Subtle social changes were occurring in post-war America, and if African Americans were still denied many of the rights they fought for in the war, in the World of Soundies black performers often found themselves in the same settings and situations as whites. Case in point: Vanita Smythe and Claude DeMetrius have had a boisterous night out. But now they are hung over and they sing DeMetrius’s composition “Sho Had a Wonderful Time,” a hit for Louis Jordan. Smythe looks no worse for wear, and in setting, attire and behavior the two could be replaced by white performers without any change in the “meaning” of the song.
Vanita Smythe is a lesser-known Soundies performers, a woman appeared on the entertainment scene for a brief period of time, then retired. Smythe was actually born Vanita Smith, possibly in Detroit, Michigan, on January 13, 1925. By 1945 she had moved to New York City where she found work in local nightclubs and on theater stages. In 1945, she appeared in an Indianapolis revue called the “Creole Follies” at Ruby Shelton’s 400 Club. The following month Smythe was seen in a “star studded show” at Buffalo’s CottonClub, billed as “The China Doll.”
1946 and 1947 were very busy years for Smythe. She appeared on stage at the Lincoln Theater in late 1946, and sung in the revue at the Club Zanzibar. April 1947 found Vanita at Henry Armstrong’s Melody on Sugar Hill in Harlem. Later that year she guested at the Renaissance Casino in a stage production titled “Good Hearts.” Two months later, June 10, 1947, Smythe was one of the acts at Smalls Paradise in Harlem. January 1948 found Vanita at the Club Ebony in New York, and, on January 6, she made it to Earl Wilson’s column: “Vanita Smythe specializes in lowdown blues at the Club Ebony.”
On March 4, 1950, the Braun Brothers announced that they had signed Smythe to their Regal label for which she recorded four tracks. The following year Smythe married, and seems to have abandoned show business.
Although not well known today, Claude DeMetrius (also Demetrius) was a busy member of the Harlem music community in the mid-1940s. His hits during this decade included “Get It Off Your Mind,” “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman,” and “Sho Had a Wonderful Time,” all recorded by (and the last title co-written with) Louis Jordan. DeMetrius was a serviceable pianist and worked as Mabel Lee’s accompanist for a number of years. DeMetrius’s major success was in the future, however. In 1956 he began writing for Gladys Music, Inc., which provided songs to Elvis Presley. A number of his tunes were recorded by Presley, including “Mean Woman Blues” and “Hard Hearted Woman.” This insured DeMetrius’s financial comfort for years to come.