LITTLE MISS CORNSHUCKS (By Dave Penny)
Born Mildred Elizabeth Cummings, 26 May 1923, Dayton, Ohio
"In 1943, when I was 19 or so years old, I went to a nightclub in the northeast black ghetto section of Washington and heard a singer whose name was Little Miss Cornshucks and I thought, "My God!!!" She was better than anything I'd ever heard. She would come out like a country girl with a bandana around her head, a basket in her hand, and so forth, which she'd set aside fairly early on into the show. She could sing the blues better than anybody I've ever heard to this day. I asked her that night if she would mind if I made a record of her for myself. We cut "Kansas City" along with some other blues and she also sang a song called "So Long". She had such a wonderful sound and I remember just thinking, "My God! My God!" And I didn't have a record company, I just made those records for myself."
Ahmet Ertegun, from What'd I Say: The Atlantic Story (page 15).
Born Mildred Cummings in Dayton, Ohio, on 26th May 1923, Little Miss Cornshucks - with her cute "rural maid" routine - became a major attraction at Chicago's Club De Lisa by the time she was 18, and began appearing at the Rhumboogie Club from its opening in 1942. By the following year she was touring nationwide and being recorded privately by Ahmet Ertegun; which not only germinated the seed of Ahmet owning his own record company, but also provided him with one of his first major successes with Russ Morgan's 1940 hit "So Long", recorded by Ruth Brown in 1949.
A multi-talented vaudeville performer, whose act incorporated comedy and novelty vocals as much as "serious singing", Little Miss Cornshucks' own commercial recording career began in late 1946 with and for bandleader Marl Young's Chicago-based Sunbeam Records. Young was a highly-regarded jazz pianist from Virginia who had co-owned The Sunbeam Recording Studio since 1941. Five years later he inaugurated the Sunbeam label to showcase his own band and various unrecorded vocalists, including and especially, Little Miss Cornshucks. After her releases for the label, Sunbeam stumbled on for a few more releases but ceased around late 1947, although two of her sides - "So Long" and "For Old Time's Sake" - were acquired by Al Benson's Old Swing-Master Records and reissued in September 1949. By that time Cornshucks had made more recordings on the West Coast during the 1948 AFM recording ban for Roy Milton's Miltone Records with Maxwell Davis and The Blenders, including standards such as "He's Funny That Way" and "Why Was I Born?" as well as more original work and more contemporary covers like Lloyd Glen's "True (You Don't Love Me)", made into a recent hit by both Paul Gayten and Camille Howard.
In 1949 she recorded a one-off session for Aladdin Records, covering Frank Sinatra's 1946 hit "Time After Time" and the Jay McShann/Crown Prince Waterford wailer "You Turned Your Back On Me", while a version of Leroy Carr's "How Long" remains unissued. Aladdin also purchased her Miltone masters, but released just one, the dramatic "Keep Your Hand On Your Heart", while most were also reissued on DeLuxe for the mid-western market. The Decca Records subsidiary, Coral, recorded and issued three releases by Cornshucks between 1950 and 1952, including a reprise of her career song "So Long", after which the releases dried up until she was brought out of retirement for an LP on Chess produced by Sonny Thompson in late 1960.
Although she died in obscurity at her home in Indianapolis on 11th November 1999, her valuable recordings issued between 1947 and 1952 prove the tremendous influence this artist exerted over her peers, and her records would go on to inspire later performers like Billy Wright, Ruth Brown, Johnny Ray, Wynona Carr, and LaVern Baker who would start her career in the late 1940s as Little Miss Sharecropper in emulation of her idol.
Recommended listening: The Chronological Little Miss Cornshucks 1947-1951 - Classics 5059
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