There is a story circulating about Ida Cox that addresses Ms. Cox's 1934 billing as "The Sepia Mae West" at the newly re-opened Apollo. This story, which may very possibly be apocryphal, explains why this title might have gone deeper than a marketing ploy exploiting the white singer's significant celebrity at the time. It seems that, rather than Ida Cox being a "Sepia Mae West" it was actually the other way around: Mae West was a pale imitation of Ida Cox, because Ida had taught her those dangerous and sexy moves.2 Ms. Cox gave Chris Albertson another reason for the pseudonym that he recounted in his biography, Bessie. She said that her billing as "The Sepia Mae West" kept her identity secret from the possible venom of Bessie Smith, who never appreciated sharing her marquis with any other performer and particularly not with Ida Cox.
Whether or not her tutelage of Mae West actually took place, those of us who never witnessed Ida Cox perform might gain some sense of the power of her performance (if we kick Mae West's considerably powerful performance up a notch) and why she was often billed, "The Uncrowned Queen of the Blues." Although Ms. Ida's business was Chicago based, she carried a personal and professional connection to New York that was unquestionable. This connection went beyond her periods of performance in New York.3 Ida Cox's style - her glamour, her sense of self-possession, her independence, her cool and, most tellingly, her determination to "put you wise"- took New York (or, more specifically, Harlem) to the rest of the country.
As the curtain lifted, the house orchestra, against a background of black hanging, held the full stage. The saxophone began to moan, the drummer tossed his sticks. One was transported involuntarily. . . to a Harlem cabaret. . . [as] the orchestra struck up a slower . . . still more mournful strain.
The hangings parted and a great brown woman emerged, stunning in white satin, studded with rhinestones. Her face was beautiful, with the rich, ripe beauty of southern darkness, a deep bronze brown . . . She walked to the footlights; then as the accompaniment of the wailing, muted brasses, the monotonous African beat . . . the dromedary glide of Jesse Crump . . . fingers over the . . . keys, she began her strange rites in "a voice full of moanin' and prayin' and sufferin'" . . . the singer swaying slightly to the rhythm . . .4
Historian Daphne Duval Harrison says of Cox, "It was this sense of self, understanding of her art, and awareness of her audiences' needs and desires that propelled Cox to such a high level of appreciation. ... Audiences understood that Cox was able to take the substance of their pain, elevate it and transform it to match their feelings."5 Clearly, Ida Cox carried more than style to her audiences around the country: although meaningful in its own right, her style also functioned as a delivery system for counsel of sharp and serious substance. This article is dedicated to the intellectual substance at the core of her counsel.6 And the delivery system for that counsel was the blues.
Let us, at this moment, take on a question that may run as a current underneath a discussion of the blues in a book on intellectual activity: why should a chapter on Blueswomen be included in a series of articles on "Street Scholars and Stepladder Radicals?" Aren't the Blues emotional rather than intellectual, and the women that sing them not intellectual thinkers but embodied actors invoking visceral reaction instead of considered response? Can thinking and feeling go on in the same space? What do ordinary people know of intellectual process? And even when they know, what do they care? This special issue of Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, "Street Scholars and Stepladder Radicals: Self-Trained Black Historians and the New York Experience, 1890-1965," offers a fundamental challenge to the supposition that everyday people live their lives disconnected from issues of intellect. On the contrary, intellectuality with its qualities of assessment and analysis of experience emerge as inseparable from the problem solving activities in which people normally engage as they live their lives. These processes of thought are the tools of our very survival. It is not solely the practice of those who have inherited African Diasporic culture to reach outside of scholarship for such tools. We identify and develop these tools not only through reading and writing but through other essential strategies which include song, drama and story.
In his essay, "The Storyteller," Walther Benjamin discusses the crucial difference between novel and story in Russian literature. Dependent on the book for its existence, the novel presents information wrapped up in the puzzling intricacies of modern life.7 On the other hand, the story is essentially an oral form and exists to propagate the practical wisdom gained from experience.8 Benjamin links the flowering of this written, novelistic form to the historical rise of a middle class, while the roots of story are embedded in the earth - the common ground of common people. We reach wisdom, then, through the distillation of experience that story represents. Although Western academic tradition may be loath to admit it, this extra-literary tradition represents the soul of intellectual practice.
Benjamin's essay articulates the dichotomy, real or imagined, between oral and written forms of discourse that questions the feasibility of intellectual activity or aesthetic sensitivity among that group of people known as peasants, the masses, or the lump in lumpen proletariat: this same common people. The locus, depth and appropriateness of wise counsel having been established, how then, do we address the perceived schism between scholar and performer that Historians and Blueswomen appear to represent? Surely, the very notion of Street Scholars challenges the concept that intellectuality belongs in the ivory tower or the salon, anywhere but the street. This special issue, however, concerns scholars whose intellectual activity is focused on the street and the people who inhabit it.
"Street orators and stepladder radicals" provided information for "the people," while they reflected, articulated and further stimulated their already vigorous intellectual buzz and stir. Although such intellectuals as John Edward Bruce, Hubert Henry Harrison and John Henrik Clarke were prolific writers, it was as orators that they engaged that population of African American working people whose traditions and cultural practice lay not so much in written as in oral expression. In his Introduction to Street Scholars: The Contribution and Struggle of Selftrained Black Historians and Stepladder Radicals, 1905-1945, Ralph Crowder writes, "This [street oratory] was a persistent practice in large Black urban communities throughout America. The street corner meeting was especially common and an influential tradition in Harlem while gaining the reputation of 'the university and church of the streets.'"9 Irma Watkins-Owens' reference to both university and church is particularly appropriate here for it is from traditions of African Diasporic worship that these communal practices of support for the verbal or musical artist spring.
