Jodie Drake: Blues in My Bread

Detroit Sound Conservancy is proud to share Blues in My Bread, a documentary about Jodie Drake: a Detroiter who became one of “Canada’s foremost women of the Blues.”  Transcription below. 

Documentary: Jodie Drake – Blues in My Bread

Jodie Drake was born Priscilla Royster on Detroit’s West Side in the 1920s to a musical family – her mother was a gospel singer and the source for Jodie’s early musical inspiration. In 1960, she was already on her way to becoming a well-established star in her hometown when she decided to pack up her reputation and well-earned press clippings and moved to Toronto, Canada to start life from scratch. The Toronto scene offered her many exciting opportunities, and she quickly gained a reputation as a top-tier blues and jazz singer and actor. Jodie is a legend in the Canadian entertainment industry, remembered today as one of “Canada’s foremost women of the Blues.”

Jodie was the subject of a 1991 documentary titled “Jodie Drake: Blues in my Bread.” Produced by Christene Browne for CBC, the film is a profile of the Canadian jazz singer and actress and includes footage of Jodie performing on a number of CBC produced television series, as well as a 1991 concert in Detroit where she sings with saxophonist Louis Barnett, drummer William Evans, pianist Alma Smith (another established woman of Detroit jazz, profiled in a previous DSC post), trumpeter Herbert Williams, and bass player Rodney Whitaker. The Documentary can be viewed in its entirety here, and has been transcribed and embedded on for preservation as an artifact in DSC’s digital collection, courtesy of Christene Browne.

The documentary is reposted with permission from the filmmaker, Christene Brown of Syncopated Productions originally made for a CBC national broadcast.



Reporter: 20 years ago, Jodie Drake was at the height of her career. She was voted the top Canadian star by Rainbow magazine in 1973 and had already sung with the likes of Billie Holiday, Don Redman and Joe Williams. Jodie is in her 70s now, and with more than 30 years on the music scene under her belt, she remains one of Canada’s foremost women of the blues. Jodie Drake was born Priscilla Royster on Detroit’s west side in the 1920s. She grew up in hard times and she started her career as an entertainer almost by accident. In 1960, she made the move to Toronto and it was there that her career took off. Jodie Drake performed in all the big hotels and jazz clubs and she’s the only Canadian to be inducted into the New Orleans Jazz Hall of Fame. Her life has had its ups and its downs, and about 20 years ago, she suffered a serious but mysterious illness. But through it all, she’s continued to sing.


Jodie Drake: I’m Jodie Drake, singer, actress and chief cook and bottle washer. No, I’m not going to say my birth. I’m saving that for my autobiography. In the profession for about 50 years. Well that tells you right there.

Jodie Drake: Blues in My Bread


Announcer: We have Jodie Drake and the Jodie Drake Quartet, so let’s give them a hand.


Jodie Drake: [humming] Am I in E flat? [music] I’m a woman. (upbeat music) Not yet.
♪ I can wash out 44 pairs of socks ♪
♪ And have ’em hanging out on the line ♪
♪ I can starch and iron two dozen shirts ♪
♪ ‘Fore you can count from one to nine ♪
♪ I can scoop up a great big dipper ♪
♪ Full of blood from a dripping can ♪
♪ Throw it in a skillet, thaw it, and do a shop ♪
♪ And get back before it melts in the pan ♪
♪ ‘Cause I’m a woman ♪
♪ W-O-M-A-N ♪
♪ I’ll say it again ♪
♪ I can rub and scrub till this whole house is shining ♪
♪ Like a dime ♪
♪ Grease the car, feed the baby ♪
♪ Powder face at the same time ♪
♪ Get all dressed up and go out and boogie till 4 a.m. ♪
♪ And then lie down at five, jump up at six ♪
♪ Fight all over again ♪
♪ ‘Cause I’m a woman ♪
♪ W-O-M-A-N ♪
♪ I’ll say it again ♪
♪ ‘Cause I’m a woman ♪
♪ W-O-M-A-N ♪
♪ Yeah, yeah ♪

The Hardships Growing Up


Jodie Drake: My sister Louise and I were speaking about the hardships growing up. It was a life of deprivation because it was during the Depression. But my mother was a marvelous seamstress as well as a chef, cook.

