|Favorite Boswell Song: The Lovliness of You|
My first introduction to Nancy Stanley came via David McCain, the “Wizard of Boz” himself. Possibly as far back as 2008, David mentioned that there was this record collector in Indiana who was in the process of downsizing and she had reached out to him to find a home to her prized collection of Connee Boswell records. David passed her information along to me and I emailed her. She was excited to have found someone who was willing to take her 78’s. Early in 2010, I announced that I needed to make a cross-country drive to help digitize the Boswell Museum’s music and let Nancy know that this trip would bring me right through her hometown of Richmond, Indiana. The date for our meeting was set: May 1, 2010.
A FEMALE RECORD COLLECTOR
Nancy Stanley is a rarity amongst record collectors in that she’s one of the few who happen to be female. If you were to go to just about any of the record collector conventions that are held throughout the country, you’re likely to see a handful of women present, but most that are there patiently tagging along with a husband or boyfriend on the hunt for that one record. To find a bonafide female collector is a rarity.
When I first showed up at her apartment in Richmond, I learned just how serious a collector this 83 year old really is. She reminded me that Richmond was home to the Gennett Record Company, which had recorded many of the earliest of our jazz legends in the years before the Depression shut them down.
“I was involved in trying to get Gennett recordings on commercial CD. I copied I don’t know how many Gennett 78s to CD, then they went to a commercial company for “cleaning,” which was $8,000!! Then Sam Meier, the fellow who was behind all of this, died, and the project died with him.”
She took great pride in telling me that she had more than 30,000 tracks in her computer today. And, although she grew up in the Swing Era, her favorite genre of music was 1920’s jazz. She mentioned names seldom heard today like Roger Wolfe Kahn and singers like Belle Baker. She pointed out that she only needed one more Grace Johnston recording to complete her collection. She reminded me of the scarcity of some of those 20’s and 30’s recordings.
“I wonder if people, other than collectors, realize recordings made in the early thirties are hard to come by. During the Depression, people just didn’t have the money to buy records. Thus the record companies were only allowing one take, or maybe two to try and cut down on costs. They also reduced the number they pressed, therefore, discs from that era are hard to find simply because so few were produced and sold.”
During our conversation that evening, Nancy, told me how she got into record collecting. She grew up and went to school in Indianapolis, where like many students, her trips across town were by foot or bus in those days.
“Sometimes I’d have to wait to catch the bus in the downtown area and so I would go into the record stores and look around. I skipped a lot of lunches to have money to buy records.”
Even at that youthful age, she was already thinking and acting like a dyed-in-the-wool record collector. When circumstances afforded, she would buy two copies of the same record: one was to play and enjoy and the other was carefully stored away, never played. This might seem strange to those who aren’t diehard collectors but for those of us who have the addiction to record hounding, there is a great sense of pride in being able to say “I have a brand new copy of that in my collection.”
She also talked about the second-hand record shops she would shop and buy gently used records at bargain basement prices. Many a collector has experienced heart palpitations upon discovering a rarity or treasure being sold for a mere fraction of what it is worth. With a sly smile, she also spoke of sneaking a record guide in with her to aid her hunt for a prized record.
“Back then, LONG before Brian Rust’s discographies came into being, on Nov. 1, 1950, I bought Charles Delaunay’s ‘New Hot Discography,’ which was what I’d sneak into the junk shops. I still have it along with the date I bought it on the front page.”
RECORD COLLECTOR, MEET CONNEE BOSWELL
Quickly, we got around to talking about Connee Boswell and the Boswell Sisters. I asked if she remembered the first time she heard either of the Sisters or Connee.
“I first heard Connee on the old Kraft Music Hall program with Bing Crosby. I don’t remember the first number I heard but that’s where I heard her. That must have been 1940 or 1941. I discovered the Boswell Sisters after that. This, of course, began a lifelong search for anything Boswell.
You know, even though the Sisters had broken up many years before, they were still reissuing and selling new copies of Boswell Sisters records well into the 40’s. And of course, Connee was continuing to make new records. She was a big star in those days, there were always her newest records that you could pick from.”
Bitten by the Boswell bug, she set out to get her hands on every Connee Boswell record she could find. I was impressed to find her collection included nearly 100 discs and many of them having still were unplayed. I was amazed at the willpower she must have had to keep so many of these unplayed for nearly seventy years. Then, while I was thumbing through the records, I noticed that many of them had a little white label pasted on them, frequently with a date and a name.
