Sippie Wallace was born in Texas in 1898 and, remarkably won a W.C. Handy award for Best Blues Album in 1984, having been nominated for a Grammy the year before! After having performed, first in tent shows all over Texas and then in clubs in Chicago in the 1920s, Sippy retired temporarily when the blues craze died down in the 30s. But – you can’t keep a good gal down, and she resumed her career in the blues revival of the 1960s (she’d made a few recordings in the 40s and 50s). Bonnie Raitt was one of her big fans and both befriended her and performed with her. Perhaps the most famous collaboration was the song Woman Be Wise, typical of the sass and wit that had characterized Sippy’s style over the years.
Interestingly, Sippy’s father had been a deacon in the Baptist church and she had grown up singing and playing piano in the church and seems to have maintained or re-found her faith in later years, playing both blues and gospel as she grew older. Shortly before she died in 1986, she said, “I play for a church right now…you don’t see any place in the Bible that says you’ll go to hell if you sing the blues. If you can sing gospel, you can sing the blues.” Well said, Sippy. People have always tried to play faith off against the blues – gospel versus the devil’s music. It’s a false dichotomy, however. As Lurrie Bell said recently, “the devil don’t have no music.” Music is music, it’s either good music or it’s not – there’s nothing inherently bad about a particular style. And the blues – rooted in human anxiety, trouble and heart-ache, but which plays and sings its way towards better times – seems to me able to express something of the Christian gospel, which essentially revolves around this theme of human failure, suffering and lostness, with the good news of rescue and hope for personal and social transformation.
As Willie Dixon said: , “the good Lord in his spirit had to send somethin’ down to the people to help ease they worried mind. And that where the music come in – it would work in what you tryin’ a do, what you strivin’ for, to help give you a vision of a brighter day way up ahead, to help you get your mind offa what you are in right now…and the blues, like John Lee Hooker says, is a healer.”