Louise Moransee: Yeah, that’s what I was going to speak on, yeah.

Jodie Drake: And she, even when we got those government issues, those welfare dresses and all like that, she would fix them all up and make them look different. So ours never looked like anybody else’s.

Louise Moransee: Put new buttons and different things on them and it would be gorgeous.

Jodie Drake: Trim and all that stuff.

Louise Moransee: She was pretty, just the pride, huh?

Jodie Drake: Oh yeah.

Louise Moransee: That thing that’s just–

Jodie Drake: Yes, that’s what it was.

Louise Moransee: – Nil now.

(upbeat gospel music)


Jodie Drake: Mother would be the soloist in church. And sometimes she’d get in that mood, I guess it was maybe thinking about her ancestors, her people, and she could hum, and there’s no way that you wouldn’t be moved by that. Just absolutely no way.

Louise Moransee: She had a beautiful voice and just hearing her sing was just, just awe-inspiring.

Jodie Drake: There’s only one stipulation. When Louise brought those musicians home and wanted to sing in that band . . .

A Lady Singer


Matthew Rucker: We had this band and we needed a lady singer. We met her sister Louise. We like the way she sang. So she says, “This will be very impressive and this will like, it will help promote the band.”
You know?

Louise Moransee: Mother said, “No, you’ll have to wait until she finishes school.”

Rucker: She stood firm on what she had said. Very firm. “I told you once, that Louise cannot sing with you. Now, if you just gotta have a singer, now you…” [Laughs] I got another daughter who can sing. Now if you just want a singer, then she can sing with you.


Jodie Drake: They persisted, and I guess I finally said, well, OK. And we did some proms and some teas like, you know, some little social things.

Rucker: So then Priscilla came and joined the group, and it proved to be a tremendous asset. It was like a blossoming of a new era.



On the Road


Rucker: Music was music then.

Jodie Drake: The thing at that time was to play music and to get the odd gig, but you had to have your own foundation, you had to have something to stand on, to hold on to, because we had not reached that echelon yet. No way.

Rucker: You know music during those days, it wasn’t paying very much for a black musician, ok? Even a band like Duke Ellington, they didn’t make much money. Count Basie and Sherman Lunceford, they didn’t make much money. So we wasn’t up there in that elite class, so then we just made peanuts, and they made just a little over peanuts.


Jodie Drake: Well, I had to work in a meat packing plant and I had a factory job.

Rucker: All bands, all black bands had to travel to make money. They couldn’t stay in one town for too long.

Jodie Drake: Well, first we traveled in this old, big old bus that looks like a school bus and it had “Joe Louis Brown Bombers” on it. So everybody used to come follow the bus, “Where is he? Where’s Joe Louis?”

Louise Moransee: What Joe Louis?!


Jodie Drake: So we had to be bothered with that. And then there were days when we would make some money, like on the dance or whatever we had done, And then pay it all out, expenses on the bus, repairing the bus. And it was always like –

Louise Moransee: And then at that time you couldn’t sleep anywhere, you know?
Wherever you were going –

Jodie Drake: Oh no, no, no, no, no black – I mean, you know, and down south, we didn’t know anything
about –

Louise Moransee: I’m glad it was you instead of me.



Rucker: We were warned beforehand. Say now, we were told beforehand what to expect, and how to adjust, and how to act, and how to conduct yourself if you want to get back home in one piece. So we just, we had to, we were, we had to accept whatever. And it was even said to us like, you’d be up there taking a solo, blowing a solo on your horn, the guys
that might say, “Blow, nigga, blow! Blow down!” You just keep on blowing.


Jodie Drake: You couldn’t talk back, you couldn’t say a thing back.

Rucker: That’s right.

Jodie Drake: And when we played, remember we had to play one night for the white audiences only. And then if we had time we would play the next night for the black audiences. But if not then we had to – remember the rope? They used to put a rope across and then that would be the means of segregation you see. The whites couldn’t go across that line and neither could the black people.



