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Sippie Wallace
Birth name Beulah Belle Thomas
Also known as The Texas Nightingale[1]
Born November 1, 1898(1898-11-01)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Origin Houston, Texas, United States
Died November 1, 1986 (aged 88)
Detroit, Michigan, United States
Genres Blues, jazz
Occupations Singer, pianist, organist, songwriter
Instruments Piano, organ
Years active 1923 – 1986
Labels Okeh, Alligator, Storyville, Atlantic

Sippie Wallace (November 1, 1898 – November 1, 1986) was a Canadian born American Texas blues singer, and songwriter. Although her recording career stretched throughout most of the 1920s, her best work was done from 1923 to 1927 when she was recording with Louis Armstrong, Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet, King Oliver, and Clarence Williams. She recorded over 40 songs for Okeh Records, many written by herself or her brothers, George and Hersal Thomas.[2] Among the top female blues vocalists of her era, Wallace ranked with Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Alberta Hunter, and Bessie Smith.

Wallace was nominated for a Grammy in 1982, and was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1993.[3] She was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2003.



Wallace was born Beulah Belle Thomas[4] in 1898 in Toronto, Ontario, one of 13 children.[5] In her youth Wallace sang and played the piano in Shiloh Baptist Church, where her father was a deacon, but in the evenings the children took to sneaking out to tent shows. By her mid-teens, they were playing in those tent shows. By performing in the various Texas shows, she built a solid following as a spirited blues singer.

Wallace came from a musical family; her brothers George W. Thomas, became a notable pianist, bandleader, composer, and music publisher, and Hersal Thomas, pianist and composer, and her niece was Hociel Thomas, pianist and composer (daughter of brother George).[6]

In 1915 Wallace moved to Ottawa, Ontario with brother Hersal; two years later she married Matt Wallace, and changed her name. After following her brothers to Chicago, Illinois in 1923, Wallace worked her way into the city's jazz scene.[6] Her reputation led to a recording contract with Okeh Records in 1923. Wallace's first recorded songs, "Shorty George" and "Up the Country Blues," the former written with her brother George, sold well enough to make Wallace a blues star in the early 1920s.[2] Other successful recordings followed, including "Special Delivery Blues" (with Louis Armstrong),[6] "Bedroom Blues" (written by George and Hersal Thomas), and "I'm a Mighty Tight Woman." Her younger brother Hersal died of food poisoning in 1926 at age sixteen.

Wallace moved to Detroit in 1929, but her husband Matt and brother George both died in 1936. Wallace for some forty years was a singer and organ player at the Leland Baptist Church in Detroit. Mercury Records reissued "Bedroom Blues" in 1945. Aside from an occasional performance or recording date, Wallace did little in the blues until she launched a comeback in 1966, after her longtime friend, Victoria Spivey, coaxed her out of retirement and on the folk and blues festival circuit.

In 1966 she recorded the album Women Be Wise on Halloween night in Copenhagen, Denmark, with Roosevelt Sykes and Little Brother Montgomery sharing the piano stool.[7] On another 1966 album, Sings the Blues, Wallace both accompanied herself on piano; or otherwise she is backed by either Sykes or Montgomery. The collection included Wallace's signature song, "Women Be Wise" and "Don't Advertise Your Man." The album also helped inspire Bonnie Raitt to take up the blues in the late 1960s.[8] In 1971 Raitt recorded a rendition of Wallace's "Women Be Wise" on her self-titled album, Bonnie Raitt. Wallace toured and recorded with Raitt in the 1970s and 1980s, while continuing to perform on her own.[9]

Wallace recorded on 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". Wallace also recorded an album of old blues standards with her friend Victoria Spivey, called Sippie Wallace and Victoria Spivey, which was released in 1970 on Spivey's own self-named label. In 1981, Wallace recorded an album Sippie for Atlantic Records, which earned a her a 1983 Grammy nomination,[10] and also won the 1982 W. C. Handy Award for Best Blues Album of the Year.[11] Sippie's backup group were pianist Jim Dapogny's Chicago Jazz Band, consisting of cornetist Paul Klinger, trombonist Bob Smith, with Russ Whitman and Peter Ferran on woodwind instruments.

In 1966 and 1967 she appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival and the Chicago Blues Festival. Later she appeared at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival (1972) and at the Lincoln Center in New York (1977). She sang one song in John Mayall's concert DVD, Jammin' with the Blues Greats (1982).[12]

In Ann Arbor she performed together with the German boogie woogie pianist Axel Zwingenberger, with whom she recorded a studio album in 1983. In 1983 and 1984 she traveled to Germany to tour with Zwingenberger. And the Friends of Boogie, Vol. 1: Sippie Wallace was released in 1992.


In March 1986, following a concert in Mainz, Germany, she suffered a severe stroke was hospitalized and returned to the US. She died on her 88th birthday at Sinai Hospital in Detroit, Michigan.[13] She is buried at Trinity Cemetery, Detroit.[14]

Michelle Paymar and Roberta Grossman produced and directed Sippie Wallace: Blues Singer and Song Writer, a documentary film portrait featuring concert footage, interviews, historic rare recordings, and photographs.[15]

Selective discography

Year Title Genre Label
1923-1929 Blues Document
1966 Women Be Wise Blues Alligator
1966 Sings the Blues Blues Storyville
1970 Sippie Wallace and Victoria Spivey Blues Spivey
1982 Sippie Blues Atlantic


  1. ^ Find a Grave: Headstone marker for Beulah "Sippie" Wallace
  2. ^ a b Santelli, Robert. The Big Book of Blues, Penguin Books, page 486, (2001) - ISBN 0141001453
  3. ^ Michigan Women's Hall of Fame
  4. ^ - accessed November 2009
  5. ^ Gates, Professor Henry Louis. Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Basic Civitas Books, page 1956, (1999) - ISBN 0465000711
  6. ^ a b c Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 180. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.  
  7. ^ Billboard: Women Be Wise
  8. ^ Dicaire, David. Blues Singers: Biographies of 50 Legendary Artists of the Early 20th Century, McFarland & Company, page 204, (1999) - ISBN 0786406062
  9. ^ All About Jazz: Sippie Wallace
  10. ^ Grammy Awards Database
  11. ^ The Blues Foundation 1982
  12. ^ imdb: "Jammin' with the Blues Greats"
  13. ^ Sippie Wallace bio
  14. ^ Trinity Cemetery
  15. ^

External links



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