top of page
Click the image to view the video

The Leland Bluebird Sessions

On May 4, 1937, the first in a series of recording sessions produced by Lester Melrose and Bluebird Records took place in downtown Aurora at the Sky Club, which was situated on the top floor of the 1926-built Leland Hotel. Unknown to the participants at the time, the sessions would later be considered historic, and would take part in the development of future recording techniques, the development of post-war Chicago Blues, and the birth of Rock and Roll.

Over 320 songs were recorded from May 1937 until the last session took place in December 1938. The very first recordings of John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson took place on May 5, 1937. His iconic and Blues Hall of Fame song, "Good Morning, (Little) Schoolgirl" was recorded in downtown Aurora on that day. He was 23 years old.

Other notable participants in the Bluebird sessions included famed Chicago Blues artists Tampa Red, Washboard Sam, John D. Twitty, Merline Johnson, Sweet Peas Spivey, Mary Mac, Curtis Jones, Red Nelson, Jazz Gillum, Lorraine Walton, One Arm Slim and Casey Bill Weldon, while the St. Louis contingent, in addition to Sonny Boy, included Walter Davis, Robert Lee McCoy (nee Nighthawk), Big Joe Williams, Henry Townsend, Yank Rachell, Elijah Jones, St. Louis Red Mike Bailey, Willie Hatcher and Speckled Red. Big Bill Broonzy contributed guitar to many of the recordings as a "sideman" along with a long list of other session artists making contributions as well.

The sessions were efficiently run and under strict control, with most songs being laid down only one or two times. It was not unusual for a day’s output to exceed 20 tracks. In fact, 35 songs were recorded during the May 4, 1937, sessions alone, setting the stage for future recording dates. Lester Melrose had employed the technique of using lead artists to support other lead artists, while filling in the blanks with sidemen where needed. This technique was important and fundamental in "getting it right the first time" as musicians easily became familiar with one another through the course of backing each other time and time again. Motown and Chess Records would subscribe to a similar recording scheme in years to come.

Little did anyone know or realize that the birth of something big was taking place and that the Leland Bluebird Sessions were going to be a major contributor.

bottom of page