Marion Harris

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Marion Harris
Marion Harris in 1924
Background information
Birth name Mary Ellen Harrison
Born (1896-04-04)April 4, 1896
Indiana, U.S. (?)
Died April 23, 1944(1944-04-23) (aged 48)
New York City, U.S.
Genres Jazz, blues, pop
Occupation(s) Singer
Years active 1914—1930s
Labels Victor, Columbia, Brunswick

Marion Harris (April 4, 1896[1] – April 23, 1944)[2] was an American popular singer, most successful in the 1920s. She was the first widely known white singer to sing jazz and blues songs.[3]

Early life[edit]

Born Mary Ellen Harrison, probably in Indiana, she first played vaudeville and movie theaters in Chicago around 1914. Dancer Vernon Castle introduced her to the theater community in New York, where she debuted in a 1915 Irving Berlin revue, Stop! Look! Listen!


In 1916, she began recording for Victor Records, singing a variety of songs, such as "Everybody's Crazy 'bout the Doggone Blues, But I'm Happy", "After You've Gone", "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" (later recorded by Bessie Smith), "When I Hear that Jazz Band Play" and her biggest success, "I Ain't Got Nobody".[4]

In 1920, after the Victor label would not allow her to record W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues", she joined Columbia Records, where she recorded the song successfully. Sometimes billed as "The Queen of the Blues,"[3] she tended to record blues- or jazz-flavored tunes throughout her career. Handy wrote of Harris that "she sang blues so well that people hearing her records sometimes thought that the singer was colored."[5] Harris commented, "You usually do best what comes naturally, so I just naturally started singing Southern dialect songs and the modern blues songs."[6]

She was briefly married to actor Robert Williams. They married in 1921 and divorced the following year. Harris and Williams had one daughter Mary Ellen, who later became a singer in her own right under the name Marion Harris Jr.

In 1922 she moved to the Brunswick label. She continued to appear in Broadway theatres throughout the 1920s. She regularly played the Palace Theatre, appeared in Florenz Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic and toured the country with vaudeville shows.[2] After a marriage which produced two children, and her subsequent divorce, she returned in 1927 to New York theater, made more recordings with Victor and appeared in an eight-minute promotional film, Marion Harris, Songbird of Jazz. After a Hollywood movie, the early musical Devil-May-Care (1929) with Ramón Novarro, she temporarily withdrew from performing because of an undisclosed illness.


Between 1931 and 1933, when she performed on such NBC radio shows as The Ipana Troubadors and Rudy Vallee's The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour, she was billed by NBC as "The Little Girl with the Big Voice."[7]

Marion Harris with Banjo Uke.

In early 1931 she performed in London, returning for long engagements at the Café de Paris. In London she appeared in the musical Ever Green and broadcast on BBC radio. She also recorded in England in the early 1930s but retired soon afterwards and married an English theatrical agent. Their house was destroyed in a German rocket attack in 1941, and in 1944 she travelled to New York to seek treatment for a neurological disorder. Although she was discharged two months later, she died soon afterwards in a hotel fire that started when she fell asleep while smoking in bed.

Hit records[edit]

Year Single US
[8][nb 1]
1916 "I'm Gonna Make Hay While the Sun Shines in Virginia" 8
1917 "I Ain't Got Nobody Much" 5
"Paradise Blues" 7
"They Go Wild, Simply Wild, Over Me" 2
1918 "Everybody's Crazy 'Bout the Doggone Blues (But I'm Happy)" 3
"When Alexander Takes His Ragtime Band to France" 4
"There's a Lump of Sugar Down in Dixie" 8
1919 "After You've Gone" 1
"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" 2
"Jazz Baby" 3
"Take Me to the Land of Jazz" 5
1920 "Left All Alone Again Blues" 5
"St. Louis Blues" 1
"Oh! Judge (He Treats Me Mean)" 11
"Sweet Mama (Papa's Gettin' Mad)" 4
1921 "I'm a Jazz Vampire" 8
"Grieving for You" 7
"Look for the Silver Lining" 1
"I Ain't Got Nobody" 3
"I'm Nobody's Baby" 3
"Beale Street Blues" 5
1922 "Some Sunny Day" 3
"Nobody Lied (When They Said That I Cried Over You)" 4
"I'm Just Wild About Harry" 4
"Sweet Indiana Home" 5
"Blue (And Broken Hearted)" 7
1923 "Carolina in the Morning" 4
"Aggravatin' Papa" 3
"Rose of the Rio Grande" 3
"Beside a Babbling Brook" 7
"Who's Sorry Now?" 5
"Dirty Hands! Dirty Face!" 6
1924 "It Had to Be You" 3
"How Come You Do Me Like You Do?" 5
"Jealous" 3
"There'll Be Some Changes Made" 7
1925 "Somebody Loves Me" 7
"Tea for Two" 1
""I'll See You in My Dreams" 4
"When You and I Were Seventeen" 11
1928 "The Man I Love" 4
"Did You Mean It?" 14
1930 "Nobody's Using It Now" 20


  1. ^ Joel Whitburn's methodology for creating pre-1940s chart placings has been criticised,[9] and they should not be taken as definitive.


  1. ^ The gravestone shown under her name at Find-a-Grave [1] has a wrong birth year.
  2. ^ a b Marion Harris
  3. ^ a b Elijah Ward, Escaping The Delta, 2005, ISBN 978-0-06-052427-2
  4. ^ Originally titled "I Ain't Got Nobody Much"
  5. ^ W.C. Handy, Father of the Blues, 1941
  6. ^ 1922 Columbia Records catalog, quoted in Elijah Ward, Escaping The Delta, 2005, ISBN 978-0-06-052427-2, p. 283.
  7. ^ Gracyk, Tim. The Encyclopedia of Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925. Routledge, 2000.
  8. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories: 1890-1954. Record Research. ISBN 0-89820-083-0. 
  9. ^ "Joel Whitburn criticism: chart fabrication, misrepresentation of sources, cherry picking", Songbook

External links[edit]

Streaming audio