Rightly best known for her time as one the main singers for the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the late 50s and early 60s, Lil Greenwood's polished performances in those times always gave more than a hint of her blues and R&B background. The Duke remarked of her I don't know but what, whether she's better on spirituals or when she's walking and singing the blues." It's that blues background that is the focus of CDCHD 874 - LIL GREENWOOD / Walking And Singing The Blues. This compilation presents her full output for both the Modern label in Los Angeles and the Federal label recorded between 1950 and 1953."
Born 18 November 1924 in Pritchard, Alabama, north of Mobile, Lil went to Alabama State College, but always wanted to be a singer. In 1949, after an early failed marriage, she moved to the Bay Area in California to start her professional singing career during which she would be variously billed as Lil, Lilli or Lillie Greenwood. Lil spent three happy years in the early 50s with Roy Milton's & His Solid Senders and the Modern sessions were cut with his band. The first release, in July 1950, was a blues belter Heart Full Of Pain, that was coupled with the up-tempo Boogie All Night Long, featuring Jackie Kelso on alto sax and Camille Howard on piano. The blues ballad and boogie combination was repeated on her next release with the melancholy Ain't Gonna Cry as the ballad and Come Back Baby as the up-tempo side. The later Modern releases kept up this pattern except for the rare Modern 803, released in the spring of 1951, which spotlighted two live performances by Lil with Frank Bull and Gene Norman's Blues Jubilee". From both the vocal and the guitar performances, these must have been quite some shows! As well as Lil's 8 released Modern sides there are a further four which are released here for the first time commercially. We're treated to Lil's interpretations of Jimmy Witherspoon's Along About Midnite, a lively boogie treatment of Larry Darnell's For You My Love, a reading of the Dinning Sisters' arrangement to Once In A While, and her version of the Orioles' hit It's Too Soon To Know.
Although in contrast to Modern, the headquarters of King and Federal Records were based in Cincinnati, Ohio, the label conducted substantial recording sessions on the West Coast. Lil's two sessions for the label were recorded in Los Angeles under the direction of A&R man Ralph Bass, the first in April 1952 and the second in October 1953.
The eight Federal recordings tended to have vocal group backing behind the R&B quartet or quintet that accompanied her and thus have a rather different feel from the Modern sides. On the first session, for example, the Four Jacks are in attendance to give a nice group feel to My Last Hour and to Little Willie Littlefield's duet with Lil on Monday Morning Blues. Similar combinations followed, and from the second session Thurston Harris and The Lamplighters are to be heard in good form on I'm Crying' and I'll Go.
After her time with Federal Records, Lil returned to the San Francisco area to play the local club scene. Her manager Gloria Gundry managed to interest Duke Ellington into watching Lil sing when his band was in town. Impressed by her performance, he offered Lil a soloist's job with his Orchestra in late '56 and she worked with the Duke and then latterly with his Mercer Ellington, his son, until the early 60s. Lil is still working today and appears at the Jazz Street Club in Mobile, where she recently recorded a CD.
By Peter Gibbon"