It has often been stated and written that scat singing began in 1926 when Louis Armstrong, while recording "Heebie Jeebies," dropped the music and covered himself by making up nonsense syllables. However, it is doubtful that it happened that way and, besides, there are several examples of scat singing on record dating back to 1923. It has rarely been mentioned that back in 1911, a vaudevillian singer, Gene Greene, scatted for two choruses on his recording of "King of the Bungaloos." Greene was thought to have learned about scatting from ragtime performer Ben Harney, who unfortunately never recorded.
Gene Greene was billed as "the Ragtime King" because he often sang in a ragged fashion. Greene recorded "King of the Bungaloos" five times during 1911-1917, since it was his most popular recording. He worked early on with his wife, Blanche Werner, as Greene & Werner. She died during a European tour in 1912. Greene, who spent two years overseas, recording 64 selections during 1912-1913, retained his popularity when he returned to the U.S. Greene was a humorous (for the time) singer and many of the songs that he recorded have "Rag" in their titles, influenced by ragtime's rhythms. Greene recorded "The Chinese Blues" in 1916, four years before Mamie Smith recorded her hit "Crazy Blues." In 1917 Greene recorded, as an answer to "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Alexander's Got a Jazz Band Now."
That turned out to be his last recording. He performed for a few more years, eventually retiring to manage a restaurant in Grand Rapids, MI. The establishment was closed later in the decade, having found to be in violation of Prohibition laws. Gene Greene attempted a comeback in New York, but he strained himself during a performance. He took curtain calls, but died of a heart attack backstage at the age of 52. His place in musical history and as the first innovator of scat singing have long been overlooked. ~ Scott Yanow