Jodie Drake: We had a lot of things happen to us. On the road, you know, and I remember Duke Ellington and band were appearing. And we, I was sitting right out, I was on the front line, front seat, had a good seat there and enjoying myself. And I wasn’t thinking too very much about it. And then all of a sudden, Duke Ellington had his whole band to stand and they all bowed to me. And that was a great tribute.


The Performer


Jodie Drake: Everybody feel okay?

Conductor: Oh yeah, just fine.

Jodie Drake: Do it, finish on Lonesome Road, but do a lot of the tags, you know, like the, like a, you know, like sometimes you do a cadenza. You know, on and on and on and on.

Alma Smith: Yeah, turn around. But you gonna –

Jodie Drake: Yeah.

Alma Smith: You gonna go back to Lonesome Road or what?

Jodie Drake: It, it, you said start with the first song.

Alma Smith: No, it’s for the introduction.

[ Music ]


Interviewer: So is there any ritual you ever go to before you perform?

Jodie Drake: Not really. When I was appearing a lot in public, I used to like to just remain, have a quiet moment for about five minutes. But that’s when my husband would have to come in the door for something. He always had to come in that room. I said, “Now, don’t. Next time.” “Okay, I promise.” “Next time.” “It’s all. Have you seen so and so and so and so?” “Yeah.” “No, no. Now that, you know, I just had the complete reign of doing it.” Just about five minutes of quiet tune. That’s enough.

Interviewer: To pray or?

Jodie Drake: No, to just, I guess to reaffirm, you know, your, your, your strength. And I always have that anyway so it’s just a reaffirming I suppose.


(upbeat jazz music)

♪ I ain’t gonna be your low-down dog no more ♪
♪ I ain’t gonna be your low-down dog no more ♪
♪ You don’t want me, daddy, down the road I go ♪
♪ Ain’t gonna be your low-down dog no more ♪
♪ I said I ain’t gonna be your low-down dog no more ♪
♪ If you don’t want me, daddy, down the road I’ll go ♪
♪ I worked hard, baby, and I brought you home my pay ♪
♪ Oh, I worked hard, daddy, brought you home my pay ♪
♪ And if you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone away ♪
♪ I said my home ain’t here and I ain’t compelled to stay ♪
♪ Oh, my home ain’t here, I ain’t compelled to stay ♪
♪ Well, it’s your time, daddy, to be my some sweet day ♪
♪ That’s why I ain’t gonna be your low-down dog no more ♪
♪ No more ♪
♪ No, I ain’t gonna be your low-down dog no moree ♪
♪ You don’t want me, daddy, down the road I’ll go ♪


Jodie Drake: Canada was wanting to have American performers to come up. It began first in Montreal, and pretty soon I think, well, it expanded on to Toronto, but Toronto of those days was a very, very different Toronto because it was a very docile place. When I arrived in Toronto in ’58 and ’59, it took me a little while, it took me maybe two or three nights to discover that I was in the wrong vein. They didn’t really understand what I was singing because the blues were not known, they were not prevalent at all. Nobody knew. And here I was, I was singing the real McCoy, I was singing the real raw blues.

Bill Blackburn: She’d come up to the States where she was exposed to the stage and she had that stage presence.

Bill Best: Around that time, there wasn’t that many singers around here that had that much–

Blackburn: No, no.

Best: –really had that much fire.


Connie Maynard: There was a group that came in town at that time, the Saints and Sinners, and I think she was the singer with them. And they were pretty… well, a top-name band at the time. And I think they went back and she stayed. And she had the reputation, you know.

Best: She was an important link because who was there before that you know.

Maynard: There was nobody here before her. Not doing what she did. A lot came but they never stayed. You know she stayed. She stuck it out.


Announcer: My special guest tonight has established herself as one of Canada’s most popular entertainers ladies and gentlemen miss Jodie Drake.

(audience applauding)
♪ I only know ♪
♪ I know, I know, I know what I know ♪
♪ Those passing years ♪
♪ Yes, they will show ♪
♪ You’ve kept my love so warm ♪
♪ So young, so new ♪


Jim Galloway: If she was on the stage, you know you’re gonna get whatever she’s got to give.

♪ In time ♪
♪ Time after time ♪

Galloway: That’s a quality that exists a lot in musicians of that era. Because the times were tough for a lot of musicians. But times were wonderful.