“I put that label on there to remember when and where I bought that record.”
There was Connee Boswell’s version of “A String of Pearls,” which was bought on November 1, 1943 from Pat Stute’s Record Store. “Sand in my Shoes” was purchased on October 11, 1943 from “B.” Connee’s “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” was purchased on December 8, 1943 at Rosts. These labels also helped to distinguish the copy she would play from the copy kept as new, some simply having a marking of “new” written on them. Dozens of labels carefully placed here recorded Nancy’s own personal history with these treasured recordings.
I noticed there were no Boswell Sisters records and asked about this. I learned that Nancy had been part of one of the earliest projects by an independent label to reissue Boswell Sisters’ music.
“I sold my Boswell Sisters Collection to Bill Love, of Pittsburgh, PA, who put out Jazum LPs. He used several of them to produce his LP of Connee and The Boswell Sisters. At the time I sold them I had made cassette copies of ALL my Boswell recordings, which was a monumental undertaking back then. Although I hated to part with the originals, I knew they were going for a good cause. Bill did die and I have no idea whatever happened to his collection.”
Sitting next to this wonderful library of recorded (and personal history) was a stunning framed portrait of Connee Boswell. Of all the photographs I had in my collection or had seen, this one was completely new to me. I noticed it was autographed to Nancy and asked how this came about.
“During the war, Connee came to the Circle Theatre in Indianapolis while she was touring with Joe Venuti and His Orchestra. Kay Starr was also on the bill at that time but I don’t remember a thing about her. Connee and Venuti were wonderful. I got to go back stage after the show and there was Connee, with all these little handicapped children around her. She was stunning and I briefly met her and got her autograph. I got Venuti’s that night, too.”
Regretfully, their autographs were somehow lost. Nancy got to see her once more in 1944 and when she did, she was able to get this autographed picture. She had treasured it ever since but announced to me that when I took the records that day, she wanted me to have this because she knew it would be in a home where it would be appreciated.
PASSING A COLLECTION ALONG
As we went through the collection that she would be parting with shortly, I asked her to make sure that she had copied all the songs she wanted for her files. We discovered that a number of these had not been added to her computer so I assured her that I would take care of sending her CD’s of the records once I got home. Still amazed at her generosity in giving all these records away, I asked again if she was sure that she wanted to give them up and she assured me that she did. For someone who had put so much time and effort into gathering these records, she didn’t want them to end up in a dumpster or at the Goodwill after she was gone from this world. I assured her they were in good hands and would be well cared for.
I asked if she wanted to hear any of them before I left and insisted that any that we did decide to play, we had to play the new copy. It just wasn’t right-in my mind-for her not to hear a new copy. We listened to several but her favorite was a lesser-known record Connee made in 1937 with the Ben Pollack Orchestra called “The Loveliness of You.”
“She really was in peak voice that day, wasn’t she?! That record just sounds flawless, doesn’t it?”
It certainly did and what excitement it was hearing these beautifully preserved Connee Boswell records playing so perfectly, with so little surface noise. She sounded like she was right there in the room with us.
As our evening of talking, listening and remembering began to draw to a close, the conversation turned to a reflection of music today. We both agreed that most of our artists today are more singers or entertainers than they are vocalists. Anybody can be a singer but a true vocalist understands it isn’t just singing (or shouting) notes written on the sheet music but how it’s presented, the emotion and feeling. Those are the kinds of true vocalist. Few today can come close to the mastery of phrasing that Connee possessed, and certainly, few have the musical skills and training that the Boswell’s did.
Nancy stated simply, “there will never be another Connee Boswell. She was one of a kind.”
FINAL THOUGHTS FROM THE AUTHOR ( Randall Riley )
Nancy and I spent only a few hours together but our shared love of record collecting and Boswell music really made me feel I’d know her for a lot longer than a few hours. We record collectors are an unusual lot and when we find each other, the conversations can frequently go on for days. I feel honored that Nancy felt she could entrust her prized collection to me and have assured her that when my time comes, her music and mine will find there way to an appreciative museum so that future generations can enjoy all things Boswell, too. Since our visit, she emailed to let me know: “I’m still working on Belle Baker, but now have the last recording to complete my Grace Johnston collection. It cost me over $30 for that recording made in 1932!”
Randall Riley is also a tenured member of the Boz of the Month Club, and a great contibutor to the Boz Cause.