Estelle Yancey

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Estelle Yancey
Estella and Jimmy Yancey.jpg
Estelle and Jimmy Yancey (early 1940s)
Background information
Birth name Estelle Harris
Also known as Mama Estella Yancey
Born (1896-01-01)January 1, 1896
Cairo, Illinois, United States
Died April 19, 1986(1986-04-19) (aged 90)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Genres Blues, boogie-woogie
Occupation(s) Singer
Years active 1950s–1980s
Labels Atlantic
Associated acts Jimmy Yancey

Estelle "Mama" Yancey (January 1, 1896 – April 19, 1986) was an American blues singer. She was nominated four times for the Blues Music Awards as "Traditional Blues Female Artist."[1]

Life and career[edit]

Yancey, born Estella Harris in Cairo, Illinois, grew up in Chicago, where she sang in church choirs and learned how to play the guitar.[2] In 1925, when she was 29, she married Jimmy Yancey,[3] who had traveled the U.S. and Europe as a vaudeville dancer. She often sang with him at informal get-togethers and house parties in the 1940s and performed with him at Carnegie Hall, New York in 1948. Because Jimmy Yancey was a great boogie-woogie/blues piano player, Estelle recorded several times with her husband. In 1943, the Yanceys recorded for Session Records, and went back into the studio to record the album Pure Blues for Atlantic Records in 1951. The session was just a few months before Jimmy Yancey's death that same year.[4]

Estelle continued to perform and record. In her late years, she often performed with Chicago pianist Erwin Helfer, especially at University of Chicago Folk Festivals. One of the best examples of her soulful, expressive vocals can be found on an album for Atlantic Records, Jimmy and Mama Yancey: Chicago Piano, Vol. 1. (1952). Songs include "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor," "Four O'Clock Blues," "Monkey Woman Blues," "Santa Fe Blues," and "How Long Blues."

Mama Yancey's recordings with other pianists include "Mama Yancey, singer, Don Ewell, pianist" for Windin' Ball Recordings (1952), "Chicago--The Living Legends: South Side Blues" for the Riverside label (1961), "Mama Yancey sings, Art Hodes plays Blues" for Verve Records in 1965, Maybe I'll Cry with Erwin Helfer for the Red Beans label in 1983, recorded at ages 86–87, and "The Blues of Mama Yancey: Axel Zwingenberger and the Friends of Boogie Woogie, vol. 4 for Vagabond Records, recorded in 1982 and 1983 and released in 1988.

Estelle Yancey died April 19, 1986 in Chicago, Illinois.

Selective discography[edit]

Year Title Genre Label
1943 "How Long Blues," "Pallet On the Floor," and "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor" Blues Session
1951 Jimmy and Mama Yancey: Chicago Piano, Vol. 1. (Originally released as "Ma and Jimmy Yancey Special") Blues Atlantic
1983 Maybe I'll Cry Blues Red Beans


  1. ^ The Blues Foundation Blues Music Awards
  2. ^ Harris, Sheldon. Blues Who's Who (Revised Ed.). New York: Da Capo Press, p. 591, (1994). ISBN 0-306-80155-8
  3. ^ Bowers, Jane (2000). "Writing the Biography of a Black Woman Blues Singer". In Moisala, Pirkko; Diamond, Beverley. Music and Gender. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 145. 
  4. ^ Santelli, Robert. The Big Book of Blues: A Biographical Encyclopedia, page 532, (2001) - ISBN 0-14-015939-8

External links[edit]