For a period of time in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it appeared that Queen Sylvia Embry was going to emerge as one of Chicago’s leading blues women. After she emerged from her role as bass player for Lefty Dizz and the Shock treatment in the late 1970s, she began fronting her own small band in South Side clubs and making guest appearances on the North Side circuit. Everywhere she went, her big smile, warm stage presence, rich gospel-rooted voice and solid bass playing won her new fans.
There were (and are) only a few professional-quality instrumentalists among the city’s blues women, and only one other playing bass. “I played piano when I first started out as a kid,” Sylvia recalled, “and I got away from it because my grandmother was very strict. She demanded I play gospel, and I wanted to play a little boogie-woogie. I was crazy about Chuck Berry and Lloyd Price; I didn’t care for blues then. My grandmother and her friends would drink white lightning and play blues records at their little outdoor cookouts, but she didn’t want me to do it.” To please her family, Sylvia sang in church choirs, even in a professional gospel group, The Southern Echoes, while a teenager. But at the age of nineteen, her ambitions grew bigger than the tiny town of Wabbaseka, Arkansas (where she was born in 1941) could hold. “I always wanted to be an actress or a vocalist. So I left home, went to Memphis. But unfortunately I got married, started to raise a family. I really didn’t trust leaving my home with someone else, so I was mainly a common housewife.”