Sweet Emma Barrett Day

“Sweet Emma” Barrett (March 25, 1897, New Orleans, Louisiana – January 28, 1983) was an American, self-taught jazz pianist and singer who worked with the Original Tuxedo Orchestra between 1923 and 1936, first under Papa Celestin, then William Ridgely. She also worked with Armand Piron, John Robichaux, Sidney Desvigne, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

In 1947, she accepted a steady job at Happy Landing, a local club, but it was her recording debut in 1961, with her own album in the Riverside Records New Orleans: The Living Legends series, that brought her recognition. Although most of the songs on the album were instrumentals, others featured vocals by Barrett that the liner notesdescribed as her first recordings as a vocalist.

She was nicknamed “Bell Gal” because she wore a red skull cap and garters with Christmas bells that jingled in time with her music. She was featured on the cover of Glamour magazine and written about in publications in the U.S. and Europe. She toured with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band domestically and internationally, including a stint at Disneyland in 1963.

Despite the popular exposure she received at concerts and overseas appearances, Barrett continued to feel most comfortable in her native New Orleans, especially the French Quarter. In 1963, on her album The Bell Gal and Her Dixieland Boys Music, Barrett sings on four of the eight songs and heads two overlapping groups. She is joined throughout by banjoist Emanuel Sayles, bassist Placide Adams, and drummer Paul Barbarin, and four songs feature trumpeter Alvin Alcorn, trombonist Jim Robinson and clarinetist Louis Cottrell, Jr.; the remaining four numbers have trumpeter Don Albert, trombonist Frog Joseph and clarinetist Raymond Burke.


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