Saturday, February 24, 2018

Scrapper Blackwell Legacy Celebrated

Scrapper Blackwell - 1959
By Rachel E. Sheeley Staff Writer

Blues guitarist and singer Francis "Scrapper" Blackwell was in his 50s when he met Duncan Schiedt and began telling him stories of his hey-day performing with Leroy Carr.

Schiedt was a photographer with a passion for early blues and jazz. He befriended Black-well in Indianapolis during the revival of interest in the musical genres during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Schiedt talked about Blackwell on Friday night during the Starr-Gennett Foundation's Gennett Records Walk of Fame Music Festival induction and awards ceremony at the Gennett Mansion in Richmond.

The Walk of Fame Festival continues Saturday with an afternoon of free concerts in the Whitewater Gorge Park's Starr-Gennett Pavilion starting at noon. Blackwell is the 32nd induc-tee into the Walk of Fame, which celebrates the musicians who recorded with Gennett Records in Richmond or New York City.

Blackwell, Schiedt said, heavily represents the archetypical legend — he was famous for a short period, forgot-ten by most of the world for more than 20 years, revered by fellow guitarists and experienced a revival of his career before dying as a victim of a mugging.

A self-taught guitarist, Blackwell came to the public's attention as the partner of pianist Leroy Carr in the mid-1920s. Their June 1928 re-cording of "How Long, How Long Blues" was an instant hit.

In telling Schiedt about that era, Blackwell related a story about being sent to a Cincinnati record store to promote their music. Blackwell and Carr were hired to appear in the store window and pretend they were singing their hit while the record played over a loudspeaker.

Schiedt imagines it was one of the first incidents of "lip synching."

Blackwell also made solo recordings at Gennett Records in 1931-1932.

After Carr's death in 1935, Blackwell played in the Indianapolis area but faded from the scene, giving up music.

In 1958, Blackwell was "rediscovered" and re-corded by Colin C. Pomroy (but not released until 1967). Schiedt first photographed Blackwell at a Democratic Party picnic in Indianapolis. "He was so picturesque," Schiedt said. "He got little recognition outside the city (of Indianapolis) and he was so important."

In 1959, Schiedt welcomed Blackwell into a makeshift studio his basement where Black-well recorded an album. It was released on the 77 Records label. Blackwell died in 1962.

"I remember him so well," Schiedt said. "He was a different kind of guy. He was very quiet, but when he played, he was just transformed."

In addition to serving as an expert on Blackwell during the award ceremony, Schiedt received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Starr-Gennett Foundation for his service on its national advisory board, for his work as a jazz historian and author, for his "many contributions to our understanding of the history of jazz" and for "helping define popular culture in the 20th and 21st centuries."

Schiedt said he is pleased to be recognized, but feels more fortunate to have been part of the early group that thought it was important to pre-serve and share the Starr-Gennett legacy of recording.

Schiedt said he visited the Starr-Gennett buildings before they were completely demolished.

"Being able to come out on the site and see ... where it all began, it was a thrill to be that close," he said.

Jazz historian and photographer Duncan Scheidt
views a model of the Starr-Gennett building during
the Starr-Gennett VIP Reception in the
Gennett Mansion on Friday. 
He remembers making regular trips to Richmond in the 1980s to meet with like-minded people. He said part of the spark that helped the foundation develop came when Gennett descendant Laurel Gennett Martin be-came involved.

Today, there is an active preservation of the history, the Walk of Fame and the music festival to educate others about Gennett's role.

"We kept our eye on the prize, didn't we?" he said.

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