born on 15/10/1908 in Houston, TX, United States
died on 3/10/1976 in New York City, NY, United States
Victoria Regina Spivey (October 15, 1906 – October 3, 1976), sometimes known as Queen Victoria, was an American blues singer and songwriter. During a recording career that spanned 40 years, from 1926 to the mid-1960s, she worked with Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Clarence Williams, Luis Russell, Lonnie Johnson, and Bob Dylan. She also performed in vaudeville and clubs, sometimes with her sister Addie "Sweet Peas" (or "Sweet Pease") Spivey (1910–1943), also known as the Za Zu Girl. Among her compositions are "Black Snake Blues" (1926), "Dope Head Blues" (1927), and "Organ Grinder Blues" (1928). In 1962 she co-founded Spivey Records.
Life and career
Born in Houston, Texas, she was the daughter of Grant and Addie (Smith) Spivey. Her father was a part-time musician and a flagman for the railroad; her mother was a nurse. She had two sisters, both of whom also sang professionally: Addie "Sweet Peas" (or "Sweet Pease") Spivey (1910–1943), who recorded for several major record labels between 1929 and 1937, and Elton Island Spivey Harris (1900–1971).
Spivey's first professional experience was in a family string band led by her father in Houston. After he died, the seven-year-old Victoria played on her own at local parties. In 1918, she was hired to accompany films at the Lincoln Theater in Dallas. As a teenager, she worked in local bars, nightclubs, and buffet flats, mostly alone, but occasionally with singer-guitarists, including Blind Lemon Jefferson. In 1926 she moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where she was signed by Okeh Records. Her first recording, "Black Snake Blues" (1926), sold well, and her association with the label continued. She recorded numerous sides for Okeh in New York City until 1929, when she switched to the Victor label. Between 1931 and 1937, more recordings followed for Vocalion Records and Decca Records, and, working out of New York, she maintained an active performance schedule. Her recorded accompanists included King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Lonnie Johnson, and Red Allen.
The Depression did not put an end to Spivey's musical career. She found a new outlet for her talent in 1929, when the film director King Vidor cast her to play Missy Rose in his first sound film, Hallelujah!. Through the 1930s and 1940s Spivey continued to work in musical films and stage shows, including the hit musical Hellzapoppin (1938), often with her husband, the vaudeville dancer Billy Adams.
In 1951 Spivey retired from show business to play the pipe organ and lead a church choir, but she returned to secular music in 1961, when she was reunited with an old singing partner, Lonnie Johnson, to appear on four tracks on his Prestige Bluesville album Idle Hours. The folk music revival of the 1960s gave her further opportunities to make a comeback. She recorded again for Prestige Bluesville, sharing an album, Songs We Taught Your Mother, with fellow veterans Alberta Hunter and Lucille Hegamin, and began making personal appearances at festivals and clubs, including the 1963 European tour of the American Folk Blues Festival.
In 1961 Spivey and the jazz and blues historian Len Kunstadt launched Spivey Records, a low-budget label dedicated to blues, jazz, and related music, prolifically recording established artists, including Sippie Wallace, Lucille Hegamin, Otis Rush, Otis Spann, Willie Dixon, Roosevelt Sykes, Big Joe Turner, Buddy Tate, and Hannah Sylvester, and also newer artists, including Luther Johnson, Brenda Bell, Washboard Doc, Bill Dicey, Robert Ross, Sugar Blue, Paul Oscher, Danny Russo, and Larry Johnson.
In March 1962 Spivey and Big Joe Williams recorded for Spivey Records, with harmonica accompaniment and backup vocals by Bob Dylan. The recordings were released on Three Kings and the Queen (Spivey LP 1004) and Kings and the Queen Volume Two (Spivey LP 1014). (Dylan was listed under his own name on the record covers.) In 1964 Spivey made her only recording with an all-white band, the Connecticut-based Easy Riders Jazz Band, led by the trombonist Big Bill Bissonnette. It was released first on an LP and later re-released on compact disc.
Spivey married four times; her husbands included Ruben Floyd and Billy Adams.
Spivey died in New York on October 3, 1976, at the age of 69, from an internal hemorrhage.
- Woman Blues! (1961, with Lonnie Johnson)
- Music Down Home: An Introduction to Negro Folk Music, U.S.A. (1965)
- The Blues Is Life (1976)
- Classic Piano Blues from Smithsonian Folkways (2008)
- Classic female blues
- List of blues musicians
- List of classic female blues singers
- List of country blues musicians
- List of vaudeville performers: L–Z
- Spivey Records
- "Victoria Spivey Papers". Emory Libraries. Retrieved March 2, 2012.
- "MC 057: Guide to the Victoria Spivey Collection, 1925–1940, 1961–1976, Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University". Scc.rutgers.edu. October 2013. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
- Skelly, Richard. "Victoria Spivey: Biography". AllMusic.com. Retrieved March 2, 2012.
- "Victoria Spivey". Thebluestrail.com. Retrieved November 19, 2011.
- "Elton Island Spivey: Biography". AllMusic.com. 1971-06-25. Retrieved 2016-08-21.
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. pp. 168–69. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- Harrison, Daphne Duval (1990). Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920s. New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London: Rutgers. p. 149. ISBN 0-8135-1280-8.
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 12. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- "Hallelujah!". IMDB.com. Retrieved March 2, 2012.
- Gray, Michael (2006). The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. pp. 630–631.
- Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'n' Roll Years. London: Reed International Books. p. 293. CN 5585.
- "Smithsonian Folkways, Music Down Home: An Introduction to Negro Folk Music, U.S.A." Folkways.si.edu. 2013-03-20. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
- "Smithsonian Folkways, The Blues Is Life". Folkways.si.edu. 2013-03-20. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
- "Smithsonian Folkways, Classic Piano Blues from Smithsonian Folkways". Folkways.si.edu. 2013-03-20. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
- Cohn, Lawrence, ed. (1993). Nothing but the Blues: The Music and the Musicians. New York: Abbeville Publishing Group. ISBN 1-55859-271-7.
- Victoria Spivey's record label
- Guide to the Victoria Spivey Collection, 1925-1940, 1961-1976, Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University - Newark
- Victoria Spivey papers, circa 1960–1976, Emory University Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library
- Biography on Red Hot Jazz website
- Illustrated Spivey Records discography Stefan Wirz