Edith Wilson (singer)

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Wilson as Aunt Jemima in a 1956 appearance for the Seattle Kiwanis Club Pancake Festival

Edith Wilson (September 2, 1896 – March 30, 1981) was an American blues singer and vaudeville performer.[1][2]


She was born Edith Goodall in Louisville, Kentucky. Her first professional experience came in 1919 in Louisville's Park Theater.[2] The singer Lena Wilson and her brother, Danny, performed in Louisville; Edith married Danny and joined their act as a trio. Danny, a pianist who had trained at a conservatory in Charleston, South Carolina, encouraged Lena and Edith to sing not just blues but other song forms as well.[3] Together the trio performed on the East Coast in 1920–21, and when they were in New York City Wilson was picked up by Columbia, who recorded her in 1921 with Johnny Dunn's Jazz Hounds.[4] She signed with Columbia in 1921 recorded 17 tunes with Dunn in 1921–22. In 1924 she worked with Fletcher Henderson in New York, where she was slated to sing with Coleman Hawkins, but Hawkins refused to perform because he wanted additional compensation for the performance. She remained a popular Columbia artist through 1925.[2]

Wilson recorded far less than other female blues stars of the 1920s like Bessie Smith (after she left Columbia in 1925, she recorded one record for Brunswick in 1929 and a handful of sides for Victor in 1930); she remained a nightclub and theater singer, working for years on the New York entertainment scene. She sang with Florence Mills in the Lew Leslie Plantation Review in Harlem, and made several trips to England, where she was well received. She sang with The Hot Chocolates revue, performing alongside Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller, and made appearances with Bill Robinson, Duke Ellington, Alberta Hunter, Cab Calloway, and Noble Sissle.[2]

Wilson also did extensive work as an actress, appearing on radio with Amos and Andy and on film in To Have and Have Not (1944). Shortly after World War II Wilson became the face of Aunt Jemima pancake mix. She retired from active performance in 1963, becoming executive secretary for the Negro Actors Guild, but made a comeback in 1973 to play with Eubie Blake, Little Brother Montgomery, and Terry Waldo.[2] Her last live show was given at the 1980 Newport Jazz Festival.[2]

Wilson died in Chicago in March 1981.[2][1]


  1. ^ a b Associated Press (April 1, 1981). "Edith Wilson, Actress And Jazz Vocalist, 84". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-01-01. Edith Wilson, a singer, actress and vaudeville performer for more than six decades, died yesterday at the age of 84. ... 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Biography by Frank Powers". Allmusic.com. Retrieved December 22, 2009. 
  3. ^ Wintz, Cary D. and Paul Finkelman (2004). Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, Volume 1. Taylor & Francis. p. 163. ISBN 1-57958-389-X
  4. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 12. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.