Rather than performer and audience, the aesthetic of African American cultural practice in community involves all of the attendees at an event in its creation. Those who within a Western European aesthetic might be considered "performers" are, in African Diasporic aesthetic, more the focus of a communal activity than its source. Within this event - when speaker and speech are appropriate - the speaker is approved to serve as the temporary and immediate voice of community. Zora Neale Hurston addresses this relationship in The Sanctified Church in which she writes that these "peroration[s]" respond to the need to "bear up" the speaker.10 "The best figure I can think of is that the prayer is an obbligato over and above the harmony of the assembly."11 It is not unusual, in such situations, to hear communal exhortations as "Speak!" or "That's what I'm talking about!" or "Amen" whether the verbal or musical artistry takes place in or outside of a religious setting.12
This cultural ethos, that sweeps everyone in a space up into the creation of an event, is evident in an oratory that may meld chant or song, movement or dance with speech in order to fulfill its communal obligations. This is the oratory of the African Diasporic community and the practice in which Street Scholars and Stepladder Radicals had to excel in order to survive in their arena of choice (or the arena that was chosen for them). This arena of communal expression links Street Scholars and Blueswomen as certainly as does the substance of their activity. They shared not only substance, they shared the demand to invoke and work within this sacred, communal arena. O'Neal's reference to Ida Cox as priestess is not irrelevant or off-handed but directly in line with her communal role: a role which she, as a Blueswoman, shared with Street Scholars and Stepladder Radicals as they spoke to and for community. Here, the roots of Black Theater and Black Oratory entwined with the traditional and communal functions of the Blues13
The blues that Ms. Ida wrote, performed and recorded had taken shape over generations. Musicologist and Historian Eileen Southern identifies three overarching blues genres: country blues, classic or city blues and urban blues.14 She writes,
The country blues represents the earliest type, the singing of one man to the accompaniment of a guitar. ... The city blues was sung by women in the 1920's and 30s to the accompaniment of a piano or orchestra, and was apt to be more sophisticated in tone than the country blues. The term urban blues is used to apply to blues of the 40s and later, ... . Each of these three types includes, of course, a wide diversity of styles and structures, although the city blues generally retains the "classic" three-line a-a-b form.
As cultural practice and art form, the blues are much older than their appearance outside of black communities would suggest. They seem to have been not a precursor but a form that grew concurrently with spirituals and ragtime. In The Music of Black Americans, A History, Southern states that, along with ragtime, the blues was a music created in black communities for black entertainment but also, more profoundly, at black emotional and creative need. "Of particular relevance here is that the black music maker developed a distinctive style of entertainment music, fitted to his own personal needs and expressive of his own individuality." She writes further, "it was not intended to be heard or understood by whites."15
Vaudeville in the early twentieth century United States was one developmental step between the American blackface minstrelsy of the nineteenth century and American musical theater as it developed in the twentieth. Black Vaudeville is representative, on one side, of a stunning racial diversity that existed in the country and was visible on its stages.16 It represents, as well, a profound racism like a fault woven into the fabric of American life, the result of the public relations necessary to construct a permanently bound, racially marked slave/servant underclass in a country supposedly built for the access to, and the support of, freedom. This skewed public relations effort enjoyed multi-media presentation and one such medium was the popular stage. Black performers were not welcome on the stages of white theaters, with white performers and (supposedly) before white audiences.17
This racial divide presented problems but it also supplied opportunities. As the post-Reconstruction South became increasingly more dangerous, the early twentieth century United States witnessed one of the greatest internal migrations in its history. Thousands of working class African Americans born in the rural South sought freedom from the American nightmare by moving to the urban South and on to the urban North and Midwest toward the American dream. Too often the nightmare followed them, waiting in the factories, streets, public accommodations and private homes of Northern cities. Working class African Americans found themselves faced with the painful, racist American experience without the beauty of home or the social structures of family and extended relationship developed over centuries to protect them from it. Black Vaudeville provided some relief, lightening the difficult, often treacherous lives they found throughout the urban North and Midwest of the United States.
The roster members of the Theater Owners Booking Association (TOBA)18 presented an art that had its roots deep in the lives of those who paid 50 cents to sec it. This was a people's art that reflected a people's sensibility. The blues as an African diasporic art form demands that those experiencing its creation take active part - be "active witnesses" - in this event which fuses individual experience into communal experience. Active witness requires active interaction between audience and performers and between audience members themselves. This interaction may take any number of forms: "audience" members may call out, sing, move, dance, clap, etc. because their involvement provides an important part of the creation of the event. Thus the meaning of the art is enhanced by the intensity of the experience. Working class African American audiences - and others as well - made such profoundly cathartic connections with the blues.
It was this connection that rocketed early twentieth century blues empresses, queens and garden variety magnificent women to community based national (and, at times, international) stardom. "Race records" (so named to reflect the mistaken idea that since only Black people made them, and only Black people would seek to listen to them) took many of these women off the stage into the recording studio, actually "kick-starting" the recording industry.19 The blues these women wrote and recorded, being marketed through every available outlet, literally soaked the social fabric of the United States with African Diasporic physical and emotional sensibility.20
Blueswomen hold an undeniably important place in twentieth century cultural life. Why, then, have so many been so long forgotten, their contributions afforded such limited scholarly acknowledgement? The reasons for this exclusion form the basis of this paper. I propose that the music these women wrote, performed and recorded represented a dangerously alternative self-presentation which flew in the face of mainstream ideas of acceptable "true" or "republican" womanhood. They expressed an organic intellectuality that countered African American middle-class societal values. This paper will examine the work of one such blueswoman, Ida Cox, within the context of her life and times. It will also explore the question and context of womanly virtue while examining the themes of intellectuality, individuality, sexuality and independence - women's control over their thought processes, their business(es), their bodies and their relationships - that emerge from this body of work. A discussion of "organic intellectuality" is integral to the completion of this task.
Intellectuality represents a range of mental activities which, interlocking, support each other providing clarity in and guidance through the human condition. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "intellect" as "That faculty, or sum of faculties, of the mind or soul by which one knows or reasons (excluding sensation, and sometimes imagination; distinguished from feeling and will); power of thought; understanding. Rarely in reference to the lower animals."21 This is a classless definition referring to all humankind.
The question of the definition of intellectuality, and the understanding of its function is crucial to our discussion. Imprisoned for radical activism by a fascist government, Marxist activist Antonio Gramsci articulated a conception of intellectuality that would enjoy application far beyond the confines of the Italian Communist party to which he dedicated his life. At the beginning of his Prison Notebooks he asks this question: "Are intellectuals an autonomous and independent social group, or does every social group have its own particular specialized category of intellectuals?" In his answer we find a definition of the intellectual's purpose that is crucial to our understanding the importance of self-trained historians, stepladder radicals and Blueswomen in poor and working class African American communities at the beginning of the twentieth century. "Every social group ... creates together with itself, organically, one or more strata (read 'classes' or 'groups') of intellectuals which give it homogeneity and an awareness of its own function not only in the economic but also in the social and political fields."22 Each social group will then, according to Gramsci, generate for itself not just one but many types of intellectuals, each shaped by a response to the need which they perceive and to which they can respond. I identify this response to communal need in four phases: 1) acknowledgement of a problem, 2) analysis and assessment of the problem, 3) articulation of findings, and 4) recommendation as to action. Working class African Americans found themselves in need of such intra-communal support as they faced the forces that moved them toward and met them after The Great Migration in the early years of the Twentieth century in the United States. The blues were an important source of extra-regional sense. General usage, however, has disconnected intellectuality and art from the wider community and made it the sphere of a distinct minority, often connected to wealth and academic, intra-communal support.
