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Sippie Wallace

Sippie Wallace
Sippie Wallace.jpg
Background information
Birth nameBeulah Belle Thomas
Born(1898-11-01)November 1, 1898
Plum Bayou, Jefferson County, Arkansas, U.S.
DiedNovember 1, 1986(1986-11-01) (aged 88)
Detroit, Michigan
GenresBlues, jazz
Occupation(s)Singer, pianist, organist, songwriter
InstrumentsPiano, organ
Years activeca. 1918–1986
LabelsOkeh, Victor, Alligator, Storyville, Atlantic, Spivey
Associated actsBonnie Raitt[1][2]

Sippie Wallace (born Beulah Belle Thomas, November 1, 1898 – November 1, 1986)[3] was an American singer-songwriter. Her early career in tent shows gained her the billing "The Texas Nightingale". Between 1923 and 1927, she recorded over 40 songs for Okeh Records, many written by her or her brothers, George and Hersal Thomas.[4] Her accompanists included Louis Armstrong, Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet, King Oliver, and Clarence Williams. Among the top female blues vocalists of her era, Wallace ranked with Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Alberta Hunter, and Bessie Smith.

In the 1930s, she left show business to become a church organist, singer, and choir director in Detroit and performed secular music only sporadically until the 1960s, when she resumed her performing career. Wallace was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1982 and was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1993.[5]

Early life

Wallace was born in the Delta lowlands of Jefferson County, Arkansas, one of 13 children in her family. Wallace came from a musical family: her brother George W. Thomas became a notable pianist, bandleader, composer, and music publisher; another brother, Hersal Thomas, was a pianist and composer; her niece Hociel Thomas (George's daughter) was a pianist and composer.[citation needed]

When she was a child her family moved to Houston, Texas.[6] In her youth she sang and played the piano in Shiloh Baptist Church, where her father was a deacon, but in the evenings she and her siblings took to sneaking out to tent shows. By the time she was in her mid-teens, they were playing in those tent shows. Performing in various Texas shows, she built a solid following as a spirited blues singer.[citation needed]

In 1915 Wallace moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, with her brother Hersal. Two years later she married Matt Wallace and took his surname.


Rosetta Reitz with the performers (Carmen McRae, featured music by Adelaide Hall, Big Mama Thornton, Nell Carter, and Koko Taylor) of the Blues Is a Woman Concert at the Newport Jazz Festival at Avery Fisher Hall. Copyright Barbara Weinberg Barefield; (standing, l to r): Koko Taylor, Linda Hopkins, George Wein, Rosetta Reitz, Adelaide Hall, Little Brother Montgomery, Big Mama Thornton, Beulah Bryant; (seated, l to r): Sharon Freeman, Sippie Wallace, Nell Carter
Performers of the "Blues Is a Woman" concert at the Newport Jazz Festival at Avery Fisher Hall: (standing, l to r), Koko Taylor, Linda Hopkins, producer George Wein, Rosetta Reitz, Adelaide Hall, Little Brother Montgomery, Big Mama Thornton, Beulah Bryant; (seated, l to r), Sharon Freeman, Sippie Wallace, Nell Carter (copyright Barbara Weinberg Barefield)

Wallace followed her brothers to Chicago in 1923 and worked her way into the city's bustling jazz scene. Her reputation led to a recording contract with Okeh Records in 1923.[7] Her first recorded songs, "Shorty George" and "Up the Country Blues", the former written with her brother George, sold well enough to make her a blues star in the early 1920s.[8] Other successful recordings followed, including "Special Delivery Blues" (with Louis Armstrong), "Bedroom Blues" (written by George and Hersal Thomas), and "I'm a Mighty Tight Woman". Hersal Thomas died of food poisoning in 1926, at age 16.

Wallace moved to Detroit in 1929. Matt Wallace and George Thomas both died in 1936.

For some 40 years Wallace was a singer and organist at the Leland Baptist Church in Detroit. Mercury Records reissued "Bedroom Blues" in 1945. Aside from an occasional performance or recording date, she did little in the blues until she launched a comeback in 1966, after her longtime friend Victoria Spivey coaxed her out of retirement, and toured on the folk and blues festival circuit.

