Texas Women’s History Month: Sippie Wallace
Dubbed the Texas Nightingale, blues legend Sippie Wallace was born Beulah Thomas in Houston in 1898. She acquired her nickname while in grade school because, as she later recalled, “My teeth were so far apart I had to sip everything.” She sang and played the organ in her father’s church, and on summer nights sneaked out with her brothers to hear blues singers at the traveling tent shows that came through Houston. Before long, she left home to join one of the shows as a singer, actress, chorus girl, and snake charmer’s assistant. She moved to New Orleans with her brother, musician George Thomas, and performed with many jazz and blue legends. While in New Orleans, she married Matt Wallace.
By the early 1920s, Wallace moved to Chicago and recorded an album that featured many of her own songs, including “Mighty Tight Woman” and “Women be Wise,” both later popularized for a new generation by blues singer Bonnie Raitt in the 1960s. After Wallace’s brother, pianist Hersel Thomas, and her husband both died in 1936, she left the music business and worked as a church organist for the next forty years. She staged a comeback with help from fellow Texas musician Victoria Spivey in the 1960s, and later recorded an album with Raitt. Nominated for a Grammy award for the album Sippie in 1985, she died less than a year later, on her birthday.