Perhaps it was a foretelling choice for Kid Ory’s band to exclude the vocals from its performances. Song lyrics typically reflect the popular conversation of the era in which they were written, for example Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco,” Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach,” or Sisqó’s “Thong Song,” all musically satisfying works whose topics feel somewhat antiquated in the twenty-first century. The lyrics of Handy & Brymn’s “Aunt Hagar’s Blues” tell the story of everyone’s favorite relative standing up to the moral majority, all in name of fun, and although the blues have a legacy of coded language referring to inhumanity, one can argue that its literal meaning simply reflects an early attitude of rock and roll against American Conservatism in the twentieth century, a cultural topic which in these days really “dumps like truck.”
We have moved on, we are making progress, and these lyrics appear to be irrelevant towards modern social injustices. So if the lyrics were removed from its presentation, what remains? The music, a slow blues that incorporates the minor-six chord of ragtime, and an arrangement that makes use of dynamics and anticipation to send the crowd into a frenzied eruption of exaltation. Kid Ory’s band realized that words lose their meaning over time, or can even adopt new definitions, and that the timeless quality of music is too powerful for words to describe.
Or maybe no one in the band actually enjoyed singing.
Here’s a YouTube video of Kid Ory’s band performing this tune.
Recommended reading: Creole Trombone: Kid Ory and the Early Years of Jazz by John McCusker. Published by University Press of Mississippi.