by Jason Mellard / Center for Texas Music History at Texas State
This week in Texas music history we spend time with a Deep Ellum blues queen
In early December 1927, blues queen Lillian Glinn made her first records in Dallas. Blues was a pillar of the early record industry, and when most people used the term in the 1920s, they were thinking of women vocalists like Glinn rather than men with guitars. Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith were household names. Guitar-playing Delta bluesmen like Son House, not so much, not yet. The blues queen bench was deep, with many Texans on the roster—Sippie Wallace, Victoria Spivey, Bessie Tucker—so many of them that there is still so much to learn about recording artists such as Lillian Glinn. She was born in Hillsboro around the turn of the twentieth century. Singer Hattie Burleson discovered Glinn performing in a Dallas church and turned her on to the gigging possibilities in the Deep Ellum nightlife district. Dallas businessman R. T. Ashford, also notable for his role in Blind Lemon Jefferson’s career, secured Glinn a contract with Columbia in 1927. In that very first session, Glinn cut the single “All Alone and Blue.”
Glinn’s recording career was brief but impactful, with recording sessions in Atlanta, New Orleans, and Dallas between 1927 and 1929. Her songs, like those of many of the blues queens, involved ribald topics and double entendre, but also often took the form of moral advice or warnings aimed at Glinn’s audience of working-class Black women in the early 20th century South. After 1929, as the Great Depression narrowed opportunities for recording artists, Glinn found a path back into religious music, moving to California and marrying Reverend O. P. Smith. Historians still know little of her life after that, but her stirring records remain.
Michael Corcoran. Ghost Notes: Pioneering Spirits of Texas Music. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 2020.
Alan Govenar and Jay Brakefield. Deep Ellum: The Other Side of Dallas. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2013 .
James Head in 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.