MARTHA DAVIS & SPOUSE – Pioneer of Roots Rock, Jump Jazz and Jump Blues

by Red Cell

The once well know Martha Davis is part of that group of musicians that helped bridge the gaps between R&B, Jazz and Rock n’ Roll. Considered one of the pioneers of Roots Rock, Jump Jazz and Jump Blues, Martha was in high demand for many years, participating in the Piano “battles” and jam sessions, as well as working and recording with the likes of Louis Jordan, Fats Waller and Gene Krupa.

Raised in Chicago, Martha Davis attended the famous Du Sable High School where her classmates included both Dorothy Donegan and Nat Cole. After a succsessful solo career, she married Calvin Ponder of Earl Hines’ Big Band fame in the late 1940s and together they billed themselves as “Martha Davis & Spouse”. In 1948 Martha and Calvin recorded together for Ben Pollack’s Hollywood-based Jewel Records, having their most successful tune on the carts with a cover of Dick Haymes’ song, “Little White Lies,” which reached #11 on the Billboard R&B Charts.

By the mid 1950s they were extremely popular, appearing on variety shows like the Garry Moore Show and The Steve Allen Show and also routinely broadcasting live over AFRS from their L.A. home! Even though they were at the height of their popularity, they strangely did not record during this era (1951-57) and would not again until the brand new ABC Paramount label had them cut two LPs, one being a tribute to Martha’s mentor, Fats Waller. These would be the final recording of the pair. Martha died from cancer on 6th April 1960 in Mount Vernon, New York, and Calvin died in Los Angeles a decade later, on 26th December 1970. You can read much more about Martha here.

The short films below have been used repeatedly in different iterations in many films of the 1950s. The original short-film version of the Snader Telescriptions, which were made for the video jukeboxes of that time, are not the versions in common circulation. They had been edited into then excerpted from Showtime at the Apollo: Beale Street Revue (1955). This half-hour compilation is tricked out as a fake concert at the Apollo Theater connected by bits of comic Nipsy Russell & host Willie Bryant. The Snader film footage was later used for inclusion in the variety films Rhythm & Blues Revue, Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue and Basin Street Revue during 1955/56. Regardless of the strange insertions of an audience that may or may not even be an Appolo audience, when Martha did her live performance the only audience was the production crew.

The Chronological Martha Davis (Classics 5123) – This CD features Martha’s entire recorded output except for her two late 1950s LPs for ABC Paramount and, strangely, her biggest hit, “Little White Lies”, since a satisfactory copy could not be found for dubbing. If anyone has a copy of Martha’s version, please let me know!

VIPITY VOP; aka, VIP-I-TY VIP-I-TY VOP. 1951
Director: Louis “Duke” Goldstone

WE JUST COULDN’T SAY GOODBYE. 1951
Director: Louis “Duke” Goldstone

MARTHA’S BOOGIE. 1951
Director: Louis “Duke” Goldstone

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