sippie wallace

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Sippie Wallace and Bonnie Raitt Prove That Blues Birds of a Feather Can Flock Together

on April 12, 1982 No comments

By Carl Arrington, Maryanne George

Sippie Wallace, 83, is a stout black woman whose heyday as a blues singer was in the 1920s. Bonnie Raitt, 32, is a lean, fast-living rock ‘n’ roller who travels in WASPy music circles in L.A. Sippie is a believing Baptist whose friends and contemporaries have included Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong. Bonnie, more devout in her liberal politics than in religion, numbers among her friends Jane Fonda, Jackson Browne and Graham Nash.

They have in common dazzling dimples, red hair (Sippie’s is store-bought), a fierce feeling for the blues and a spunky attitude summed up by a line from Mighty Tight Woman, a song written by Wallace that both have recorded: “There is nothing, nothing that I fear.” Raitt and Wallace are also close friends. “We are two souls who have known each other before,” says Bonnie. “It’s a connection that transcends age and space. She’s more my own grandma than my natural grandmother.” Sippie reciprocates, “I love Bonnie.”

The friendship will soon be reflected in the marketplace. Bonnie has a scorcher LP called Green Light that’s doing wheelies up the charts. Sippie, Wallace’s first recording in 16 years, has set off an industry buzz before its late-April release. Wallace has provided Bonnie with tunes over the years; Bonnie sat in on three tracks in Sippie’s new album.

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Bonnie Raitt And Friends Jam at Orpheum

on October 29, 1974 No comments

by Niki Rockwell

For a long time I have been watching feminism developing in the field of music. I am tired of hearing the classic comment “Oh, that music is just for women” made about performers like Dionne Warwick. We have a few cult figures, headed by Joni Mitchell. Her commercial popularity came primarily from the male attentions of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, although the cult realized her tremendous song writing ability many years before. We have our folk/political singer: Joan Baez, We have Fanny to convince us that females can compete with Mick Jagger’s sexual actions on stage. But there are many other areas of music that have been previously untouched on a national level by an awakened woman. We now have an amazing woman, an excellent song writer, interpreter, outstanding musician, and most importantly a friend, Bonnie Raitt.

Bonnie Raitt and Sippie Wallace – Boston 1974 – What made Sippie Wallace unique was that she was one of the first blues singers from the 1920s to write her own material. Most of the better known women vocalists from that era has merely sung songs that had been written for them by men, but Sippie Wallace had her own outlook on a woman’s role and she was more than ready to put her thoughts into songs. (You can read the rest of this essay in Dick Waterman’s new book, “Between Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive.”)                        © Dick Waterman

Anyone who attended last Monday night’s concert at the Orpheum had the chance to observe a woman coordinate artists Sippie Wallace, Roosevelt Sykes, Junior Welles, A.G. Reed, John Payne, Dave Maxwell and others, into an incredible experience. She was in fine form, playing and singing to the top of her seemingly unending ability. As Bonnie says,

“I’m sick of being told that I’m as good as a man on the guitar.”

In fact she’s better than most. Much of her early blues experience came, from the late Mississippi Fred McDowell. Her album Give It Up is dedicated to him. She seems to grow with each musician she has come into contact with since taking that experience and making it her own. Listening to her play is a pleasure. (Most of those “hot licks” on her albums are her own, not male back up.) Her voice, as many notable critics agree, is worthy of attention as well.

Aside from her immense talent, the apparent ease, and obvious enjoyment she found in her performance, I felt, for the first time, that here was a woman could transcend the stereotypes of women in music, and do it with the love and respect of all that comes in contact with her. She controlled a group of egocentric musicians who were each used to carrying an entire program on their names alone. She put them together, something which would normally only happen in a private midnight jam, not for our ears. She didn’t allow one to dominate the other for a moment. She didn’t allow them to dominate her, either. She was the star from the minute she hit the stage.

Bonnie’s love and respect for the two old survivors of the days when blues was not so “in”, Sippie Wallace and Roosevelt Sykes, was impressive. Bonnie’s dream has always been to use her own popularity to give the spotlight to those who have been forgotten. Last Monday was an obvious satisfaction to all; both artists received standing ovations for their arrival on stage as well as for their performance.

The Mass Media Boston Oct.29, 1974


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Mighty Tight Woman – SIPPIE WALLACE

on April 15, 1967 No comments

by Paul Oliver



A splendid anachronism, Sippie Wallace; a singular survivor of a long past blues tradition. There was a time, in the Forties, when almost the only form of blues which had any recognition was that called ‘classic blues’. The term itself is vague enough and does not carry in it any specific form, or style, or means of expression.
But though it lacks a real definition the classic blues has meant for collectors and jazz enthusiasts the singing of the blues artists who worked with the jazz bands of the 1920s. There were few enthusiasts of the blues in the early years of the traditional jazz ‘revival’ and, in consequence, the blues singers who had associations with jazz were those whose names appeared in the articles and the occasional books which mileposted the developing interest in this form of music. When the ‘trad’ boom was over and the Dixieland bands and the New Orleans bands had fought out their battles of authenticity and purity to meet at last over glasses of warm beer to rue the passing of a fad, attention to the classic blues went too.

In the past few years a rise in interest in the blues has echoed in some respects the traditional jazz phase, sustaining a large number of imitative musicians, developing a market for the issue and reissue of the music of the past, and promoting the rediscovery of veteran musicians.
In all this activity in the blues field there has been little attention to the work of the classic singers. Sadly their link with jazz which had inspired interest in the past is now contributory to the present disregard. Once again, the arguments over authenticity have produced artificial barriers, have classified, often meaninglessly, the categories into which musicians and singers conveniently fall and have imposed a highly artificial form of arbitrary evaluation. And the arguments have weighed heavily against the classic blues singers when indeed, they enter the discussion at all.

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The appearance of Sippie Wallace at the Folk Blues Festival concerts in 1966 must be counted from any point of view, a conspicuous success. Her single appearance has caused critics to reconsider their opinions, some writers to admit grudgingly that there may after all, be some value in the work of singers of her type and generation. As the reviews and the spontaneous acclamation of the audiences revealed, Sippie Wallace’s majestic singing was both a personal triumph and a smashing blow against those who found the classic singer inadmissable to the blues pantheon.

To the extent that the term has any meaning, Sippie Wallace is a classic blues singer. But the term is elastic enough to include at one pole the work of artists of the stature of Bessie Smith and Gertrude Ma Rainey, and at the other the entertainment of Rosa Henderson and Viola McCoy. While the former showed in their every phrase the influence of the blues, the latter singers were vaudeville entertainers whose links were as much with white show business as they were with the Negro tradition of song. No derogatory implications are intended; only some indication of the looseness ot the terminology. Nearly all these singers were women and it is probably a reflection of the recording patterns of the day that while there were few rural women singers recorded in the Twenties the classic singers were almost exclusively female. Those who showed the greatest association with the blues tradition inevitably appeal today to a greater extent than do those whose singing was a part of the vaudeville entertainment of the early years of the century, and for this reason Lillian Glinn, Cleo Gibson or Clara Smith are among the few that are remembered. Standing pre-eminently in their company is Sippie Wallace.

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