Thanks for joining me on the release day for my latest historical mystery THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE!
Set in 1919 San Francisco, RED-HOT features chanteuse Viola Vermillion, who sings, shimmies, and dreams of making America’s vaudeville Big Time. But first, she’s got a murder to solve. And an old score to settle. And a romance to rebuff. Or maybe not.
That’s my standard short promo, but if you’ve seen my longer promo, you’ve also seen this tidbit: “Many years ago, Ana inherited the scrapbooks, recordings, and theatrical ephemera of vaudeville songstress Elsie Clark, and used this treasure trove to create Viola Vermillion, the smart, sassy, and bodacious vaudeville heroine of THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE.”
To celebrate RED-HOT’s release, I’m digging into Elsie’s treasure trove and sharing pics of some of the vaudeville memorabilia that inspired me to create my amateur-sleuth-and-chanteuse Viola Vermillion.
Let the show begin!
Scrapbooks and Photo Albums:
Elsie kept scrapbooks of her vaudeville days, each of them filled with newspaper clippings from the cities she and Nelson (her music-writing, piano-playing husband) performed in. San Francisco, Minneapolis, Winnepeg, Louisville, Tulsa…it looks like Elsie clipped and pasted any newspaper that included her name. One of the interesting things about her scrapbooks is the lack of dates. Oh, she might have noted the days she performed at The James theater in Columbus or the Empress in Grand Rapids, but she never revealed the year. Which makes me wonder if she didn’t want the people viewing her scrapbook to know how long she’d been in vaudeville, or if she’d been laid off a lot.
Here’s a description of Elsie from one of my favorite clippings, from the December 5 19?? The Wichita Eagle: “The heart of the bouquet is Elsie Clark, both chic and chicken, a comedienne whose forte is the popular blues songs and whose voice and personality please.”
In the photo above, one of Elsie’s scrapbooks is up top; Nelson’s photo album is on the bottom. The photograph in red is labeled “America’s Greatest Indian Actor”, although no name is given. Elsie and Nelson are together in the photo in the bottom right corner.
I’ve got about a dozen double-sided recordings of Elsie, often with Nelson accompanying her “on pianoforte”.
And what great titles: For Crying Out Loud (which I wanted to use in RED-HOT, but couldn’t find the sheet music to prove it was out of copyright), I Certainly Must Be In Love, Kiss Mama Kiss Papa, Loud Speakin’ Papa (You’d Better Speak Easy To Me), He Loves It, and my favorite, Mamma Goes Where Papa Goes (Or Papa Don’t go Out To-Night).
Although Elsie was exclusively signed to Okeh records for a while…
…she also recorded on Edison and other labels.
Fortunately for me, my husband had a turntable and re-recorded a lot of Elsie’s songs, enabling me to I listen—and sing—to them while I was researching. Also fortunately, other historians have posted some of Elsie’s recordings on YouTube. Check out Elsie singing Cry Baby Blues and Mama Goes Where Papa Goes. Watch this one to see I Hold Her Hand And She Holds Mine played on a circa 1910 Victrola VV-X Machine.
In addition to the scrapbooks, photo albums, and recordings, there were loose photos, postcards, sheet music (many composed by Nelson), posters, handbills, telegrams, and even a small, silk 48-star American flag. Today I’m sharing a photo of some of Elsie’s music; I hope to share more memorabilia in coming weeks on my website.
That’s Elsie on the cover of Nevada, written by her husband Nelson and Monty Howard.
That’s enough Show & Tell for today! I hope you take a look at THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE and fall in love with the world of vaudeville and vaudevillians like I did.
Ana Brazil writes historical crime fiction celebrating bodacious American heroines. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Historical Novel Society, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers.
Ana’s latest historical mystery is THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE, which features murder, mayhem, and music in 1919 San Francisco. Her award-winning historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER is set in Gilded Age New Orleans.