Best: Jodie was the type of person that she could sing, she could sing a ballad, she could sing a blues, and she could pop.


(upbeat music)

♪ The thing with love is now you see it ♪
♪ Now you don’t ♪

♪ Just to know that you’re the better ♪
♪ Take the time to find out why we care ♪
♪ Got a strong piece of hope between us ♪
♪ A country girl and a city man ♪
♪ ‘Cause we can find ♪
♪ We can find ♪
♪ We can find ♪
♪ It’s truly just across the line ♪
♪ Got a piece of soul in between us ♪
♪ Country girl and a city man ♪

♪ [unintelligible] ♪


♪ All that I’m asking ♪
♪ All I want from you ♪
♪ Just love me like I love you ♪
♪ And it won’t be hard to do ♪
♪ All right, okay ♪
♪ You win ♪
♪ What do you win ♪
♪ I’m love with you ♪
♪ All right ♪
♪ All right ♪
♪ I said okay ♪
♪ Okay ♪
♪ You win ♪
♪ You win ♪
♪ One thing more ♪
♪ If I’m gonna be your man ♪
♪ One thing more ♪
♪ Pretty baby, let me take your hand ♪
♪ Well, well, all right ♪
♪ All right ♪
♪ Okay, you win ♪
♪ Well, all right, okay, you win ♪


Paddy Sampson: There’s a tremendous kind of character in Jodie’s face. And when she sang something painful,
which it usually is, it’s a cry, she, you believed it immensely. I mean, that’s kind of a natural acting ability.

Jodie Drake: If you give a good, strong depiction of what the story is about, singing-wise, I don’t see any difficulty in being able to portray that and the emote, that’s what they call acting. To me it’s very strong, strongly correlated. I would imagine that almost any good singer could also be an actress.


“Be the image of your Lord. A thief in the night come to collect your soul. Spirit yourself to the tip of the drinking gourd, north to Canada.”

“Pants to your suit, ain’t it? That’s a mighty fine suit to go trotting off to the unemployment office. Which one of the other you gonna wear tonight? When you try to con that girl out of her virginity. If she still got it.”

Speaking Out Against Discrimination


Clem Marshall: There were always these two Jodie’s. There was the Jodie who was this very wonderful singer, entertainer, and then there was the Jodie who had a clear personality and refused to just be a form of entertainment, and took her whole being with her, and took her people with her. Jodie was amongst the first of the prominent artists in this community to take a stand on racism.


Jodie Drake: One night, I was driving. So I had my own car. And I remember going out to the car with my gowns on my arm. And this white policeman said, “well, where are you going?” And I said, “well, I’m going home.” He said, “well, what are you doing in this neighborhood?” I said, “I beg your pardon?” He said, “I said, what are you doing in this neighborhood?” I guess he maybe thought I had broken into the– I don’t know what he thought. Anyway, so I told him, I said, “well, how dare you ask me and speak to me in that manner?” I said, “I’m out here working, and I refuse to be accosted by you or anybody else. I am not doing anything. If you can find some reason that I shouldn’t be here, then OK.” And he sort of kept at it for a while. And then he decided, I guess he’d better not push it any farther, because he could see that I was kind of bristling. I knew that I was within my rights. We had been asked to submit a brief to explain why we were not hired for the bigger jobs. All of a sudden, things went in the other direction and a lot of that maybe could be the fact that if I had been interviewed or something, maybe I spoke out because I was always speaking out against discrimination. And I thought that that was incumbent upon me to do that. Because if I had experienced something, and maybe I could steer someone else away from it by bringing it to the fore. But Canada had many qualities, has many qualities, but that was not one of them, definitely.


Interviewer: Was Canada ready for a black female star of, you know, that kind of stature?

Jodie Drake: Well that’s the idea. No, no, they were not. Because even when I worked at the Royal York, the idea was that it was circulating, was she should not even be working in the Black Knight room anymore. She should be up in the Imperial room.

Interviewer: Why?

Jodie Drake: Well, they said with the amount of talent that I had, and the crowds that I was drawing and generating, that kind of interest and all like that, why was I not up in the Imperial room? But it never happened.

