Lottie Kimbrough was a Kansas City blues woman whose brief recording career spanned the years 1924 to 1929. She shared her first recording session for Paramount Records with the legendary Ma Rainey in 1924, and much of her work demonstrates close ties to the classic blues tradition for which Rainey is well known. Kimbrough emerged from the musically rich West Bottoms area of Kansas City and was a central figure in the vibrant, close-knit musical community of her city. As her recordings demonstrate, Kimbrough performed alongside a number of the area's talented personalities and sidemen, most notably the performer and promoter Winston Holmes, who managed much of Kimbrough's career.
Kimbrough was a famously large woman, nicknamed "the Kansas City Butter-ball." Throughout her career, she recorded and performed under several pseudonyms: Half of her recordings were released under her married name, Lottie Beaman, while Holmes encouraged her to use the name Lena Kimbrough on the 1926 recordings (Holmes also substituted a picture of Kimbrough's more attractive sister Estella for one of Lottie's publicity photographs). Her first Paramount recordings, made in 1924, featured the Pruitt Twins, Miles on guitar and Milas on banjo; later that year, she produced additional sides with strong backing by pianist Jimmy Blythe. Kimbrough performed the vaudeville circuit with her brother Sylvester, and he appears, along with Paul Banks' Kansas City Trio, on the 1926 recordings. Kimbrough reached her greatest level of sophistication and creativity, however, in her collaboration with Holmes, who provided yodels, bird calls, and train whistles on the 1928 masterpieces "Lost Lover Blues" and "Wayward Girl Blues," creating a unique synthesis of styles. These recordings again featured the masterful guitar of Miles Pruitt, who remained a steady partner throughout Kimbrough's career, accompanying her final recorded performances in November of 1929. Both Kimbrough and Holmes also lent their voices to Rev. B.L. Wrightman's congregation, illustrating the breadth of the recording community to which they belonged. Though her own recorded output is relatively small, Kimbrough's vocal power and the unique arrangements of several of her best pieces rank her as one of the sizable talents of the 1920s blues tradition. ~ Burgin Mathews