African American harpist La Villa Tullos was another classically trained musician who might have found employment in a major symphony orchestra were it not for the endemic racism in 1940s America. Tullos was on the popular music scene for a short while before fading from view, and she left only one audiovisual reminder of her career, a fabulous Soundie titled “Swanee Swing,” actually a jazz version of Stephen Foster’s “Old Folks At Home.”
In September 1943 bandleader Earl “Fatha” Hines premiered a short-lived band at the Apollo Theater, one that featured three violins, one cello, piano (Sarah Vaughan), guitar, string bass, harp and vocal quartet – all females musicians, and all integrated into his regular (all male) jazz band. Hines kept the band together long enough to make a coast-to-coast tour, then disbanded without leaving any recorded legacy.
The harp player in the band was La Villa Tullos. Tullos was possibly from Detroit where she had been briefly active in the “elite art instrumental circles.” Other than an orchestral introduction, possibly by Ernest Fiorito’s studio band, this is a harp solo from beginning to end. Hines had commented on how talented Tullos was as a jazz musician, and her solo here shows that he was spot on.
Tullos’s career remains in shadows. It is possible that she returned to Detroit after her stint with Hines, although she does emerge on a rather bizarre 1958 LP titled “Confessions of Love” backing Mary Lee Fair in an album of “sex talk.”
No sex talk here, just a swinging interpretation of a folk standard by an immensely talented, and sadly forgotten, performer.