Born: October 15, 1906 | Died: 1976 Primary Instrument: Vocal
Victoria Spivey was one of the few female blues vocalists of the 1920s to continue her career well beyond the classic blues era. In addition to being a stage performer and recording artist, Spivey was also a witty songwriter and shrewd businesswoman. Her keen grasp of the business end of he blues enabled her to keep touring and making records long after nearly all the other classic blues singers of the 1920s had faded from the scene.
As a blues singer, Spivey did not compare with the towering talent of Bessie Smith or Ida Cox; Spivey's voice might have lacked refinement and range, but her moaning wais and country blues phrasing not only reflected her Texas roots but also made her blues believable. Spivey wrote some of the more penetratingly direct blues songs of the classic blues era. ''T-B Blues'' deal with the rejection that tuberculosis victims faced in the 20's. ''Dope Head Blues'' might well have been the first blues song recorded about the dangers of cocaine, while ''Organ Grinder Blues'' dripped with eroticism.
Spivey began her career by singing and playing piano in Houston saloons and whorehouses. She recorded her first song, ''Black Snake Blues,'' in 1926 for the Okeh label. Based out of Missouri in the late '20s, Spivey worked as a songwriter for the St. Louis Music Company and appeared in the all-black movie musical Hallelujah! In the 1930s she recorded for Victor, Vocalion, Decca, and Okeh and appeared as a featured performer in a number of musical shows, including the acclaimed Hellzapoppin' Revue. Spivey worked countless one-night stands, mostly in New York City, often working with dancer Billy Adams.
In the 1950s, Spivey left show business, singing only in the church. But she came back to the blues in 1962 when she formed her own record company, Spivey Records, and resumed performing. Her timing was such that she was able to capitalize on the growing interest in blues and folk music. Spivey played major blues and folk festivals in the U.S. and Europe and recorded old-time classic blues singers like Alberta Hunter on her label. Spivey continued to perform until her death in 1976.