JazzTimes is honored to premiere a previously unreleased track by singer Catherine Russell, “You Reap Just What You Sow.” The song, written and first performed by the great Alberta Hunter (1895-1984), will be officially released tomorrow (June 12) on all digital platforms, in association with Dot Time Records and Symphonic Distribution. All proceeds from streaming and downloads will be donated to the Jazz Foundation of America’s COVID-19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund, which supports musicians affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
This recording dates from 2007 and was made at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, New York. Besides singing, Russell plays mandolin on the track—the only instance so far of her playing that instrument on one of her own recordings (she has previously played it in the studio with Toshi Reagon and the Holmes Brothers and in live shows with Rosanne Cash, Cyndi Lauper, and Jackson Browne). Her bandmates here are guitarist Larry Campbell, who also produced the song, and the legendary Howard Johnson on tuba.
When Hunter wrote “You Reap Just What You Sow” in the early 1920s, she was a successful recording artist and performer. In later years she became a nurse, but a forced retirement from that profession led to a revival of her music career. In 1978, film producer/director Robert Altman commissioned Hunter to contribute music for a movie called Remember My Name, produced by Altman and directed by Alan Rudolph. One of the songs she provided was “You Reap Just What You Sow.”
For six years in the 1980s, Hunter had a residency at the Cookery in New York’s Greenwich Village. Russell saw her perform there, was inspired, and continues to be. She says of this track: “I like everything about this Alberta Hunter tune. The lyric is timeless and universal and the music is upbeat. Long live the grand old lady of the blues!”