SEE BEE

    1920s


    Among early black-owned record labels, SEE BEE ranks as one of the rarest and most obscure. An apparent attempt to compete with Black Swan, it appeared briefly around early 1922, and possibly released eleven or more issues before quietly vanishing. The label might have gone largely unnoticed had it not issued the only commercial record by back-to-Africa advocate Marcus Garvey (See Bee 208).

    The records were credited to the C. H. Bourne Recording Co., although it is by no means certain that the company played any role beyond marketing and distribution. No mention of Bourne or a record company bearing that name has yet been found in the trade papers of the day.

    Assuming there are no breaks in the numerical sequence, with a starting point at number 200, at least eleven issues might have been produced. It is thought that the 400-series masters might have come from the ill-fated Handy Record Company, which W. C. Handy launched in 1921. The company produced some masters, but they apparently ended up in the hands of others after Handy became ill and failed to launch his own label. The S- prefixed matrix on Wilson's "Second-Hand Rose" suggests the possible involvement of Earle W. Jones — a supplier of masters to Arto, Lyric, and many other short-lived brands in the early 1920s. Jones assigned S- prefixes to masters he obtained from outside studios through his Standard Records master-brokering operation.

    SEE BEE's numerical range was recently extended by the discovery of See Bee 211, featuring tenor Walter T. White accompanied by Fred Bryan's Orchestra. White was a Harlem socialite and singer with concert-hall aspirations. Eubie Blake once said of him, "He didn't look colored. He didn't act colored. He'd been around white people so much, he had absorbed their attitudes." White's two SEE BEE sides — "By the Waters of Minnetonka" and "Thou Art Risen My Beloved" — are his only known commercial recordings. Fred M. Bryan was a prominent Harlem pianist who conducted the famous Clef Club Orchestra for a time in the late 'teens.

    Cordial thanks to Allan Sutton