Maynard: She might not have had the right people backing her. I don’t know. It’s possible, you know. But maybe she didn’t know how to go about getting those right people.

Best: Maybe she just didn’t look like Anne Murray. (laughing)


Sampson: It seems to have something to do with the Canadian public audience psyche. I don’t know what it is. You can fall out of sight here as a performer awfully fast.

Building a Mountain


Jodie Drake: (singing)
♪ Gonna build a mountain♪
♪ From a little hill ♪
♪ Gonna build a mountain ooh ♪
♪ Least I hope that I will ♪
♪ Gonna build a mountain ooh ♪


Marshall: When she should have been out and working and when she was ready to work and had you know prepared herself for work. She would have to not, you know keep an engagement or cut it short because of illness.

Jodie Drake: I know very little about the illness that happened. it happened out in Harrison Hot Springs.

Sampson: I know that it involves some very serious medical treatment. I mean, they actually had to drill into Jodie’s skull. And a lot of us feared for the outcome.


Jodie Drake: I stayed in a coma even after I got there for a while, I guess five or six days or whatever. And then when I regained consciousness, one day this one doctor came in. So he said, “well, how are you?” And he was staring at me so hard. He said, “how are you?” And I said, “Well, I guess I’m okay now,” but I was just coming around. And so he said, “Well, I’m glad.” And his first question to me was, “Do you know what happened to you when you were in the emergency there at Agassiz?” And I said, “Well,” and something said, “Well, don’t let on that you don’t know.” I said, “Well, yeah, yes I do.” So then I asked him, I said, “Well, why did you let me die?” I had had cardiac arrest, so my heart had stopped and everything. So I was just, you might as well say, gone. And his words to me, I’ll never forget them, he said, “we thought you were a junkie.” They didn’t know, but they assumed. Even though I certainly didn’t look like one, I’ve always tried to figure out why. I guess I was just so thankful that I was alive and suffered no ill effects. So I guess it wasn’t time for me to go.


♪ Gonna build a mountain from a little hill ♪
♪ Gonna build a mountain, at least I hope I will ♪
♪ Gonna build a mountain, I’m gonna build it high ♪
♪ I don’t know how I’m gonna do it, only know I’m gonna try ♪

Jodie Drake: I have a spirit within me that guides me and looks after me and I can attest to it so much
because there are times when I know that I couldn’t have made it on my own.

♪ Gonna build a daydream, gonna see it through ♪
♪ I’ll take my daydream up the mountain ♪
♪ And I’ll make them both come true ♪
♪ Gonna build a heaven from a little hell ♪
♪ Gonna build a heaven and you know that I will ♪


Jodie Drake: Some friends of mine, they were saying, remember Alberta Hunter. She had been a singer and of great importance And then had gone to nursing, the nursing profession, and forgotten all about music. Somebody some kind of way remembered or heard her or decided to have her to come to something, maybe a benefit. And then people liked her so much, so she ended her life that way. I mean, up till the end, she sang until the end. Till her end came, she was back into the singing again. So maybe I’m not supposed to say that I shouldn’t do it anymore. Maybe I’m supposed to feel that as long as I have the strength, and I must say that I have very good recuperative qualities about myself because I’m always able to get up and rally around and so forth. And so there must be a reason for that.


♪ How long, baby, how long ♪
♪ Has that evening training gone? ♪
♪ How long ♪
♪ Oh, how long ♪
♪ Baby, how long ♪
♪ Say, how long ♪
♪ Ooh, how long ♪
♪ Has that evening train been gone ♪
♪ He been gone ♪
♪ So long ♪
♪ Ooh ♪
♪ So long ♪
♪ Baby so long ♪
Stop here.
♪ Went up on the mountain ♪
♪ To find that man of mine ♪
♪ But somethin’ tells me, people ♪
♪ He ain’t come back this time ♪
♪ Yeah ♪
♪ Yeah, so long ♪
♪ So long ♪
♪ So long ♪
♪ So long ♪
♪ So long, so long ♪
♪ Baby, baby, how long? ♪
♪ Oh, oh, oh ♪
♪ Ooh ♪
(audience applauding)


Transcription edited by Jada Henderson, 2023.

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