Lil' Miss Cornshucks / Sharecropper - Dual (and dueling) Performers ©1999JCMarion


The look was pure country with an R & B twist. A Black woman in a straw hat, gingham dress and floppy (or no) shoes, on stage and ready to rock the house. In 1949 that vision worked for the performer known as "Lil' Miss Cornshucks"(Mildred Cummings). In 1949, her records for the Gotham label met with some success playing on the 'down home' memories of many of the recent northern transfers from the Mississippi delta to Chicago, Detroit, and Gary now working in the steel mills and defense plants. By 1950 Miss Cornshucks had become such an identifiable persona, that she had a new rival in the same package known as "Lil' Miss Sharecropper". And so the battle of musical identities was forged.

In January of 1950 Aladdin Records #3034 was released by Lil' Miss Cornshucks & Her All Stars - "Keep Your Hand On Your Heart" and "You Turned Your Back On Me". The catchy name and visual impact helped keep her in the public eye as the record did well in the Midwest. Gotham Records bought out the masters of the Miltone recording company which included some early sides recorded by Miss Cornshucks. However Gotham did not plan on releasing any of the sides and soon she and Gotham parted company. In July Miss Cornshucks joined forces with the Red Saunders Orchestra and recorded some tunes for Columbia Records. However, nothing more was heard about those records for the remainder of the year and so Miss Cornshucks concentrated on personal appearances in the Midwest and South. She went West late in the year and did a number of one nighters with the Joe Lutcher Jump Band.

Meanwhile in another part of the Midwest, Lil' Miss Sharecropper begins to get notices. She does a two week appearance at Chicago's famous Club DeLisa. In a startling coincidence she also appeared in 1950 with Red Saunders. It was as part of a musical revue featured at the Club DeLisa called "Tis June" that featured the music of Red Saunders who also made an appearance at the club as part of the show. During the fall of that year, Miss Sharecropper toured with Eddie Chamblee's Combo and made an extensive stop at Ralph's Club, also in Chicago, and the famous Flame Show Bar in Detroit.

There was not much news about Miss Cornshucks in 1951 other than a few personal appearances and the fact that all R & B recordings on Columbia will now be released on their subsidiary label Okeh. This means that Miss Cornshucks records with Red Saunders are in limbo for the time being. However, Miss Sharecropper signed a recording contract with National Records in April. The New York label soon released her first recording for them on #9151 called "I've Tried" and "How Long". Nothing much happens with the recording and now a bit of confusion over the two acts has started to set in. In the late summer of 1952, Miss Sharecropper embarks on an extensive two month tour of the South with an array of R & B performers including Wini Brown, The Swallows, H-Bomb Ferguson, and Todd Rhodes and his Orchestra. During the tour Rhodes puts in a good word about Miss Sharecropper with his record company and soon she is recording for King Records as part of the Rhodes band. The first effort is heard on #4556 on "Trying" a cover of the pop hit by The Hilltoppers. In October she records her most successful collaboration with Rhodes on King #4566 - "Pig Latin Blues". There is one more record release for King that year. It is #4583 "Must I Cry Again".

Miss Cornshucks has an interesting situation in that her recordings are released on three different labels during the year. Early in the year she is signed to record for the Decca subsidiary label Coral. Her first Coral record is out in February, and it is "Cause I Lost My Helping hand" and "So Long" on #65077. In April Aladdin Records releases two sides that were on the shelf since 1949 - "Time After Time" and "Waiting In Vain". About the same time, a tune she recorded with the Red Saunders Orchestra for Columbia is released on Okeh #6801-"Four A. M." As soon as these releases are sorted out Coral comes out with another in late May - "Try A Little Tenderness" / "Don't Marry Too Soon" on #65090.

In February of 1953 Miss Sharecropper does a number of shows in the East in Richmond, Virginia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. About that time King Records releases #4601 - "Lost Child" with the Todd Rhodes Orchestra. Some interested listeners to these records are the folks at Atlantic Records who in May sign Miss Sharecropper away from the disinterested people at King. They immediately drop the whole concept of Miss Sharecropper (it was getting tiring anyway) and under the name LaVern Baker she plans to record a song called "Soul On Fire" and will soon become one of R & B music's biggest stars ever, and gain fame far greater than Lil' Miss Sharecropper could have ever imagined. And her musical and mutual mirror image ? Miss Cornshucks by then had gone the way of the 78 rpm record, gone and remembered only occasionally, but - with a smile.

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