Ethel Waters repeated her Broadway role of Petunia Jackson, a woman who fervently prays for her husband to mend his gambling ways for the screen with great success, as she sings and dances her way into our hearts. Petunia is the central character in the film, and has most of the songs. The film was also instrumental in making Lena Horne a star, and even though her part as the devil's handmaiden, Georgia Brown, is not a large one, she is stunning, and makes the screen sizzle with her sensual beauty. Petunia's husband, Little Joe, is played by Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, and Little Joe's soul is in the balance, as Lucifer Jr. (Rex Ingram) battles The General (Kenneth Spencer) for where it will spend eternity. The scenes with Lucifer and his minions, who include Louis Armstrong, are hilarious, as they plot the best way to tempt Little Joe. The talent, music, and humor in this film make it well worth watching as entertainment, and also for its historical value of being one of the best all-black cast vehicles Hollywood produced. "Cabin in the Sky" was the directorial film debut for Vincente Minnelli (he had directed the Broadway show), and some others in the terrific cast are John William Sublett, Butterfly McQueen, and Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. Music is by Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg, and more. The song list is: "Cabin in the Sky," "Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe" (nominated for a Best Song Oscar), "Taking a Chance on Love," "Life is Full of Consequence," "Li'l Black Sheep," "Shine," and "Honey in the Honeycomb." Total running time is 98 minutes.
For the avoidance of misunderstanding, I'm reviewing the Milan Jazz CD. Unfortunately, reviews of the DVD of the film seem to have been cross-posted by virtue of Amazon's somewhat bizarre system!
Ethel Waters began recording in 1921, and the first two tracks which date from 1923 were cut acoustically by Black Swan. Such was the clarity of her voice that it transcended that limitation. Her accompanists were first the fledgeling Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, and secondly the pianist James P. Johnson, and they reappear on the later Columbia tracks. Clarence Williams was the accompanist on her vocal version of "West End Blues", and Benny Goodman, Mannie Klein, Tommy Dorsey, Adrian Rollini, and Rube Bloom backed her on "You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me".
I wish that more care had gone into the production of this CD, particularly given its imprimatur as part of the Archive Series of the Hot Club de France, because personnel and recording details are sparse. But it's an interesting compilation for all that.
Excellent. This CD is from the music track used for the soundtrack of the movie - and includes extra tracks of songs which did not make the final cut of the distributed film and extended version of others which did. These bonus tracks make the CD well worth having even if you have the movie on DVD.