One of the most important aspects of Soudies is the documentation of artists who were unrecorded, and were never captured via radio broadcasts or transcriptions. This applies to Esther Lynn Albritton, an inventive boogie-woogie pianist who played with technique and drive that rank her among the better pianists of the period. Yet relatively little is known about her: as noted, she did not record and she is rarely mentioned in the entertainment trades.
Born in Manhattan, Albritton jettisoned her first name and performed professionally as Lynn Albritton. Harlem dancer Jeannie Bayer recalled to me, “I knew her, but not all that well, a nodding acquaintance you’d call it. She played piano and sang in dives in Harlem. Real dives, the type where I don’t even remember the names. You know, people I knew would go to these dives, but not me. Not by a long shot. She never hit it big, but should have because she could play the piano exceptionally well. One time I saw her play a duo with Mary Lou [Williams] and she held her own.”
Confusion and contradictions surround the performing group billed in this series as either “The Four Knobs” or “The Six Knobs.” The Soundies catalogue descriptions describe them as providers the “novelty music,” suggesting that they are the musicians who accompany Albritton on soundtrack and, at least in part, on screen. On the other hand, Dispossessed Blues, which we see here, also includes the same rhythm accompaniment, but here the catalogue cites “the jitterbugging of the Four Knobs.” Musicians or dancers in these Soundies? Probably both, although any definitive answers elude us at this late date.
Dispossessed Blues can be enjoyed just as a musical piece, but more is happening here. Albritton is being evicted from her apartment, and at the beginning of the piece she reacts with disdain toward the moving man. But then she glances straight as us, breaking the fourth wall, as if to make sure that we are aware that she is taking guff from nobody! She glances at us on occasion throughout the early part of the performance, just make sure that we are digging the sounds. Which, of course, we are.