This Day in Texas History:
Blues Queen Born in Houston
November 1, 1898
On this day in 1898, blues singer Sippie Wallace was born in Houston.
Beulah Thomas Wallace was part of a large and musically talented family; her older brother George W. Thomas, Jr., was a pianist, songwriter, and publisher, and her younger brother Hersal was a jazz piano prodigy who died in his mid-twenties. In 1916 Sippie moved to New Orleans to work with George; there she met such jazz pioneers as Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, and King Oliver.
In 1923 she moved to Chicago, where she made her recording debut on the Okeh label; three months later, she was a star with a national reputation. Her songs, such as the classics “Mighty Tight Woman” and “Woman Be Wise,” spoke with earthy directness about love and relationships. After her brother Hersal and her husband both died in 1936, however, Wallace moved to Detroit and gave up blues in favor of gospel music.
Victoria R. Spivey, another Texas artist, persuaded her to return to performing in the 1960s. The “tough-minded” lyrics of some of Wallace’s songs transcended the blues era in which they were written and appealed to younger audiences, including most notably the singer Bonnie Raitt, who in the 1970s and 1980s almost singlehandedly revived the older woman’s career. Wallace’s 1983 comeback album, Sippie, was nominated for a Grammy Award, and in 1985 she made her first appearance in Texas in more than sixty years. Coincidentally, she died in Detroit on her eighty-eighth birthday, November 1, 1986.
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