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Storyville 2002-2003 0064

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by Howard Rye
According to her passport file, Una Mae Carlisle was born at Zanesville, Ohio, on 26 December 1915. She first came to notice at Christmas 1932 as a guest on Fats Waller’s Rhythm Club, a radio show over Station WLW, Cincinnati, and continued to work with Waller as his protege.
Her passport was issued on 17 April 1936. In the application she states her : intention to visit England travelling from New York City on the Geòrgie on 20 April. Her final appearance in New York was apparently at Leon & Eddie’s, East 52nd Street [New York Amsterdam News, 22 Aug 36, p.8].
In the event she and 35 other cast members of Blackbirds Of 1936 travelled on the Scythia, arriving in Britain on 5 May. The story of this show will be found in ‘Visiting Firemen 9’ in Storyville 112. Una Mae’s involvement appears to have been short. In 1940, she told Dan Burley that, “[Lew] Leslie got on her nerves and she took sick. Paul Robeson told her to quit, which she did.”
Contemporary American sources confirm the outline of this story but no reference to her role in the show has been located in Britain, nor has her departure been located on an outgoing passenger list. Contemporary sources are also clear that she almost immediately returned to Europe on the Queen Mary but she cannot be found on any passenger list located. If she disembarked at a French port this is not surprising. She was said to be slated for a Gaumont-British film with Paul Robeson and an appearance in a ‘revuesical’ at the Cafe de Paris. By her own later account to Dan Burley she was headed for Paris and without a job lined up, but she did say that it was her contacts with Robeson that brought her back to Britain.
It should perhaps be noted that there is often no indication whether Ms. Carlisle was appearing as a singer and pianist or just as a singer, or what the nature of her act was on any given occasion. It is clear that some of her public appearances were primarily as a cabaret act, and featured her as a jazz artist only incidentally, if at all. It should also be noted that dates given in the Diaries for broadcasts over Radios Luxembourg and Normandy, the ‘offshore’ stations of the International Broadcasting Company (IBC), are transmission dates. The broadcasts were made from transcriptions pre-recorded in London on unknown dates.
Una Mae Carlisle’s British Diary, 1936
5 May 36 arr. Liverpool on Cunard’s Scythia from New York City with other members of the cast of Blackbirds Of 1936 [PRO Ref: BT26/1089].
20 Jun 36 Blackbirds Of 1936 opened at Manchester Opera House after three postponements [see Storyville 112, p.145].
4 Jul 36 Blackbirds Of 1936 closed in Manchester [see Storyville 112, p.145],
9 Jul 36 Blackbirds Of 1936 opened at the Gaiety, London [see Storyville 112, p. 145],
?late Jul 36 Returned to the U.S.A. [New York Amsterdam News, 7 Sep 40], The only clue to the date is that she is said to have stayed only 10 days before returning to London on the Queen Mary en route to Paris. At the time she was reported to have come home to visit her mother and sister in Zenia, OH [New York Amsterdam News, 22 Aug 36, p.8].
12 Aug 36 "Sailed aboard the Queen Mary last Wednesday” on her return trip to London.” [New York Amsterdam
News, 22 Aug 36, p.8] The Pittsburgh Courier, 29 Aug 36, under dateline Chicago. 27 Aug, also
reports that she has sailed for Europe. The Queen Mary arrived at Southampton on 17 Aug 36, and will