896 - April 23, 1944) was an American popular singer around 1920. She was the first widely known white singer to sing jazz and blues songs.
Born Mary Ellen Harrison, probably in Indiana, she first played vaudeville and movie theatres in Chicago around 1914. She was spotted by dancer Vernon Castle, who enabled her entrance into the New York theatre scene where she debuted in a 1915 Irving Berlin revue titled Stop! Look! Listen!. In 1916 she began recording for Victor Records, singing a variety of songs such as "Everybody's Crazy 'Bout the Doggone Blues, But I'm Happy", "After You've Gone", "When I Hear that Jazz Band Play", her biggest success "I Ain't Got Nobody", and "A Good Man Is Hard to Find", later recorded by Bessie Smith.
In 1920, after the Victor label would not allow her to record W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues", she joined Columbia Records where she recorded the song successfully. Sometimes billed as "The Queen of the Blues", she tended to record blues- or jazz-flavoured tunes throughout her career. Handy wrote of Harris that "she sang blues so well that people hearing her records sometimes thought that the singer was colored". She herself said:"..you usually do best what comes naturally [and] so I just naturally started singing Southern dialect songs and the modern blues songs.."
In 1922 she moved to the Brunswick label. She also continued to appear in Broadway theatres throughout the 1920s. She regularly played the Palace Theatre, appeared in Florenz Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic, and toured the country with vaudeville shows. After a marriage which produced two children, and her subsequent divorce, she returned to the theatre in New York in 1927, and returned to the Victor label to make more recordings. Also that year, she appeared in an eight minute promotional film, Marion Harris, Songbird Of Jazz, and made a flop Hollywood movie, the early musical Devil-May-Care with Ramon Navarro. She then temporarily withdrew from performance, because of an undisclosed illness.
In 1931 she moved to London, and performed at the Café de Paris and on BBC radio. She also recorded in England in the early 1930s, but retired soon afterwards and married an English theatrical agent. Their house was destroyed in a German rocket attack in 1941, and in 1944 she travelled to New York to seek treatment for a neurological disorder. Although she was discharged two months later, she died soon afterwards in a hotel fire that started when she fell asleep while smoking in bed.
Marion Harris - After You've Gone (1918) Victor-18509