Wallace recorded an album, Women Be Wise, on October 31, 1966, in Copenhagen, Denmark, with Roosevelt Sykes and Little Brother Montgomery playing the piano.[9] She recorded another album in 1966, Sings the Blues, on which she accompanied herself on piano on the title song, with Sykes or Montgomery playing piano on other tracks. Both albums include her signature song, "Women Be Wise". These recordings helped inspire the musician Bonnie Raitt to take up singing and playing the blues in the late 1960s.[10] Raitt recorded renditions of "Women Be Wise" and "Mighty Tight Woman" on her self-titled debut album in 1971. Wallace toured and recorded with Raitt in the 1970s and 1980s and continued to perform on her own.[11]

Wallace contributed to Louis Armstrong's album Louis Armstrong and the Blues Singers (1966), singing "A Jealous Woman Like Me", "Special Delivery Blues", "Jack o'Diamond Blues", "The Mail Train Blues" and "I Feel Good". She and Spivey recorded an album of blues standards, Sippie Wallace and Victoria Spivey, released in 1970 by Spivey's label, Spivey Records. In 1981, Wallace recorded the album Sippie for Atlantic Records, which earned her a 1983 Grammy nomination[12] and won the 1982 W. C. Handy Award for Best Blues Album of the Year.[13] Wallace's backup group was pianist Jim Dapogny's Chicago Jazz Band, consisting of Paul Klinger on cornet, Bob Smith on trombone and Russ Whitman and Peter Ferran on reeds.

She appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in 1966 and 1967, toured Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival in 1966, performed at the Chicago Blues Festival in 1967 and the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1972, and appeared at Lincoln Center in New York in 1977. She appeared in the 1982 documentary Jammin' with the Blues Greats.[14] She shared the stage with B.B. King at the Montreaux Jazz Festival on July 22, 1982, in a performance that was filmed and later broadcast.

With the German boogie-woogie pianist Axel Zwingenberger she recorded a studio album, Axel Zwingenberger and the Friends of Boogie Woogie, Vol. 1: Sippie Wallace, in 1983 (released in 1984), which included many of her own groundbreaking compositions and other classic blues songs. In 1984 she traveled to Germany to tour with Zwingenberger, where they also recorded her only complete live album, An Evening with Sippie Wallace, for Vagabond Records.


In March 1986, following a concert at the Burghausen Jazz Festival in Germany, Wallace suffered a severe stroke and was hospitalized. She returned to the United States and died on her 88th birthday, at Sinai Hospital in Detroit.[15] She is buried at Trinity Cemetery, in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan.[16]


In 1986, Rhapsody Films and producer Roberta Grossman released the documentary Sippie Wallace: Blues Singer and Song Writer, in which Wallace is shown in concert footage, interviews, and photographs, with historic rare recordings.[17]


Year Title Genre Label
1995 Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, vol. 1, 1923–1925; vol. 2, 1925–1945 Blues Document
1982 Sippie Blues Atlantic
1970 Sippie Wallace and Victoria Spivey Blues Spivey
1966 Sings the Blues Blues Storyville
1966 Women Be Wise Blues Alligator


  1. ^ "Sippie Wallace and Bonnie Raitt Prove That Blues Birds of a Feather Can Flock Together". Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  2. ^ Holden, Stephen (6 June 1982). "Blues Singer: Sippie Wallace". Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  3. ^ Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues: A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger. p. 505. ISBN 978-0313344237.
  4. ^ Santelli, Robert (2001). The Big Book of Blues. Penguin Books. p. 486. ISBN 0-14-100145-3.
  5. ^ "The Michigan Women's Hall of Fame - Virtual Gallery of Honorees". 4 June 2003. Archived from the original on 4 June 2003. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  6. ^ Gates, Henry Louis (1999). Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. Basic Civitas Books. page 1956. ISBN 0-465-00071-1.
  7. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 12. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  8. ^ Santelli, Robert (2001). The Big Book of Blues. p. 486.
  9. ^ [1][dead link]
  10. ^ Dicaire, David (1999). Blues Singers: Biographies of 50 Legendary Artists of the Early 20th Century. McFarland & Company. p. 204. ISBN 0-7864-0606-2.
  11. ^ "Sippie Wallace at All About Jazz". 1 September 2010. Archived from the original on 1 September 2010. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  12. ^ "The Envelope". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  13. ^ "Blues Foundation :: Past handy Awards". 3 June 2004. Archived from the original on 3 June 2004. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  14. ^ "Jammin' with the Blues Greats". Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  15. ^ "Wallace, Sippie". Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  16. ^ Eagle, Bob L.; LeBlanc, Eric S. (1 May 2013). "Blues: A Regional Experience". ABC-CLIO. Retrieved 29 December 2018 – via Google Books.
  17. ^ "MRC Video Tape Library". 20 August 2006. Archived from the original on 20 August 2006. Retrieved 12 November 2017.

External links