Sara Martin (1884-1955) was an American blues singer, in her time one of the most popular. She began her career around 1915 on the African-American vaudeville circuit. A melodious but rather inflexible singer, Martin appears nevertheless to have been a popular success, recording over 120 tracks for OKeh between 1923 and 1928. These include the first recorded blues with guitar accompaniment (by Sylvester Weaver), and the first with a jug band (that of Clifford Hayes, billed as “Sara Martin’s Jug Band”).
I’m Gonna Be a Lovin’ Old Soul
Sara Martin was a true pioneer in her own right as a performer and recording artist.
Although Chicago-based, Martin maintained close connections with Louisville, from where Hayes and Weaver also originated. She worked in vaudeville from 1915-31, thereafter devoting herself to the church and to running a nursing home in Louisville from the 40s until her death.
Although Louisville did not match the vitality of such jazz and blues centers as St. Louis, New Orleans, or Chicago, it had developed its own vibrant music scene by the late nineteenth century, when the blues singer later known as Sara Martin grew up. Born on June 18, 1884, to William and Katie (Pope) Dunn, Martin grew up in a city ruled by harsh racial segregation. However, Louisville’s African-American residents enjoyed a distinct culture of their own that helped them survive in a separate but unequal environment. By 1900 Louisville had become known for its string bands (with guitar, banjo, and violin) and jug bands (with musicians using various combinations of gallon jugs, kazoos, mandolins, guitars, and harmonicas). Martin later brought one Louisville string-band guitarist, Sylvester Weaver, with her to New York City for one of her recording sessions in 1923; the tracks became the first-ever blues recordings that featured a guitar accompaniment.
Martin’s stylized, theatrical renderings of the blues paled in comparison to those of her contemporaries Bessie Smith and “Ma” Rainey, yet some of her self-penned lyrics demonstrated a wry humor that was Martin’s own. In the song “Mama’s Got the Blues,” which she wrote with Clarence Williams, Martin sang, “I got a man in Atlanta, two in Alabama, three in Chattanooga/Four in Cincinnati, five in Mississippi, six in Memphis, Tennessee/If you don’t like my peaches, please let my orchard be!” Martin also demonstrated an even more ribald side in some of her other compositions such as “Mean Tight Mama.” As her record company said about Martin in one of its press releases (later quoted in The Story of the Blues, ) “We’re tellin’ you there’s none finer or grander when it comes to warblin’ mean and hot low-down ravagin’ Blues until you don’t know whether your sensations is your wigglin’ spine or if you spine has got the wigglin’ blues.”
Sara Martin also recorded under the names of Margaret Johnson and Sally Roberts.
Tags: 20's, 30's, Bessie Smith, blues, Clarence Williams, Clifford Hayes, jug, jug bands, Louisville, Ma Rainey, Margaret Johnson, OKeh, pioneers, ragtime, Sally Roberts, Sara Martin, Sara Martin's Jug Band, string bands, Sylvester Weaver, vaudeville