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Mendhi hands by Pushpa Jain. Photographer unknown. All rights reserved.Fish decoy. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Embroidered dress detail. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Cedar bird by Glen VanAntwerp. Photo by Al Kamuda. All rights reserved.
Michigan Heritage Awards

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Photo by Bill Mitchum

Photo by Bill Mitchum

Sippie Wallace
1985 awardee, Farmington Hills (Oakland County), blues singer

Several major U.S. cities lay claim to legendary blues singer Sippie Wallace, who spent the majority of her adult years in Detroit. Born Beulah Thomas in Houston, Texas, November 1,1898, she sang and played piano early on in the Baptist church. Sippie's brother, Hersal, played piano and before she was 13 years old they were performing together. In 1915, they moved to New Orleans to pursue music. 1923 was a landmark year for Sippie; along with her brothers, Hersal and George, she moved to Chicago in the midst of a vital, live jazz scene. By the end of the year, her first two singles, "Shorty George" and "Up the Country Blues," on Okeh Records were hits. Sippie wrote many of the 40 songs she recorded between 1923 and 1927, and her powerful musical abilities prompted the record label to bring in respected jazz musicians, such as Louis Armstrong and big band leader King Oliver, for recording sessions.

Sippie almost completely stopped recording and performing publicly after 1936, when both her husband, Matt, and brother, George, died. She moved to Detroit, and for the following 30 years, her musical talent and artistry graced the ears and hearts of the members of the Leland Baptist Church in Detroit, where she was the organist and vocalist. In 1966, she released a new album with friend Victoria Spivey, who helped convince Sippie to begin performing again at blues and folk festivals. Bonnie Raitt, who had covered several of Sippie's songs on her records, also helped encourage her to emerge again into the blues and jazz scenes. In 1983, Bonnie produced the album Sippie, which landed the 85-year-old a Grammy nomination and a W.C. Handy Award for best blues album of the year. In the last years before her death in 1986, Sippie continued to sing, often with the Jim Dapogney Jazz Band, to the delight of her many fans.

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