Southern planters were visibly and vocally concerned by problems with their labor supply in the opening years of the 20th century. Black people were leaving. In 1915, the United States Department of Labor ordered an investigation into "the disturbing labor condition in the South." A team of researchers, led by Virginian James H. Dillard, Ph.D produced Negro Migration: 1916-1917. In his contribution, "The Negro Exodus from the South," W. T. B. Williams reported,
...there can be little doubt that several hundred thousand Negroes, mainly men, have left the South in this movement. The wives and children are swelling the lists of those that are still leaving. And the end is not yet in sight.
Focusing on the issues of Black men, the commission was quite clear in its findings: educational opportunity for children, increased economic opportunity and social flexibility were major concerns for migrant family men. In Race Riot: Chicago and the Red Summer of 1919, William M. Turtle, Jr. writes "Education, or rather inaccessibility to it, was a potent driving force. Black parents longed to provide better opportunities for their children, and basic to this desire was schooling. 'I want a good paying job," wrote a Mississippian, 'that I may be able to educate my children.'"23 Tuttle reports that especially in regions that brought in a cotton crop, the school year for Black children could be as much as two months shorter than that for white.24 Differences in income were significant. The $2.00 weekly wage could be made in a day in Chicago.25 Jacqueline Jones quotes the remarks of a Chicago stockyard worker to the Commission on Race Relations on his wife's options for labor in Mississippi.
Men and women had to work in the fields. A woman was not permitted to remain at home if she felt like it. If she was found at home some of the white people would come to ask why she was not in the field and tell her she had better get to the field or else abide by the consequences. After the summer crops were in, any of the white people could send for any Negro woman to come and do the family washing at 75 cents to $1.00 a day. If she sent word she could not come she had to send an excuse why she could not come. They were never allowed to stay at home as long as they were able to go. Had to take whatever they paid you for your work.
The promise of change in the status of Black women was one of the most profound social changes the end of slavery produced. But Black social advancement had more dangerous meanings in the south and the "consequences" to which this man alluded could be serious.
In Under Sentence of Death: Lynching in the South W. Fitzhugh Brundage quotes a Black man, John Dollard, in 1937: "Every Negro in the south knows that he is under a kind of sentence of death; he does not know when his turn will come, it may never come, but it may also be any time."27 The Southeastern United State saw 5000 murders of African American men, women and children between 1880 and 1930; 486 of these were in Georgia alone. These lynchings were not hidden, clandestine affairs. They were mob-driven, whole community events from which participants often took pictures or other, more organic souvenirs. Nor did lynching solely involve hanging. Those unfortunate enough to be caught in this performance of violence were often burned alive, mutilated and bullet ridden. In "North Carolina Lynching Ballads," Bruce E. Baker writes, "When the social order had been disturbed, the response of the community was to reestablish it by silencing the action or statement that had caused the disturbance."28 In the cases of Black people during this period, the nature of the disturbance could be attempting to vote, not taking off your hat, suspicion of rape, impudence, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or murder. Since the "social disturbance" could take any of these forms, women or children (even unborn children) were not exempt. Valdosta, Georgia witnessed the horrific lynching of Mary Turner, a pregnant woman, in 1918.29 Women had, however, other threats to face.
Rape was a real and present danger for African American women in the South. The ways in which they responded to sexual harassment, the threat of rape, and rape itself were as different as the women themselves. Women who worked as domestics for white families often found themselves the target of sexual interest that they did not seek or encourage. This situation was further complicated by an ageold American portrayal of Black women as immoral and sexually promiscuous.
Darlene Clark Hine has suggested a "Culture of Dissemblence" among Black women in the United States. The danger of speaking, or of speaking up for yourself, could bring penalties on yourself or any member of your family.30 Many chose silence. Hine argues "that a secret, undisclosed persona allowed the individual black woman to function, to work effectively as a domestic in white households, to bear and rear children, endure the domestic violence of frequently under- or unemployed mates, to support churches, found institutions, and engage in social service activities - all while living within a clearly hostile white, patriarchal, middle-class America."31 They had good reason to dissemble and, perhaps, even better reason to leave.
This Great Migration coincides with United States history's Progressive Age during which social reforms began to change the relationship between the government and the working poor. Often, however, Black women found themselves poorly represented among those for whom assistance was readily available. In many cases, young women who moved to urban centers in search of greater employment opportunity and a safer existence, finding both white and blue collar employment closed to them, were forced into prostitution to survive.
An upsurge of black, female philanthropy rose to fill the gap felt by migrants to urban centers. Jacqueline Jones writes, "Members of the "Old Elite" (relatively prosperous natives or long-term northerners) and the wives of a new class of ghetto businessmen and professionals joined forces to help working women, and they served as the driving force behind programs duplicated in cities throughout the North: day nurseries, homes for young working women and for the elderly."32 Such philanthropic activity is exemplified in the founding of the National Association of Colored Women (1896) as well as the work of Mary Church Terrell, its first president, who coined the phrase, "Lifting as we climb." All over the urban landscape, middle class women rose to the challenge of providing guidance, protection and support for their poor and working class Black sisters. Mary Church Terrell, active in Washington, D. C., Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin in Boston, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett in Chicago and Nannie H. Burroughs in Louisville, Kentucky represented true leader/activists who participated in a nationwide nineteenth and twentieth century version of traditional Black communal support.33
These middle-class women also undertook the reconstitution of Black women's reputations. The middle class vision of "republican womanhood" as historically developed in the United States - and its subsequent expectations of feminine appropriateness and limitation came along with the middle class helping hand. These women's clubs point up the cross class dynamics of the age. For it was in these settings that poor, working class and middle and upper class African American women often encountered each other. The myth of a monolithic, Black community is broken at this point, for in this interaction we begin to see clearly the cross-class dynamics at work in these relationships and the tensions these dynamics caused.
There is a popular publicity photo of Ida Cox, "The Uncrowned Queen of the Blues." It is a curious choice for a "wild woman" - even for a queen: Her eyes are cast down and her hair is swept up. The effect is graceful and her aspect is almost - but not quite - demure. This is the picture of a lady. It is quite unlike any other public relations photo of a blues singer of the period. One might be almost certain that, as her own most active promoter, she chose the picture herself. This picture, combined with her songs and what little we know of Ms. Ida's life, present a complex image of Ida Cox as an individual and as a performer - both as model and as mentor. Through this picture we begin to see what she might have represented to the thousands of women who left a rural southern experience behind for a more urban America, as did she. Later when visited by homesickness, or the new life felt too intense, or a relationship got out of hand, they bought her records. She, along with many other female blues singers during that period, articulated their concerns and addressed their issues. They listened to her counsel and allowed it to subtly inform the shape of their choices as they navigated their "great migration" through a racist, classist and gender-biased society. She was a woman who lived a blues reality, as did they. Together they were Blueswomen.
