by Jason Mellard / Center for Texas Music History at Texas State
This Week in Texas Music History we find those records where New Orleans jazz and Texas blues queens sound out the best of both worlds.
On November 28, 1924, blues queen Sippie Wallace first recorded with jazz legend Louis Armstrong, the beginning of a fruitful collaboration showing the links between New Orleans jazz and Texas blues. Born in 1898 in Houston, Wallace hailed from a musical family that included piano-playing brothers George and Hersal Thomas. She had started singing in Shiloh Baptist Church, but Wallace also spent evenings imbibing the music of traveling tent shows and carnivals. She left Houston for Dallas with one of those tent shows: singing, performing in skits, and working in a snake-charming routine. She landed in New Orleans with brother Hersal in the early days of jazz, crossing paths with Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, and Clarence Williams. So, it makes sense that she and Hersal followed those New Orleans greats up to Chicago by 1923, and that she would appear on record with the Clarence Williams Orchestra featuring Louis Armstrong in 1924, performing Thomas’s composition “Trouble Everywhere I Roam.”
Wallace joined the ranks of the decade’s blues queens, with dozens of tracks between 1924 and 1927. Family tragedies—including young Hersal’s death—led Wallace to pull back from secular music by the time of the Great Depression. But, she would be back in the studio with Armstrong before too long, most notably on his 1966 album Louis Armstrong and the Blues Singers. And Armstrong was but one of many high-profile collaborators and fans bringing Wallace out of retirement. Fellow Texas blues queen Victoria Spivey recorded a duet album with Wallace that same year, and a young Bonnie Raitt featured Wallace’s songs prominently on her 1971 debut album, including “Women Be Wise.” Raitt and Wallace even toured together into the 1980s, giving Wallace’s career an encore befitting a queen.
Laurie E. Jasinski, Gary Hartman, Casey Monahan, and Ann T. Smith, eds. The Handbook of Texas Music. Second Edition. Denton, TX: Texas State Historical Association, 2012.
Dave Oliphant. Texan Jazz. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996