Web Dreamtime
SiteSearch Google

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar - Maurice Rocco and Mabel Lee

Not The Andrews Sisters performing their paean to masochism, but I think Our Host would approve of this Soundie from 19 and 40 anyway. Featuring Maurice Rocco on boogie-woogie piano and Mabel Lee offering what they used to call in carny-speak, an "interpretative dance."

Born Maurice Rockhold in Oxford, Ohio, Rocco was an early progenitor of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, being one of the first to play the piano while standing up. He studied at the music school of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, intending to pursue a career as a concert pianist. But the ol' boogie-woogie claimed his soul and he ended up beating eight to the bar on local radio stations in and around Cincinnati. He'd later work with the Noble Sissle band and eventually form his own group, Maurice Rocco and his Rockin' Rhythm Boys, which played to enthusiastic audiences in New York and Chicago night clubs, theaters and radio stations. Rocco also had a creditable career in the movies, performing in Duffy's Tavern, Incendiary Blonde, 52nd Street, and Vogues of 1938.

Mabel Lee appears to have had a successful career struttin' her stuff, as her jazz dancing appears in several early jukebox Soundies, including ones with Louis Jordan, Noble Sissle, and Pigmeat Markham. Soundies director William Forest Crouch claimed to have"discovered" Mabel Lee, though she was already well-known in the Harlem community as one of the original Apollo Girls and for her night club performances. Although better known as a dancer, Lee also sang in several of the jukebox shorts, and also had a small acting career. One of Lee's most memorable performances was in 19 and 43's Chicken Shack Shuffle, another Soundie reviewed here by "Paghat the Ratgirl." An excerpt...

The Chicken Shack Shuffle (1943) celebrates a Harlem landmark, Tillie's Chicken Shack, the place for fried chicken & sweet potato pie during the Harlem Renaissance, right up to today.

In the 1920s & '30s it was one of the few places where white musicians could jam with black musicians in order to learn how to play jazz right. It remains a Harlem landmark up on Sugar Hill.

Mabel Lee sings the title number, wearing as little as was legally possible at the time, a slightly ridiculous feathered bikini.

The soundies were not subject to the motion picture decency code, & between filming burlesque acts for the panoramas in the adult arcades & getting girls to show lots of skin in musical numbers for the entirely above-board, those panorama boxes whether in the back room or front room alike were selling sexiness.

So Mabel wears a tiara & feathered bathing suit, the same as worn by Pauline Bryant in Jungle Jamboree (1943). On a set tricked out to look like a chicken restaurant, Mabel sings:

"There's a skiffle & a skuffle/ In the chicken shack shuffle/ You can do it any way you will/ You jump to the left & you cross your legs/ And tip along like you're walking on eggs/ Do anything but a pigeon wing/ Strut like a rooster but you gotta swing.

"There's a riffle & ruffle/ In the chicken shack shuffle/ Up on Sugar Hill/ In Harlem, up on Sugar Hill."

Mabel then dances a wild long-legged dance around the chicken shack, while boogie piano provides the instrumental. The uncredited pianist was the legendary Dan Burley.... Mabel's voice for Chicken Shack Shuffle is adequate; but without showing so much of her gorgeous body the voice might not have been enough to make it seem like a good song.

At 80+, Mabel Lee is still working, recently offering Senior Dance classes at the 2007 Tapology Tap Dance Festival.


No comments: