Victoria Spivey

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Victoria Spivey
Birth nameVictoria Regina Spivey
Born(1906-10-15)October 15, 1906
Houston, Texas, United States
DiedOctober 3, 1976(1976-10-03) (aged 69)
New York, United States
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter
InstrumentsVocals, piano
RCA Victor
Prestige Bluesville

Victoria Regina Spivey (October 15, 1906 – October 3, 1976),[1][2] sometimes known as Queen Victoria,[3] 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.[4] 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[edit]

Born in Houston, Texas,[5] 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),[4] who recorded for several major record labels between 1929 and 1937, and Elton Island Spivey Harris (1900–1971).[6][7]

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.[8] As a teenager, she worked in local bars, nightclubs, and buffet flats, mostly alone, but occasionally with singer-guitarists, including Blind Lemon Jefferson.[5] In 1926 she moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where she was signed by Okeh Records. Her first recording, "Black Snake Blues" (1926),[9] 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,[5] 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.[7]

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!.[10] 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.[5]

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.[5]

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.[11] A picture of her and Bob Dylan from this period is shown on the back cover of the Dylan album New Morning.) 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.

In Europe in the 1960s and 1970s, she appeared on French television, BBC-TV and Granada TV, but Americans may not have seen these screen appearances until their arrival on YouTube.[citation needed]

Spivey married four times; her husbands included Ruben Floyd, Billy Adams, and Len Kunstadt.[1]

Spivey died in New York on October 3, 1976, at the age of 69, from an internal hemorrhage.[4][12]

Selected discography[edit]


78 rpm singles - Okeh Records[edit]

8338A Victoria Spivey "Black Snake Blues" May 5, 1926
8338B Victoria Spivey "No More Jelly Bean Blues" May 11, 1926
8351A Victoria Spivey "Dirty Woman's Blues" May 5, 1926
8351B Victoria Spivey "Long Gone Blues" May 5, 1926
8370A Victoria Spivey "Spider Web Blues" August 12, 1926
8370B Victoria Spivey "Hoodoo Man Blues" August 11, 1926
8389A Victoria Spivey "Humored and Petted Blues" August 12, 1926
8389B Victoria Spivey "Blue Valley Blues" August 16, 1926
8401A Victoria Spivey "Big Houston Blues" August 13, 1926
8401B Victoria Spivey "Got the Blues So Bad" August 13, 1926
8410A Victoria Spivey "Its Evil Hearted Me" August 12, 1926
8410B Victoria Spivey "Santa Fe Blues" August 12, 1926
8464 Victoria Spivey "Idle Hour Blues" April 27, 1927
8464 Victoria Spivey "Steady Grind" April 27, 1927
8481 Victoria Spivey "Arkansas Road Blues" April 27, 1927
8481 Victoria Spivey "Alligator Pond Went Dry" April 27, 1927
8494 Victoria Spivey "No. 12 Let Me Roam" April 27, 1927
8494 Victoria Spivey "T.B Blues (West End Blues)" April 27, 1927
8517 Victoria Spivey "Christmas Morning Blues" October 28, 1927
8517 Victoria Spivey "Garter Snake Blues" October 28, 1927
8531 Victoria Spivey with L. Johnson "Dope Head Blues" October 28, 1927
8531 Victoria Spivey "Blood Thirsty Blues" October 31, 1927
8550 Victoria Spivey "Jelly Look What You Done Done" November 1, 1927
8550 Victoria Spivey "Red Lantern Blues" October 28, 1927
8565 Victoria Spivey "A Good Man is Hard to Find" November 1, 1927
8565 Victoria Spivey "Your Worries Ain't Like Mine" November 1, 1927
8581 Victoria Spivey "Nightmare Blues" October 31, 1927
8581 Victoria Spivey "Murder in the First Degree" October 31, 1927
8615 Victoria Spivey "My Handy Man" September 12, 1928
8615 Victoria Spivey "Organ Grinder Blues" September 12, 1928
8626 Victoria Spivey "New Black Snake Blues Part 2" October 13, 1928
8626 Victoria Spivey "New Black Snake Blues" October 13, 1928
8634 Victoria Spivey "No Papa No" October 17, 1928
8634 Victoria Spivey "Mosquito Fly and Flea" October 18, 1928
8652 Victoria Spivey/L. Johnson "Furniture Man #2 Blues" October 18, 1928
8652 Victoria Spivey "Furniture Man Blues" October 18, 1928
8713 Victoria Spivey "How Do They Do It That Way" July 10, 1929
8713 Victoria Spivey "Funny Feathers" July 10, 1929
8733 Victoria Spivey "You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now" July 3, 1929
8744A Lonnie Johnson/Victoria Spivey "Toothache Blues" October 17, 1928
8744B Lonnie Johnson/Victoria Spivey "Toothache Blues #2" October 18, 1928

78 rpm singles - Victor Records[edit]

23349 Victoria Spivey "Baulin Water Blues" June 26, 1930
23349 Victoria Spivey "Baulin Water Blues" (second version) June 26, 1930
38546 Victoria Spivey "Moaning the Blues" October 1, 1929
38546 Victoria Spivey "Telephoning the Blues" October 1, 1929
38570 Victoria Spivey "Bloodhound Blues" October 1, 1929
38570 Victoria Spivey "Dirty Tee Be Blues" October 1, 1929
38584 Victoria Spivey "New York Blues" February 4, 1930
38584 Victoria Spivey "Showered With the Blues" February 4, 1930
38598 Victoria Spivey "Haunted by the Blues" February 4, 1930
38598 Victoria Spivey "Lonesome With the Blues" February 4, 1930
38609 Victoria Spivey "You've Gotta Have What It Takes" June 26, 1930
38609 Victoria Spivey "You've Gotta Have What It Takes" (second version) June 26, 1930

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Victoria Spivey Papers". Emory Libraries. Retrieved March 2, 2012.
  2. ^ "MC 057: Guide to the Victoria Spivey Collection, 1925–1940, 1961–1976, Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University". October 2013. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  3. ^ Gates, Henry Louis, Cary D. Wintz, and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. 2009. Harlem Renaissance Lives: from the African American National Biography. United Kingdom, Oxford University Press. p. 469. ISBN 0195387953
  4. ^ a b c Skelly, Richard. "Victoria Spivey: Biography". Retrieved March 2, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Victoria Spivey". Retrieved November 19, 2011.
  6. ^ "Elton Island Spivey: Biography". 1971-06-25. Retrieved 2016-08-21.
  7. ^ a b Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. pp. 168–69. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 12. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  10. ^ "Hallelujah!". Retrieved March 2, 2012.
  11. ^ Gray, Michael (2006). The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. pp. 630–631.
  12. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'n' Roll Years. London: Reed International Books. p. 293. CN 5585.
  13. ^ "Smithsonian Folkways, Music Down Home: An Introduction to Negro Folk Music, U.S.A." 2013-03-20. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  14. ^ "Smithsonian Folkways, The Blues Is Life". 2013-03-20. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  15. ^ "Smithsonian Folkways, Classic Piano Blues from Smithsonian Folkways". 2013-03-20. Retrieved 2015-08-30.


External links[edit]