Historical Markers
Eddie Lang Historical Marker
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Eddie Lang

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
7th Street, just North of Clymer Street, Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
October 15, 1995

Behind the Marker

As a kid growing up in South Philadelphia, Salvatore Massaro became a very good violinist. Admittedly he was never quite as good as his close friend markerJoe Venuti, so in high school he switched to guitar. When jazz arrived in Philadelphia in the late 1910s, the two friends became swept up by its excitement and energy. They began to play this music on their violin and guitar, which were instruments not associated with jazz at the time. Soon Venuti and Lang were performing for their families and friends, then at local functions, clubs and wherever else they could find an audience. Mixing jazz with Italian folk songs and their classical training, the duo developed a unique sound and became the first great virtuosos of the jazz guitar and violin.

Drawing upon his own classical training and his interest in the blues, Lang learned how to finger pick brilliant single-note improvisations, and worked out the rich chord patterns that would soon make him one of the nation's most popular accompanists. By the early 1920s Venuti and Lang were in great demand as a duo, as well as individual soloists. After moving to New York, Lang was playing recording dates and performances with dance bands, small jazz groups, and the top jazz, blues and pop singers of the day. In a decade when American society and the nation's popular music industry were still segregated, Lang played with both white and black artists, including trumpeters Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong, markerTommy and Jimmy Dorsey, the great bandleader Paul Whiteman, and singer Bing Crosby.
Four band members, all dressed in white, posing with their various instruments.
Eddie Lang, on guitar, with The Mound City Blue Blowers, 1924.

The Italian-American from Philadelphia also developed a deep love and mastery of the blues. Indeed, his playing sounded so authentically African American, that record companies hired him to accompany some of the great, black, blues artists of the day, including guitarist Lonnie Smith and the incomparable Bessie Smith. Lang also became the 'house' guitarist for the legendary blues record label, Okeh Records. It was difficult during the 1920s for black and white musicians to work together. Aware that record buyers gave more credibility to a blues player if they thought he was African-American, Lang worked under the alias of "Blind Willie Dunn" when he recorded with Lonnie Johnson and other African-American blues artists.

Eddie Lang died from loss of blood during what was supposed to be a routine tonsillectomy, in 1933. He was only thirty years old. Although his professional career lasted little more than a decade, Lang made a deep impact on American popular music. He set the stage for generations of guitarists to come, through his pioneer efforts incorporating the use of guitar as a jazz instrument and became the first internationally renowned jazz guitarist. Today, one can still hear his genius on a variety of records, especially his solo renditions of "A Little Love, A Little Kiss," "I'll Never Be the Same," and other popular songs of the 1920s.
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