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A pioneer as just the third African American woman to make a phonograph recording back in the 1920s, Edith Wilson later fell on hard timesand was reduced to appearing through the mid-'60s (and quite anonymously) in the first Aunt Jemima TV commercials.
By the early 1970s, few remembered Wilson, an early star of black theater who in 1921 replaced Mamie Smith in Perry Bradford's musical revue Put And Take." Fewer still remember her today, despite a separate stint in a landmark group called the Thousand Pounds of Harmony, featuring Wilson, Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong. That's not to mention stops with leading jazz lights like Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford and Cab Calloway. Away from music, she also appeared on radio's Amos 'n Andy" and in the 1944 Humphrey Bogart film To Have and Have Not."
If anyone recalls her at all, it's as the late wife of former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Different Edith Wilson.
Yet, He May Be Your Man" (Delmark Records), sassy and true, makes it more than clear that her legacy resides far away from those misconceptions, and those syrup spots. Wilson, spitting then cooing even at 69, tears through an old-school set that included Mistreatin' Blues," the delicious My Handy Man Ain't Handy Anymore," Hesitating Blues" (a W.C. Handy composition) and Put a Little Love In Everything You Do." The State Street Swingers and Little Brother Montgomery make notable turns.
Though she never matched the range and depth of emotion of, say, a Bessie Smith, Wilson's earlier mainstream associations helped introduce the classic blues form to a wider audience. First, as a traveling caberet and recording artist in the 1930s and then with this, her penultimate release. She would only record once again before her death in 1981.