Martha Copeland had a prolific recording career during the '20s as a classic blues singer. Although she had lots of competition, her manager, Joe Davis, helped her make more money than many of her competitors, and his thick involvement with the publishing and songwriting business also ensured that a steady stream of material would come her way. Davis came into her life in 1926, basically a midway point in activities as a recording artist.
She had begun recording for Okeh in 1923, from there expanding her reputation by touring with a vaudeville revue entitled Shuffle Along. When Davis signed Copeland he was working with the Triangle music publishers; having secured a contract for her with Columbia, he began handing off a selection of the publishing firm's top blues titles to Copeland for interpretation, including the powerful "On Decoration Day," the witty "Fortune Teller Blues," and two ditties that might lead a naïve listener into thinking the singer had an obsession with reptiles, "That Black Snake Moan" and "Black Snake Blues."
While Davis manipulated better contracts, royalty rates, and performance fees for his client, Copeland's actual popularity with audiences seems to put her in a category of so-called "second-string" blues mamas. She released nearly three dozen sides by 1928, but nothing achieved the popularity of Bessie Smith, for example. Sometimes she was forced to record absolutely shameless "matcher" copies of current hits. The best, or worst, example of this would be "Soul and Body," released at the point when tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins was riding high with "Body and Soul." A hit not, "Soul and Body." This is not meant to suggest that her discography is a slag heap. In contrast, she made some superb recordings, most notably circa 1927 when she was backed by her Smokey City Trio featuring fine pianist Porter Grainger. Her recordings have been collected on two volumes by the Document label, while individual tracks are also available on a variety of compilations. ~ Eugene Chadbourne