To say Tasso Zachary was an obscure musician is putting it mildly. It's safe to say that the Cincinnati-based entertainer's most memorable moments are to be found in the bluesy grooves of the two-sided 1953 hit, My Sympathy and Ebony After Midnight. I looked all over the internet for information about Tasso Zachary and found next to nothing about him. But with a little amateur sleuthing, I have found more than what has previously been recorded - which isn't saying much! To date, no pictures of this artist have been readily available. For that reason, I am pleased to present this one, which dates from the early 1940's. It comes from one of my aunt Josephine's old scrapbooks, and is part of a holiday greeting that Mr. Zachary gave or sent to her during that time. And as you continue to read, you'll surmise that Aunt Jo must have known more than we'll ever know about the gate-mouthed Zachary's ebony after midnight!
Josephine was my father's sister and my favorite aunt. I think she was probably the singularly most influential person in my early life. She recognized a lot of my interests and voraciously fed my youthful hunger for culture and family history.
Our local grocery store had a whole row of magical children's books, and with every trip, I expected (and received) a new book from Jo. She bought my first records by The Supremes and James Brown. Jo introduced me to Dinah Washington and Big Maybelle, and I was no more than ten years old when she finally gave me her whole 78 record collection. "I can tell by the type of music you listen to that you like to dance so you might as well boogaloo" she told me.
Jo lived in a two story house with her husband Lawrence, and my grandmother. Jo lived downstairs and went out the front door and he lived upstairs and went out the back door. I suspect, for a very brief moment in time, Tasso Zachary must have been creepin' in after midnight as Lawrence was tippin' out! No doubt she must have met him at one of the local nightclubs that were famous for employing black entertainers like Cincinnati's Cotton Club, or the Sportsman's Club located in nearby Newport, Ky.
This photo perfectly illustrates how Jo must have looked when she first met Tasso Zachary. Here, Jo (in the flowered dress) is seen out on the town with her best friend, Clara Mann during the early 1940's. I just noticed that she has removed her glasses for the photograph, and is holding them in her hand as she was prone to do when I knew her. They both seem to be staring wistfully at something or someone off to the right, or maybe they're just striking a pose. Perhaps, Tasso Zachary just made his entrance into the club?!
Tasso Zachary was the oldest son of Louis and Rose Zachary, who made their home around the Texarkana, Arkansas area located in the most southeastern part of the state. Louis was a general laborer and railroad worker while Rose mostly stayed home and cared for the children. Born around 1914 into a family that consisited of mostly girls, Tasso had at least one other brother. By 1930, the family had relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio, residing in the area known as the West End. While still a teenager, Tasso married Oretha Grosse from West Virginia and together they had at least five daughters. By 1940, Tasso Zachary was playing trumpet in the local clubs and for groups like the Jack Jackson Band (along with local KY musicians like Nelson Burton and Frank Foster).
I know very little about Zachary's professional career, but by the early 1950's, he was calling himself Tasso The Great, and had already released an obscure 78rpm recording called "Louisville, KY" on the Rosemay label.
Chicago-based, United Records was formed in 1951, and was primarily launched by the huge success of Jimmy Forrest's early R&B recording of the original "Night Train." Tasso The Great's 1953 release of "My Sympathy b/w Ebony After Midnight appears to be his only recording for the label, and both cuts were moderate jukebox hits. Zachary provided the vocal for "My Sympathy" in the sorrowful blues crooning style of popular vocalist/pianist Charles Brown.
The flipside "Ebony After Midnight" is a bluesy, slow-grinding instrumental done very much in the same style that Avery Parrish employed on the earlier hit "After Hours" (recorded with the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra). Not much of a vocalist, Tasso's dexterity at the keyboards were in full effect.
The first time that I saw Tasso's photo in my aunt's scrapbook, I asked to know who he was. "He was just some negro who was enamored of me" Jo replied with a smirk. That statement was all that I could get out of her as she smiled a secret smile. "Who is Tasso?" I asked my father years later. "Some old-time musician that used to be around town and one of Jo's boyfriends" he replied flashing his own secret smirk. I tried to pursue the matter with a grown up's understanding, but my father shut me down with his trademark "it's best to leave some things in the past" look and indicated that there wasn't much more to be revealed than that.
Jo passed away when I was 16 years old and left an indelible imprint on my life. I don't know what happened to Tasso The Great, nor do I know exactly how great he was. (Had I been just a little bit older when I first asked, I believe Jo would have told me!). However, I did find out that in 1969, a man with a former Ohio connection, died in Escambia County, Florida. His name was Abdul Samad and it was strongly indicated that he was formerly known as Tasso Zachary.
*There is absolutely no connection between Zachary Tasso and H.C. Cain, also known as Tasso The Great who recorded latin music for the Kain record label.