"A Tribute to Blueswomen: Beauty and the Blues," was commissioned by The Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, N.Y. and premiered there by myself and Blue Wave (Bertha Hope, piano, Carlene Rae, bass and Paula Hampton, drums) in 1998. We told the songs and stories of Blueswomen who emerged from 1925 to 1985 but first we had to define them. "A Blueswoman is: First, any woman who writes, sings or plays the blues. Second, any woman who stands solid and talks straight. She has the courage to feel joy and the strength to feel pain. Her love is deep and real. But Lord, don't let her get mad at you...." The intellectuality this woman exhibits is shaped as is everyone else's: necessity-based inquiry based on information that is sought out or received, subjected to a rigorous ontological framework, then tested to see whether it fits or changes previously held assumption. I propose that the blues these women wrote, sang and listened to abundantly exhibited this process.
Further, in the move toward social change, artists have a special place. They are found working in relation to issues of import to the community: acknowledging, synthesizing and articulating them. In this activity, they function according to Antonio Gramsci's conception of "organic intellectuals" - those who rise from oppressed community to perform these services, essentially providing information in a form upon which their hearers can act.
The scholarship addressing Blueswomen (both as creators and as performers) and their unquestioned importance to this community has acknowledged some of the aspects of the relationship while leaving others untouched. In her groundbreaking essay, "It Jus Be's Dat Way Sometime: The Sexual Politics of Women's Blues,"34 Hazel Carby speaks to the independent voice of the blueswoman and her articulation of sexual autonomy and personal freedom. Coming out of the discipline of literary criticism, Carby's paper was called into being by the absence of black female sexuality from the predominantly white feminist discourse of the early 1980's. It is not at all surprising that she chose women's blues to respond to such a challenge: there is certainly plenty of sexual content there to find. This was, actually, a brilliant way of introducing Black female working class expression (both that of the blues and the literature that had grown up around it) into the flow of feminist discourse. All women are not middle-class nor are they white. Carby touches briefly on the wider topics this oeuvre includes, but her expressed interest is in the removal of black working class women's sexuality from the arena of the stereotypical, primitive and exotic. She is successful but because of the nature of her interest, the information she provides is limited.
Historian Daphne Duval Harrison's Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920s is the definitive historical treatment of early twentieth century Blueswomen to date providing context, information and interpretation. Dr. Harrison provides a clear view of the world in which poor and working class Black women found themselves at the beginning of the twentieth century. Her descriptions of the release from the strictures of church and small town living afforded young women by the T.O.B.A. are clarifying and enlightening. She goes far beyond Bessie Smith to introduce major figures in the field such as Victoria Spivey, Sippie Wallace, Edith Wilson and Alberta Hunter as well as performers who are less well remembered such as Trixie Smith, Clara Smith, Lucille Hegamin, Lizzie Miles, Chippie Hill and Ida Cox. She provides information from personal interviews (when they were possible) and archival research. And she supplies interpretations of repertoire that show the living connections between blues singers and the women whose experience they reflected and supported. She has provided a wonderful service with this fine book which opens the door for later research capable of looking more deeply into the lives of individual performers and their connection to time and place. This project represents one such contribution to the ensuing research.
Blues Legacies and Black Feminism is an extended essay on the every day feminisms of poor and working class black women as reflected in the blues. Professor Angela Davis has done the Herculean job of transcribing, presenting and interpreting every available song of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. She provides social context for the blues to show the ways in which they act as social commentary She visits the work of Billie Holiday as well. This is unquestionably an important book - both synthesis of pre-existing information and thought-provoking interpretations of song texts make this work more than useful. However, Dr. Davis makes arresting assertions concerning music that was created and collected during the slavery era that have a far-reaching effects on her conceptualization of the blues as a socio-cultural outgrowth of the twentieth century and the development of the African American society and culture from which the blues came. If all music-making was principally collective before emancipation, the blues or any form from which they could have been derived, would have been impossible before emancipation. They become a completely new development - as does individual expression - as a result of emancipation. This is a problematic historical concept.
There are two issues to consider around the circumstances under which the songs that we have from the slave era were obtained. First, there is the agenda of the observer/collector - who, in the nineteenth century, is often working within a Victorian framework. Often we find that what was collected says at least as much or more about the collector than it does about those whose art forms are being collected in any period. What we now have is more reflective of the interests and agendae of abolitionists and other observers than some indication of what was really there.35 It would be a grave mistake to suppose that what we have was all that existed. We have, for instance, very few of the lullabies sung to children although we know that they existed. And "putting the banjo" on someone - musical ostracization of a person for unacceptable behavior - could often be a solo affair picked up by individuals and groups in far-flung locations. Second, this music also reflects the agendae of those, black and white, who cared to present a certain persona and were in a position to decide what outsiders were allowed to hear. For all of their possible formal and structural aspects, musicologist Eileen Southern defines the blues as music created in privacy with no intended audience. If any audience was visualized, it certainly would not have been a white one. The blues was meant for black ears alone.
Human reality is often a complex affair. Much of the music of enslaved people that we have is, as Dr. Davis states, "quintessentially collective." If this was a new world phenomenon (or even a new world emphasis) representing a strategy built to express "the community's yearning for freedom," music-making in the slave quarter community had a specific, communal application to which it was well suited. If, on the other hand, this was a diasporic adaptation reflecting sets of new world African strategies and practices it might well have been only one of any number of practices, some of them distinctly not collective. Enslaved people did not live in a fish bowl and music made by individuals would be just those forms which could be practiced in private. If such forms existed and did predate those forms that we call "the blues," then "the blues" - and individual expression - have a root that reaches much deeper than the socio-political and cultural context of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century United States. The complex, nuanced human expression of complex individuals in an extremely difficult situation suggests that we may yet discover more varied forms of musical expression practiced by enslaved people - and the African roots for those practices - than some antebellum observers have afforded us. Blueswomen, Ida Cox among them, would then be practitioners of an African diasporic form developed over centuries as a mode of defense against the alienation and cruelty of a destructive and dehumanizing system. They would act then as "priestess" and not only as queen.
Ida Cox was born in Toccoa (Stephens County), Georgia on February 25th, 1896 and raised in Cedartown (Polk County), Georgia. Born Ira Prather in the shadow of Riverside, a plantation that still serves as a private residence for the (white) Prather family, it is possible that Ida's family had lived and worked in the area for quite some time. By age 14, Ida was gone: she entered the minstrel/vaudeville circuit as a singer and comedienne. Very little information is available on the direct causes for her departure at such an early age, but certain speculations might be made.
First, Ida had a strong, independent personality and, certainly in later years, a pretty quick tongue. Since it is reasonable to assume that the Prathers had at some point owned her family, she would have been expected to humble herself before them and every other white person she encountered. She may have found that an exceedingly difficult proposition. Second, as a young black woman (actually, as a woman of any color), she would have found few outlets for her considerable administrative, musical and theatrical talent outside of church.36 The theater circuit offered the opportunity to use and develop her talents.37 Third, there was great potential for success and economic gain in the performance world. Clearly, Ida Cox intended to be a star.38 Finally, there was the threat of violence. Although there are no reported lynchings in either Stephens or Polk Counties between 1880 and 1920, ChangetheName39 reports that lynching murders of black people by white mobs was unusually high in Georgia during this period. While lynching was on the decline (though by no means disappearing) all over the South, it was on the increase in Georgia. That in itself was enough reason to leave.40
The African American women who poured out of the rural West and South into increasingly urban experiences led lives that were challenging, exhilarating, depressing, wonderful, hard and complex. What were these women saying that Ida Cox makes us privy to? Ms. Ida wrote and recorded approximately 78 songs from 1923 through 1941. Among a wide array of subjects she addresses true manhood and true womanhood; hoodoo - an African Diasporic belief system as practiced in the United States; women's sexuality; fidelity, loss and grief; and the court system. The blues is conceptual, experiential and emotional. Being essentially a folk medium, a number of the lines in Cox songs (or those written by or with her husband, Jesse Crump) are not original but so old and constantly borrowed that one would be hard put to identify their point of origin.41 Others appear in no writing other than her own. You hear these women raving about their Monkey Men, about their lying husbands and their no-good friends. They sit around each day and moan wondering why their wandering Papas don't come home. But Wild Women don't worry. Wild Women don't have the blues.
In several songs, Monkey Men come into play. I have wondered seriously about this phrase. The importance of words in African Diasporic people's culture requires that no word be wasted, and the "Monkey Man" phrase is in a very important place. "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues" was recorded in 1925: the period of the Scopes trial and a time alive with discussions of Darwin's theories of evolution. A monkey would be in some way not human or perhaps pre-human, a lower form of life. Certain men had often been called "lowlifes" or "lower than a snake's belly." Might not a Monkey Man be the urban equivalent of a "lowlife," but something even worse: a man who is not fully evolved. He isn't even capable of acting like a man because he is truly a lower form of life. He is more monkey than he is man.42
This is a serious problem, or at least it would be if you did not follow Ms. Ida's lead. "Wild Women" have no difficulties with such men because they are free and in control. They are literally "large and in charge." There is not reason for a woman to be home worrying about where the "Monkey Man" might happen, at any given moment, to be: she is too busy living her life according to her "lights." And what if he doesn't like it? Her lyrics give clear advice: "I get full of good liquor/Walk the streets all night/Go home and put my man out/if he don't act right. Wild women don't worry/Wild women don't' have the blues." A truly "Wild Woman" does not need to defer to a domesticity and "true womanhood" to be given the permission to live a full and fulfilling life. She has given herself all the permission she requires.
"Chicago Monkey Man Blues" was recorded in March 1924. The move to Chicago was the dream of many a Black Southerner in the years between 1900 and 1941, women no less than men. "Goin' to Chicago, sorry but I can't take you" must certainly have been uttered by many men. In this instance, however, a woman does the leaving. She let's the man know that the reason she's leaving him is that he has nothing to offer her or anyone else. He is a Monkey Man.
Chicago Monkey Man Blues
I'm goin' to Chicago, sorry but I can't take you.
Yes I'm goin' to Chicago, sorry but I can't take you.
Cause there's nothin' on State Street, that a monkey man can do
I've got a monkey man here, a monkey man over there (2x).
If monkey men were money, I'd be a Chicago millionaire.
I've got fourteen men now, I only want one more.
I've got fourteen men now, and I only want one more.
As soon as I get one, I'll let these fourteen go.
Now I'm goin' to tell you, like the day goes so must you (2x).
When you nobody no money, mama can no usin' you
I can take my monkey men, and stand them all in lines (2x).
Anybody can count them, one two three four five six seven eight times.
A monkey man brings nothing to the table. Even fourteen monkey men are not worth one real one. When "Mama" finds herself supporting multiple men either they will have to leave or she will. No problem - she's going to Chicago and they can fend for themselves.
How powerful must an art form be that knows your greatest fears and articulates your deepest desires? Pink Slip Blues was recorded on October 31, 1939. At the height of the Great Depression, this blues is addressed to those whose last safety net - the government through the offices of the Works Project Administration - has broken through.
Pink Slip Blues
One day every week, I prop myself at my front door
One day every week, I prop myself at my front door
And the police couldn't move me for that mail man blow.
'Twas a little white paper Uncle Sam had done addressed to me
'Twas a little white paper Uncle Sam had done addressed to me
It meant one more week, one week of sweet prosperity
But bad news got to spreading, and my poor hair started turning grey.
But bad news got to spreading, and my poor hair started turning grey.
Cause Uncle Sam started chopping, cutting thousands off the W.P.A.
Just a little pink slip, in a long white envelope
Just a little pink, slip in a long white envelope
Was the end of my road, was the last ray of my only hope
After four long years, Uncle Sam done put me on the shelf
After four long years, Uncle Sam done put me on the shelf
Cause that little pink slip means you got to go for yourself
This woman is entirely dependent on the government at this point. Nothing can move her from the mailbox. Her living is so tenuous that prosperity is assessed from week to week. But the news that she might be cut off of the government rolls grayed her hair even before the event occurred. She is not alone. Thousands are losing their hope of one more week's worth of "sweet prosperity."
Ida Cox's "Fore Day Creep" is often mistakenly entitled, "Four Day Creep." It's that stealthy move that gets someone home before daybreak. Things are a little too clear in the light of day and some people might just question your intentions or your state of mind. Interestingly, Ms. Ida connects questionable intentions in a woman with economic distress but does not seem to draw the same implications from infidelity in a man. In the third verse, infidelity in a man is only to be expected as the natural state of affairs.
