Beale Street Mama.
Excellent example of this 1923 Jazz sheet music for “Beale Street Mamma,” a jazz standard recorded by such African-American singers as Bessie Smith, Fletcher Henderson, and Cab Calloway.
The song’s sexually suggestive lyrics played on the reputation of Memphis, Tennessee’s Beale Street entertainment district, noted for its music clubs and nearby brothels:
It isn’t proper, To leave your papa all alone. / Sometimes I was cruel, that’s true, But mamma your sweet papa never two-timed you… / Beale Street Mamma, Don’t mess around with me, There’s fancy pettin’; that I can get in Tennessee. / I still get my sweet cookies constantly, But not the kind you served me; / So Beal Street mamma come back home.
Interestingly, Bessie Smith’s version inverted the sexual stereotype: “Beale Street papa, don’t mess around with me / There’s plenty of petting that I can get in Tennessee.”¹
Description: Beale Street Mama.
New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. (1923). pp. Sheet Music. 12 x 9 inches. Illustrated self-wrappers by Irving Politzer (1898–1971). Bifolium with inserted leaf. Brief rubbing and wear at edges; ⅜-inch separation at head of “spine”; very good.
Note. 1. Salvatore, Singing in a Strange Land, C.L. Franklin, The Black Church, and the Transformation of America (New York, 2005), p66.