Song Of The Day 5/1/2014: The Dixie Belles - "(Down At) Papa Joe's"


Pre-Fab Four: Yet another attempt to fuse thoroughly modern pop styles with for God knows what reason Dixieland, The Dixie Belles were a truly outré proposition of their time. This time they mixed R&B with Dixieland, which given the New Orleans connection at least makes more sense on paper. Certain tracks from them -- "Swanee River" (no, really) and "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" (really, I'm not kidding) -- have a distant charm.

But the weirdest thing to me is this: You have three women, all arranged in a trio where they're pretty out front, and all of them are singing the melody. There's not one moment of harmony on anything they ever did. Which just sounds like an odd approach, ensuring a sort of weird, 5th-grade choir feel to their music. (To be fair, their contemporaries the Dixie Cups didn't harmonize on "Iko Iko." But they did on "Chapel of Love.") "(Down At) Papa Joe's" ambled up to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100.

By the way, I can't say at all for certain whether the Dixie Belles as pictured on this page are actually the girls singing on the recording; in fact my research says they're not. The image below was featured on a reissue single of "(Down At) Papa Joe's," although the original didn't feature any pictures of the girls whatsoever, perhaps adding to the anonymous cloud hovering over the whole project. But my research indicates that the people singing on the original 45 were actually from the hardcore easy listening troupe The Anita Kerr Singers, who at the time were, let's just say, of the very caucasian persuasion.

The women in this picture did tour as The Dixie Belles after the fact of the recording, and may (or may not) have been members of one of the Anita Kerr Singers' various configurations at some point. There were adjunct Anita Kerr branches in Los Angeles and Nashville, for example, and they weren't the same. (Like the Blue Man Group, who found a rather foolproof way of disguising their racial identity.) So there's a chance these Dixie Belles, or some combination of them, may have been in one of these alternate Anita Kerr Singer universes.

I really don't know, and I'm afraid to find out more lest I open a can of worms that some character in a John Grisham novel is going to come and kill me for doing. I've said too much already.


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