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Edwards, Bernice [Moanin’] (ca. 1910–unknown)

Dave Oliphant Biography Entry

"Moanin’” Bernice Edwards was a blues singer and pianist. Her birth and death dates and places are not known. Edwards apparently grew up with the Houston musical family of George W. Thomas, Jr., his sister Sippie Wallace, their brother Hersal Thomas, and the latter’s niece, Hociel Thomas, all notable figures in early blues and boogie-woogie. Edwards was said to have been about the same age as Hersal, who was probably born around 1910. She reportedly learned to play piano from Hociel Thomas. Around 1923, George and Hersal relocated to Chicago, and at two recording sessions for Paramount there in 1928, Edwards recorded twelve songs, singing and performing on piano. Her piano playing ranges from the ragtime and blues “Santa Fe” style, deriving from southeast Texas railroad or boxcar-type juke joints, and her singing includes “vaudeville warbling” and “blues belting.” Edwards’s tune entitled “Moanin’ Blues” may have been the source of her sobriquet, but it certainly represents her “lowlife” and mean man themes, perhaps best-illustrated by her “Mean Man Blues,” “Long Tall Mama,” and “Hard Hustling Blues.”

Seven years later, Edwards recorded four tunes in a Fort Worth studio for American Record Corporation. Two purely instrumental tunes, “Hot Mattress Stomp” and “Ninth Street Stomp,” feature some right-hand tremolo figures in the upper register contributed by Black Boy Shine and the guitar work of J. T. “Funny Papa” Smith. The most interesting lyrics appear on “Butcher Shop Blues,” which develops a meat analogy for purposes of sexual innuendo; however, here Edwards’s voice seems weaker and less expressive. Following the Fort Worth recording session, Edwards reportedly married and joined the church, after which nothing more is known of this lively, obscure singer and pianist, whose voice matured, adding “stage vibrato” and “street growl” to her earlier techniques. Her keyboard performances, with their earlier “typical Texas melodic figure of M3-4-M3-m3-2-1” and “right hand tremolos (as on ‘Southbound Blues’) and lots of underlying harmonic movement,” gained in dynamics on her last recordings of 1935.

All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com), accessed October 15, 2009. David Evans, Liner notes, Texas Piano Vol. 1 (1923–1935) (Document Records, DOCD-5224, 1993). Colin Larkin, ed., Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 3d ed. (New York: Muze, 1998).

Categories:

  • Music
  • Genres (Blues)
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Women

Time Periods:

  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Great Depression

Places:

  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Dave Oliphant, “Edwards, Bernice [Moanin’],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 13, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/edwards-bernice-moanin.

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May 29, 2013
January 31, 2017

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