A Tribute to Victoria Spivey
Produced by Gail Pellett
Live on Air anchor: Gail Pellett
Presented by: WBAI-FM, New York
Aired on: Pacifica Network     Date: November, 1975

Victoria Spivey

Victoria Spivey was one of the Classic Women Blues Singers who flourished during the 20’s — like Mamie Smith, Gertrude Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, and Alberta Hunter. These women ushered in a new more cosmopolitan form of Blues singing and performing that corresponded to the mass migration of African-Americans out of the south to northern cities.  While a number of these women either died or drifted into obscurity in the 1930s, Spivey continued an active career.

This one hour tribute to Spivey was recorded live in the studios of WBAI-FM in New York in November, 1975 just a month after she died at the age of 69.  While I often produced highly edited and mixed documentaries, this was one opportunity to sit at the controls, play cuts from Spivey’s recordings and talk about her life.  This program was followed by a live performance of the Dicey Ross Blues Band, one of the younger bands that Spivey recorded on her label.

Born in Houston, Texas, Spivey grew up singing and playing the piano.  She started performing at the age of 12 and by 16 she had moved to St. Louis where she recorded her first song, Blacksnake Blues,  with Okeh records.  She would continue recording many of her own songs with Okeh, then RCA Victor and other companies until she started her own recording company.

Spivey had a distinct moaning quality to her singing which identified her as a Texan singer as a number of the women blues singers from that state were known as the Texas moaners.  Over the years she performed with Blind Lemon Jefferson, King Oliver, Lonnie Johnson and Louis Armstrong as well as many others.

Spivey  performed on stages, in clubs, theaters and in musical films along with her husband, vaudeville dancer, Billy Adams.  In 1962, with help from jazz historian Len Kundstadt, she launched Spivey Records.  Among the blues greats her label recorded were Sippie Wallace, Otis Span, Hanna Sylvester and Willie Dixon.  She also recorded younger artists like Bob Dylan, Luther Johnson and Sugar Blue.

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There's a wonderful YouTube piece -- film footage -- of Spivey accompanying herself at the piano while singing "TB Blues," a strange song she wrote about a friend years before who had TB. "TB Blues 1963 recording"


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