Blossom Seeley (1891-1972)
American popular singer, actress and dancer
Although Blossom Seeley's career was probably at its most successful during the 1920s, she was first seen in vaudeville at the age of 17 in 1908, while her last public appearance was on television in the 1960s in the Ed Sullivan Show when she was 75. In between she made a number of Broadway appearances.
A native of California, where she was born on 16 July 1891, Miss Seeley was introduced to San Francisco audiences as a 'coon-shouter,' a description shared by a number of other 'ragtime' singers including May Irwin, Sophie Tucker, Stella Mayhew and Elida Morris. Soon afterwards she came to the notice of Lew Fields in New York who gave her a part in his show The Henpecks (Broadway Theatre, 4 February 1911), with Fields himself in the cast along with Vernon Castle, Lillian Lee, Gertrude Quinlan, Ethel Johnson, Laurence Wheat, Edith Frost and Stephen Maley.
In The Henpecks 'Henella, an aspiring chorus girl, ponders whether to be a first-class actress or a happy wife. She opts for the former: "I'm going to stick right where I belong - close to the music cues," and then climbs up on a table and belts out "Toddlin' the Todalo" in a brassy voice. The exuberant singer was San Francisco-born Blossom Seeley familiar to the Western vaudeville circuits as the Queen of Syncopation, but hitherto unknown to Broadway audiences. Fields had her dance on the table to show off her shapely legs, and she used the platform to launch a dance craze. As an encore to the Todalo, she performed the Texas Tommy, a dance originated by black vaudevillians in San Francisco's Barbary Coast. Theater critics were generally nonplussed by the way she toddled and shook, but Broadway audiences loved it… Soon, New York nightlife was transformed by chic couples clutched in tight embraces, performing barbaric-sounding dances called the turkey trot, grizzly bear, and bunny hug.'
Staying in New York in 1912, Blossom Seeley joined Al Jolson, José Collins, Barney Bernard, Stella Mayhew, Lawrence D'Orsay and Kathleen Clifford in The Whirl of Society, 'A Musical Satire of Up-to-Date Society' which opened in March at the Schubert Brothers' Winter Garden Theatre. One of the big numbers in this show was 'My Sumurun Girl' sung as a duet by Jolson and Mayhew; others were 'Waiting for the Robert E. Lee,' 'Row, Row, Row' and 'On the Mississippi.'
Tours and cabaret followed, and then in 1915 Miss Seeley was back in New York to star in Ned Wayburn's Town Topics; Trixie Friganza, Clifton Webb, Vera Michelena and Wellington Cross were also in the cast. For the next four years she was on the road again heading a show of her own. The troupe, which including the cornetist Ray Lopez (1889-1970), 'Mister Jazz Himself,' was billed as 'a distinct combination comprising class, originality and the highest extreme in musical and vocal ability. Not a jazz band, but a Group of Talented Artists. Every one a Star' (New York Clipper, Wednesday, 22 August 1917).
Blossom Seeley's next engagement was in New York in July 1919 starring in John Murray Anderson's first Greenwich Village Follies, an intimate revue, which also included Bessie McCoy Davis singing 'I'm the Hostess of a Bum Cabaret!', and the relative newcomers Ted Lewis, Savoy & Brennan, and Joe E. Brown. By now, her reputation and popularity as a solo performer well established, Miss Seeley appeared successfully throughout the 1920s in New York and Chicago. Having recorded a single disc in 1911 ('He's Coming Back'), she now made regular visits to the New York recording studios of Columbia between 1921 and 1926. At these sessions she cut such standard numbers as 'Way Down Yonder in New Orleans' (1922), 'Lazy' (1924), and 'Everybody Loves My Baby' and 'Alabamy Bound' (1925). She also made versions of 'Mississippi Choo Choo,' recorded on 29 September 1922; and 'You Said Somethin' When You Said "Dixie",' recorded on 4 April 1923 (included here by kind permission of Robert English).
Blossom Seeley was married three times: first to Joe Kane (1911-1913), second to Rube Marquard the well-known baseball pitcher (1913-1920), and finally to fellow vaudevillian Benny Fields (1921 until his death in 1959). Seeley and Fields were partners both on and off stage, and in 1929 also appeared in a film together, a Vitaphone short with piano accompaniment singing 'In A Little Spanish Town.' During 1933 she also featured as a singer in three other films.
Blossom Seeley died in New York on 17 April 1974.
* * * * * * * *
© John Culme, 2003