Fore Day Creep - Lyrics by Ida Cox
When you lose your money don't lose your mind
When you lose your money don't lose your mind
When you lose your good man please don't mess with mine.
And I'm gonna buy me a bulldog to watch my man while he sleeps
I'm gonna buy me a bulldog to watch my man while he sleeps
Men are so doggone crooked, afraid he might make a four day creep.
Girls I'm gonna tell you this, ain't gonna tell you nothin' else
Girls I'm gonna tell you this, ain't gonna tell you nothin' else
Any woman's a fool who thinks she's got a whole man by herself
But if you got a good man and don't want him taken away from you
Girls if you got a good man and don't want him taken away from you
Don't ever tell your friend woman what your man can do
Lord Lord I'm getting up in years
Lordy Lordy Lordy I'm getting up in years
But mama ain't too old to shift her gears
And I'm a big fat mama, got the meat shakin' on my bones
I'm a big fat mama, got the meat shakin' on my bones
And every time I shake, some skinny gal loses her home
By 1939, Ms. Ida's audience knew what it meant to "lose your money." It is unquestionably wise to advise those who have fallen on hard times that they should hold on to their mind but leave my man alone. There is, however, something the "girls" of her listening audience can do to forestall betrayal: don't talk to your "friend woman" about how good your man is. Keep the good news about your man's best qualities to yourself.43 Note that this is not a monkey man, he is a good man; but even a good man bears watching. In the next stanza, advancing age in no way hinders this woman's ability to change. In fact, don't let the age fool you and don't worry about the size. A large woman has more to work with.
The final stanza challenges a changing societal aesthetic in the early twentieth century United States: the "lush" figure was no longer considered as attractive as it had been in the period ca. 1890-1910 (consider the pigeon-breasted, large hipped (white) beauty of the "gay nineties) and was being exchanged for the energetic, athletic "flapper" or "some skinny gal." Mama assures old-fashioned big and beautiful woman that the "meat shakin' on her bones" makes her a dangerous sexual adversary. One shake will pull a married man out of a happy home. This empowering message suggests that if I can do it, you can do it too. This woman is not just "large boned": she has so much flesh that it moves around almost magically and by itself. And the more it moves, the more formidable a sexual presence this woman becomes. Those interested in middle-class, mainstream feminist psychology in the United States in which low self-esteem is tied to generous body proportions should find this an interesting phenomenon.44
"One Hour Mama" would fit neatly in the Vagina Monologues45 had they appeared during the first third of the twentieth century rather than the last. It is the clear expression of a heterosexual woman's preference in a physical relationship. The books and magazines on "sexology" so widely available from the 1940's through the 1960's were directed toward a male audience. With clarity and humor, Ms. Ida provides sexual information for women. The song implies, "This is what you have a right to. Aren't you a "one hour mama" too?"
One Hour Mama - Lyrics by Ida Cox
I've always heard that haste makes waste
So I believe in taking my time
The highest mountain can't be raced
It's something you must slowly climb
I want a slow and easy man
He needn't ever take the lead
Cause I work on that long-time plan
And I ain't a lookin' for no speed
I'm a one hour mama
So no one minute papa
Ain't the kind of man for me
Set your alarm clock, papa
One hour, that's proper
Then love me like I like to be
I don't want no lame excuses
About my lovin' being so good
That you couldn't wait no longer
Now I hope I'm understood
I'm a one hour mama
And no one minute papa
Ain't the kind of man for me
I can't stand no greenhorn lover
Like a rookie goin' to war
With a load of big artillery
And don't know what it's for
He's got to bring me a reference
With a great long pedigree
And must prove he's got endurance
Or he don't mean that to me
I don't like no crowin' rooster
What just kicks a lick or two
Action is the only booster
Of just what my man can do
I don't want no imitation
My requirements ain't no joke
Cause I've got pure indignation
For a guy who's lost his stroke
I'm a one hour mama
So no one minute papa
Ain't the kind of man for me
Set your alarm clock, papa
One hour, that's proper
Then love me like I like to be
I may want love for one hour
Then decide to make it two
Takes an hour before I get started
Maybe three 'fore I'm through
I'm a one hour mama
So no one minute papa
Ain't the kind of man for me
Sexual information for women is often hard to come by and this situation was even more serious in the 1930's and 40's. In some settings - elite, working class, euro-centric, afro-centric and many others proper, well-raised women were supposed to have had no sexual desire at all. How can you look for information about something you are not supposed to have and if you were decent, wouldn't even be asking about? Before the 1960's, American discussions of sexual practice were largely confined to bawdy settings that were male-centered. Here, Ida Cox is offering women access to information they could not get from their mothers or even, often, from that aunt who always tells you the truth. And she's funny to boot.
Much has been written about the sexual liberation implicit in the Blueswomen's lyrics. The issue might be taken further to "liberation by information." Women's sexual requirements are often different than those of men. Women can require a longer amount of time to have a satisfying experience. In this song, the woman's voice is self-assured and, as she asserts, her requirements "ain't no joke." There is no question that she is experienced and has a standard that must be met. There is no breath of apology for that experience - no suggestion of remorse. Neither does she at any time entertain the notion that she might not be equal to the expectations of her partner. It is clearly his job to "tow the line." He even has to come with references! This provides a model for "Wild Women" in the making. Not everyone, however, takes this approach to the construction and maintenance of relationships, and Ida Cox's repertoire takes this into account as well. Many resort to supernatural measures to manage a situation or keep a lover in line.
"Fogyism" addresses hoodoo or African Diasporic religious practice in the United States. Hoodoo might be considered the attempt to use magic and ritual to access the supernatural world and through it control relationships and natural phenomena. This song is not, however, the expression of a true believer and takes a rather cynical or even blasphemous approach to what is, for some, an awe-inspiring subject.
Fogyism - Lyrics by Jesse Crump
Why do people believe in some old sign? (2x)
To hear a hoot owl holler, someone is surely dyin'
Some will break a mirror cry, "Bad luck for seven years" (2x)
And if a black cat crosses them, they'll break right down in tears
To dream of muddy water, trouble is knockin' at your door (2x)
Your man is sure to leave you, and never return no more
When your man comes home evil, tells you you are getting old (2x)
That's a true sign he's got someone else bakin' his jelly roll
Many of those traveling to urban centers would know well about such signs as hoot owls and muddy water in dreams. But this urban cynic says that no matter what the signs say, if your man is acting evil, somebody has been on a "fore day creep."
Ida Cox was well known for dramatic songs that dealt with death, as her "Coffin Blues," "Death Letter Blues' and "Graveyard Dream Blues." "Last Mile Blues" was recorded in New York in December 1940. Here Ida Cox speaks for and to women whose men have been imprisoned, or worse executed, by an unjust system. Many in her Black, working class audience were as conversant with such loss in 1940 as a Black, working class audience would be today.
