Flamingo (m. Theodor Grouya, w. Edmund Anderson)

1941 Flamingo (Grouya, Anderson) Duke Elllington-1

Duke Ellington & his Famous Orchestra, featuring vocalist Herb Jeffries, introduced this standard with a recording (Victor 27326-B) that eventually climbed to #11 on the Billboard chart in 1941. The track was actually recorded in the last Ellington session of the previous year on 28 December 1940.

Personnel for the session (from A Duke Ellington Panorama/Ellington Sessions 1940):

Duke Ellington & His Famous Orchestra: Rex Stewart, c; Wallace Jones, t; Ray Nance, t, vn; Lawrence Brown, Joe Nanton, tb; Juan Tizol, vtb; Barney Bigard, cl, ts; Johnny Hodges, as; Otto Hardwick, as, cl; Ben Webster, ts; Harry Carney, bs, cl,as; Duke Ellington, p; Fred Guy, g; Jimmie Blanton, b; Sonny Greer, d. Billy Strayhorn replaces Ellington on “Flamingo.”


A 1942 Soundie produced by Sam Coslow features Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, vocal by Herb Jeffries, and dance by Janet Collins & Talley Beatty of the Katherine Dunham dance troup.


Excerpt from the Herb Jeffries bio at IMDb:

This velvet-toned jazz baritone and sometime actor was (and perhaps still is) virtually unknown to white audiences. Yet, back in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Herb Jeffries was very big…in black-cast films. Today he is respected and remembered as a pioneer who broke down rusted-shut racial doors in Hollywood and ultimately displayed a positive image as a black actor on celluloid.

The Detroit native was born Herbert Jeffrey on September 24, 1911 (some sources list 1914). His white Irish mother ran a rooming house, and his father, whom he never knew, was of mixed ancestry and bore Sicilian, Ethiopean, French, Italian and Moorish roots. Young Herb grew up in a mixed neighborhood without experiencing severe racism as a child. He showed definitive interest in singing during his formative teenage years and was often found hanging out with the Howard Buntz Orchestra at various Detroit ballrooms.

After moving to Chicago, he performed in various clubs. One of his first gigs was in a club allegedly owned by Al Capone. Erskine Tate signed the 19-year-old Herb to a contract with his Orchestra at the Savoy Dance Hall in Chicago. While there Herb was spotted by ‘Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines’, who hired him in 1931 for a number of appearances and recordings. It was during the band’s excursions to the South that Jeffries first encountered blatant segregation. He left the Hines band in 1934 and eventually planted roots in Los Angeles after touring with Blanche Calloway’s band. There he found employment as a vocalist and emcee at the popular Club Alabam. And then came Duke Ellington, staying with his outfit for ten years. Herb started his singing career out as a lyrical tenor, but, on the advice of Duke Ellington’s longtime music arranger, Billy Strayhorn, he lowered his range.

The tall, debonair, mustachioed, blue-eyed, light-complexioned man who had a handsome, matinée-styled Latin look, was a suitable specimen for what was called “sepia movies” — pictures that played only in ghetto and/or segregated theaters and were advertised with an all-black cast. Inspired by the success of Gene Autry, Herb made his debut as a crooning cowboy with Harlem on the Prairie (1937), which was considered the first black western following the inauguration of the talkies. Dark makeup was applied to his light skin and he almost never took off his white stetson which would have revealed naturally brown hair. A popular movie, Herb went on to sing his own songs (to either his prairie flower and/or horse) in both The Bronze Buckaroo (1939) and Harlem Rides the Range (1939). Outside the western venue, he starred in the crimer Two-Gun Man from Harlem (1938). As the whip-snapping, pistol-toting, melody-gushing Bronze Buckaroo, Jeffries finally offered a positive alternative to the demeaning stereotypes laid on black actors. Moreover, he refused to appear in “white” films in which he would have been forced to play in servile support.

In the midst of all this, Herb continued to impress as a singer and made hit records of the singles “In My Solitude”, “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good”, “When I Write My Song”, Duke Ellington’s “Jump for Joy” and his signature song “Flamingo”, which became a huge hit in 1941. Some of the songs he did miss out on which could have furthered his name, were “Love Letters” and “Native Boy”. During the 1950s Herb worked constantly in Europe, especially in France, where he owned his own Parisian nightclub for a time.

Herb Jeffries was so associated with this song that he was sometimes referred to as Mr. Flamingo. A quote ascribed to Jeffries, from IMDb:

The word ‘black’ means ‘a void,’ so I have never seen a black man. The word ‘white’ means ‘lack of pigment,’ so I have never seen a white man either. There’s only one race: the human race.


Herman Chittison — The record label clearly says “piano solo” and that’s what you’ll hear. But Second Hand Songs credits Bluebird catalog # B-11333-A to The Herman Chittison Trio, 1941. Don’t ask me.


Earl Bostic and his Orchestra – 1951. This recording reached #1 on Billboard’s R&B chart according to Wikipedia.


Stan Getz and Swedish All Stars — recorded Stockholm, Sweden 24 March 1951 — Lars Gullin-baritone sax, Stan Getz-tenor sax, Bengt Hallberg-piano, Yngve Åkerberg (sometimes credited as Tagve Akerberg)-bass, Jack Noren-drums


Don Byas – 1952


Cannonball Adderley Quartet – from Presenting Cannonball Adderley, 1955 — Cannonball Adderley (alto sax), Hank Jones (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Kenny Clarke (drums)


Little Willie John – 1961


The Percy Faith Strings from the 1962 album Exotic Strings


Charles Mingus – from Tijuana Moods, recorded 18 July and 6 August 1957, released 1962


Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass — from their 1966 album S.R.O. (Standing Room Only)


Grover Washington, Jr. All My Tomorrows – recorded, according to a review at CD Universe, at Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on 22-24 February 1994.

Grover Washington, Jr. (soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone); Freddy Cole, Jeanie Bryson (vocals); Romero Lubambo (guitar); Bobby Ray Watson (alto saxophone); Bobby Lavell (tenor saxophone); Eddie Henderson (trumpet, flugelhorn); Earl Gardner (flugelhorn); Robin Eubanks (trombone); Hank Jones (piano); Lewis Nash, Billy Hart (drums); Steve Berrios (percussion)



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