The story of an African American musician and band leader whose showmanship and versatility bridged the gap between ragtime and jazz.
Wilbur C. Sweatman (1882-1961) is one of the most important, yet unheralded, African American musicians involved in the transition of ragtime into jazz in the early twentieth century. In That's Got 'Em!, Mark Berresford tracks this energetic pioneer over a seven-decade career. His talent transformed every genre of black music before the advent of rock and roll--"pickaninny" bands, minstrelsy, circus sideshows, vaudeville (both black and white), night clubs, and cabarets. Sweatman was the first African American musician to be offered a long-term recording contract, and he dazzled listeners with jazz clarinet solos before the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's so-called "first jazz records."
Sweatman toured the vaudeville circuit for over twenty years and presented African American music to white music lovers without resorting to the hitherto obligatory "plantation" costumes and blackface makeup. His bands were a fertile breeding ground of young jazz talent, featuring such future stars as Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, and Jimmie Lunceford. Sweatman subsequently played pioneering roles in radio and recording production. His high profile and sterling reputation in both the black and white entertainment communities made him a natural choice for administering the estate of Scott Joplin and other notable black performers and composers.
That's Got 'Em! is the first full-length biography of this pivotal figure in black popular culture, providing a compelling account of his life and times.
Mark Berresford —
Mark Berresford is a writer, rare record dealer, and editor of VJM's Jazz & Blues Mart, the world's oldest jazz and blues record trade magazine. He is the author of Parry Thomas and Pendine and coauthor of Black Swan: The Record Label of the Harlem Renaissance.
Berresford, Mark. That's got 'em!: the life and music of Wilbur C. Sweatman. University Press of Mississippi, 2010. 230p bibl index afp; ISBN 9781604730999. Reviewed in 2010aug CHOICE.
Berresford takes his title from a work by Sweatman (1882-1961), who is a significant but little-documented figure in the early history of jazz. Sweatman's career extended to ragtime, vaudeville, circus bands, and cinema music, and he continued to contribute to the musical scene through the Harlem Renaissance. The author discusses all this. In searching out primary sources, he uncovered as well a great deal of information about Sweatman's contemporaries; he includes that material here, providing a well-focused picture of the US popular music environment in the early part of the 20th century. The back matter includes a works list; a daily tour schedule of the 1902 Adam Forepaugh and Sells Bros. Circus; and a detailed discography of Sweatman's recordings, with notes about correct playback speeds (only a few are 78 rpm) and Columbia pressings. In every respect, this is an exemplary addition to the literature.
Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers. -- D.-R. de Lerma, Lawrence University