The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra announced the November 9 release of its latest album, American Originals: 1918, under the direction of Pops Conductor John Morris Russell. The recording is inspired by America’s cultural awakening at the end of the First World War one hundred years ago and the distinctly American musical styles that reflect the country’s diversity. This album celebrates and reimagines popular songs of this era that remain fresh and relevant today with acclaimed musical collaborators including Rhiannon Giddens, Steep Canyon Rangers and Pokey LaFarge. The 95th Cincinnati Pops album was recorded live at Cincinnati Music Hall November 10-12, 2017, and is being released on the Orchestra’s label, Fanfare Cincinnati.
“At the close of the First World War, and the advent of recording, America’s musical culture played upon the world’s stage for the first time”, said Mr. Russell. “The earliest jazz, country and blues styles blossomed across the nation—styles that would bear fruit in American popular music for the remainder of the century and define our shared musical ethos. This post-war era provided the inspiration for American Originals: 1918.” The recording showcases brilliantly inventive new orchestrations by Rob Mounsey, Timothy Berens and Julie Spangler. In addition to popular classics like Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” and George M. Cohan’s “Over There,” American Originals: 1918 revels in stylings born of the African-American experience.
“Rhiannon Giddens delivers outrageous performances, including Bessie Smith’s ‘I Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle,’ along with Pops Violinist Paul Patterson, and ‘I Ain’t Got Nobody,’” said Mr. Russell. “Her performances are both searing and crushingly heartfelt.” Ms. Giddens, a Grammy-winning musician celebrated for her work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops and as a solo artist, was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award in 2017. She also performs a completely new take on “Swing Along” by Will Marion Cook, and Eubie Blake’s popular classic, “I’m Just Wild About Harry” with tap-dancer Robyn Watson on American Originals: 1918.
“Among the positive storylines to come out of the horrific First World War was the U.S. Army’s embrace of African-Americans, which ultimately led to new opportunities for all black Americans, especially musicians,” said Mr. Russell. “James Reese Europe’s ‘Harlem Hell Fighters’ regiment band entertained troops and civilians alike across the Atlantic, as did 350th Field Artillery Regiment ‘Black Devils’ Orchestra led by Timothy Brymn. It is no wonder that, after hearing these bands in Paris, composers like Stravinsky, Ravel, Poulenc and Milhaud were inspired to create jazz compositions of their own.” African-American regimental bands returned home after the war and took U.S. audiences by storm. Mr. Europe’s 1919 recordings include the first wildly popular jazz standards like “Memphis Blues” and “Strutter’s Ball,” both featured with new orchestrations on this new recording.
American Originals: 1918 also explores the sounds of country music, which took root across the country following the First World War.
“Pokey LaFarge conveys the intimate musical connection between folk music and blues with a unique vocal quality that recalls those early years of the 20th century,” said Mr. Russell. Mr. LaFarge is known for his charismatic performances and unique brand of cross-genre musical storytelling. He sings Herman Hupfeld’s “Night Owl,” Billy Hill’s “Prairie Lullaby,” W.C. Handy’s “Memphis Blues,” and joins Ms. Giddens and the Steep Canyon Rangers on “I Ain’t Got Nobody.” The Grammy Award-winning bluegrass sextet the Steep Canyon Rangers, known for their work with Steve Martin, also bring their tight harmonies and skillful expression to Irving Berlin’s “Remember” and Walter Donaldson’s “How Ya Gonna Keep’em Down on the Farm?”
“To folks who were at the concerts in Cincinnati last year: you will be happy to know we also recorded the sensational Steep Canyon Rangers’ blazing encore of ‘Auden’s Train,’ featuring the outrageous Nicky Sanders on the fiddle,” said Mr. Russell.
American Originals: 1918 also features a moving tribute to those who fought and died in the First World War: In the Cause of the Free, a new work by Peter Boyer highlights the virtuosity Cincinnati Pops Principal Trumpet Robert Sullivan.
The recording is produced by Elaine Martone, engineered by Michael Bishop, both multiple Grammy Award winners, and made possible through the generous support of Anne Heldman, John & Suzanne Bossert and Otto Budig.
American Originals: 1918 will be released nationally and internationally (on compact disc, as well as via iTunes, Amazon mp3 and commercial streaming services), beginning on November 9, 2018. Preorders are currently available online.