Last Mile Blues
You wonder why I'm grievin' and feelin' blue?
All I do is moan and cry
With me you'd be in sympathy if you only knew
And here's the reason why:
Have you heard what that mean old judge has done to me?
He told the jury not to let my man go free
He must die on the gallows, by his neck be hung
He must pay with his life when that there trap is sprung
He refused folks to talk until it was too late
He gave his life to satisfy the State
When they pull the black cap over my daddy's face
Lord I beg the sheriff to let me take his place
Now everyday I seem to see that news
I try to hide my tears but what's the use?
Thirteen steps with his lovin' arms bound to his side
With a smile on his face that's how my daddy died.
Her man didn't talk until it was too late. Apparently, his trustworthiness has cost him his life. She feels that he has given his life not for a noble cause, but "to satisfy the State." The klan was not necessary to destroy this black family and this black man: "the State" was sufficient. It is by the judge's intercession that her man is sentenced to die. He told her, as well, that she was powerless in this situation. All she could do was cry when what would have given her peace was to die in his place. She is afforded no satisfaction in this state of affairs. Her man died with a smile on his face; for her there is no peace.
The work of Ida Cox introduces us to the complex social realities of poor and working class African Americans in the early twentieth century. They were recipients of the dangerous and destructive side of a double-edged progressivism in a Progressive Age whose positive aspects often did not reach them. The reform efforts that did reach them, most often the work of a middle class who generally viewed them as embarrassment and burden, disallowed a social and cultural distinctiveness for working class people. One significant area of dissonance was the conception of "true womanhood." Poor and working class men and women held a view of womanhood and womanliness that was quite different from the middle class view, based largely on the white socio-cultural model. Blueswomen such as Ida Cox supported an already existing model of womanhood that was distinctly different from the middle class model, while supplying information to further develop the working class model further.
Ida Cox's "body of work" - a term including both the songs she wrote and those she chose to perform and record that had been written by others - reflected a sensibility concerning the lives of working class Black people in the earliest quarter of the twentieth century that cannot be denied. Antonio Gramsci's discussion of "organic intellectuality" provided for multiple intellectualities serving the economic, social and political needs of a community. Much of Ida Cox's work reflects a process that we can identify as intellectual in each of these arenas. Her songs fully demonstrate an intellectuality whose function was to: 1) acknowledge a problem, 2) analyze and assess the problem, 3) articulate the analysis, and 4) make recommendation as to action. In so doing, she and others like her sidestepped the general assumption that intellectuality must be expressed in standard dialect, is actually impossible without it, and must express middle-class expectations and desires.
As such she, and her sister blueswomen of the early twentieth century, performed an invaluable service for Black women caught up in one of the greatest population shifts the United States experienced in its history. Prominent among their "recommendations to action" in response to their analysis of social inequities was the promotion of a type of womanhood that was distinctly different from the "republican womanhood" or "true womanhood" promulgated by the Black middle classes and modeled on white middle class conceptions of femininity. They presented women with a model of whole-bodied womanhood: assertive, intelligent, sexually grounded and independent. Through the blues, blueswomen provided counsel that put an urban edge on a traditional root. Ida Cox performed this service by taking Harlem to the country with the well-fulfilled promise to "put you wise." Writing of Bessie Smith as a blueswoman, Poet Sherley Anne Williams expresses the thoughts of many working class women toward Ms. Ida and many others when she writes, "I looked in her face/and seed the woman/I'd become."
2 Telephone conversation with Suzanne Flandreau at Center for Black Music Research, ca. August 19, 2003
3 Although Georgian Cox eventually based her business in Chicago, she maintained a professional connection with New York for nearly thirty years. These performances ranged from her opening of the "New" Apollo in 1934 as the "Sepia Mae West" and performances at Club Society and on John Hammond's "From Spirituals to Swing" concert at Carnegie Hall in 1939 to her return to New York for her last recording project, "Blues From Rampart Street" in 1961. Ida Cox died of cancer in 1967.
4 Charles O'Neal (Chicago Defender, 11 June 1927) quoted by Daphne Harrison, "Ida Cox," in Notable Black American Women, Jessie Carney Smith, ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992, pg 238.
5 Daphne Duval Harrison, Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920s, pg. 228
6 In his essay on "The Storyteller," Walther Benjamin discusses the crucial difference between novel and story. While the novel
7 Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Edited and with an Introduction by Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken Books, 1968, pg. 88.
8 Ibid., pp. 86-87.
9 Ralph L. Crowder, Street Scholars: The Contribution and Struggle of Self-trained Black Historians and Stepladder Radicals, 1905-1945, (1991), pg. 3. Crowder quotes Irma Watkins-Owens, Blood Relations: West Indian Immigrants and Urban Community in Harlem: 1920-1930, pg. (Ph. D dissertation, University of Michigan, 1983), pg. 137.
10 Ibid, pp. 82-84. Although in this passage Hurston is referring specifically to "chants and hums," her discussion of the formality "beneath the seeming informality of religious worship." The places and times of the responses I have noted here parallel those of the "chants and hums" that Hurston describes.
11 Zora Neale Hurston, The Sanctified Church: The Folklore Writings of Zora Neale Hurston. Berkeley, California: Turtle Island, 1981, pg. 84
12 In African Rhythm and African Sensibility: Aesthetics and Social Action in African Musical Idioms, John Miller Chemoff writes, "People look at a musician's style as an exposition of their continuing involvement, and their criticism in such a context is offered as a gesture of support to help him achieve his purpose. A musician's mastery of his art is evidence of his concern to bring forth a fresh dimension of involvement and excitement to the community in which he creates." [John Miller Chernoff, African Rhythm and African Sensibility: Aesthetics and Social Action in African Musical idioms. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1979, pg. 126. This is a perfect explanation of the relationship between African Diasporic community and verbal or musical artist in the United States, and, I daresay, wherever African Diasporic communities are found.
13 For a discussion of Step-Ladder Radicals as orators in line with African Diasporic communal tradition, see Ralph L. Crowder, "Stepladder Radicals and the Street Comer Meeting: 'Awaymen,' Southern Black Migrants, and the Implications of Black Spatial Ethos," in John Edward Bruce and the Value of Knowing the Past: Politician, Journalist, and Self-Trained Historian of the African Diaspora, 1856-1924, doctoral dissertation, University of Kansas, 1994, pp. 28-48. For a stunning presentation of the ethos of Black Preacher in Black Church in the United States, see William E. Burghardt Du Bois, "Of the Faith of the Fathers," in Souls of Black Folk. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co.; [Cambridge]: University Press John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, U.S.A., 1903.
14 Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans, A History. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1971, pg. 336
15 Ibid., pg. 312. It would not be appropriate to attempt a full presentation or analysis of the blues as musical form in this chapter but the musical characteristics of the blues are clearly laid out and discussed in such seminal texts as Southern's Music of Black Americans and Harold Courlander's Negro Folk Music, U.S.A.. Both cite a twelve bar aab - structure as most common, although other structural possibilities abound. The blues in all of its forms found ready acceptance on the Black Vaudeville stage. Courlander notes that the 17, 21 and 22 bar structures audible on certain Folkways recordings are not some proto form of a 12 bar structure but evidence of the flexibility of a living art form. "A contention that any blues song not cast into a twelve or eight bar form is "primitive" or "undeveloped" does not take into account the basic freedoms of folk music The only consideration of a blues singer is that his [sic] song should sound 'right and there is ample elbow room within the limitations of what is effective for a good many types of things. The eight or twelve bar blues is probably no more traditional, and certainly no more 'correct, ' than other variants. " (Negro Folk Music, U.S.A., New York: Columbia University Press, pg. 126).
16 See Constance Rourke, American Humor: A Study of the National Character, with an introduction and bibliographical essay by W. T. Lhamon, Jr., Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University Press, 1931, 1959.
17 This widely held concept of the unbending nature of racism on the American stage is shaken in Backbeat: The Earl Palmer Story. As "a drummer of tremendous power and subtlety," Earl Palmer became influential on Hollywood sets (when he taught Mickey Rooney to tap) as well as in the jazz clubs and recording studios of the 1940's, 50's and 60's. He began his career, however, as a child tapper in Ida Cox's "Darktown Scandals". He toured the country with his mother and aunt, "The Theophile Sisters", all dancers in Ms. Ida's company. He provides invaluable information on Ida Cox as a performer, as a producer and as a person. His recollections have the Scandals performing throughout the Midwest in towns where not a black face could be seen in the house. In all likelihood, there was no black face in the town. These bookings were a tribute to Ida Cox's strength as producer and performer and the work of her agent, Jack Schenck. "He was a road manager par excellence. He could sell you something, boy. Anytime you got a black singer like Ida Cox playing Newton, Iowa, not a single black face in the audience and the theater is packed, someone is selling that package. Either that or there was a lot of white people loved the blues." Backbeat, pg. 35. It may be that both of these possibilities are true.
18 Theater Owners' Booking Association (TOBA) booked Black entertainers into theaters that specialized in black audiences during legal segregation in the United States. Entertainers also realized the acronym as "Tough on Black Asses" to reflect the mistreatment and difficulty awaiting performers who worked this circuit.
19 See Harrison, Black Pearls, pg. 4.
20 This blue African presence coursing through American culture concurrently effected the development and acceptance of America's classical music, Jazz.
21 The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Volume I, A-O, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.pg 1455.
22 Antonio Gramsci, "The Intellectuals," Selections from the Prisn Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, Quinton Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, eds. and trans., New York: International Publishers, 1971, pg 5
23 William M. Tuttle, Jr. Race Riot: Chicago and the Red Summer of 1919. New York: Atheneum, 1970, pp. 79-80.
24 Ibid., pg. 80.
25 Ibid., pg. 87. "Mrs. Rosena Shepard heard her neighbor boasting about her daughter who had gone to Chicago. Six weeks had gone by with no news at all; and then came word that she was earning $2.00 a day as a sausage-packer. "If that lazy, good-for-nothing gal kin make $2 a day," Mrs. Shepard exclaimed when she heard this hews, 'I kin make four,' and she left for Chicago.'"
26 Jacqueline Jones, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work and the Family from Slavery to the Present. New York: Vantage Books, 1985, pg. 157.
27 W. Fitzhugh Brundage, ed. Under Sentence of Death: Lynching in the South, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997, frontispiece.
28 Bruce E. Baker, "North Carolina Lynching Ballads," Ibid., pg. 238.
29 "Outraged when a lynch mob killed her husband, Turner was determined to find and expose her husband's killers. After being jailed for her efforts, Turner, who was pregnant at the time, was ripped from her jail cell by an angry mob, hung from a tree by her feet, doused with gasoline and burned. Angry mobsters slit open her abdomen with a pocket knife and killed her unborn child." http://www.savannahnow.com/diversions/stories/111000/ARTallisoncolumn.html
30 During her talk on "Black Female Intellectuals: The Merging of Theory and Practice," Historian Ula Taylor related the experience of Perry Hamer, Fannie Lou Hamer's husband, who lost his job of 18 years in 1963 after his wife successfully registered and voted in Montgomery County, Mississippi.
31 Darlene Clark Hine, Hinesight, pg.
32 Jones, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow, pg. 190.
33 Jacqueline Jones writes, "These efforts amounted to more than a parallel, segregated version of urban "progressive reform"; rather, they derived from the historic self-help impulse that had characterized black communities since the era of slavery." Idem.
34 Hazel Carby, "It Jus Be's Dat Way Sometime: The Sexual Politics of Women's Blues." Radical America, 20 (1987): 9-22.
35 "I fairly never heard a secular song among the Port Royal freedmen.... In other parts of the South, "fiddle-sings," "devil-songs," "corn songs," "jig-tunes," and what not, are common; all the world knows the banjo.... We have succeeded in obtaining only a very few songs of this character. Our intercourse with the colored people has been chiefly through the work of the Freedmen's Commission, which deals with the serious an earnest side of the Negro character." McKim et al, Slave Songs of the United States, Pg. x.
36 See "Old Sister" in E. C. L. Adams' Tales of the Congaree.
37 See Daphne Duval Harrison, Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920's, pp.
38 When Alberta Hunter made $10 per week singing at Café Society in Chicago, she earned what some were excited to earn for 40 hours of factory work. It was good money.
39 An organization, led by activist Dick Gregory, dedicated to re-naming the Old Senate office building that carries the name of Senator Richard Russell. Senator Russell, an avowed white supremacist and elected representative of Georgia, conscientiously blocked legislation outlawing lynching for the duration of his tenure. www.changethename.org
40 In later years, Ms. Ida made her home with her daughter in Knoxville, Tennessee.
41 In Negro Folk Music, U.S.A., Harold Courlander refers to the repertoire of communally held blues lyrics on which singer/creators often draw as "the phrases and images that occur [as the] free currency out of which many blues have been built...." (p. 140).
42 Notice that she does not refer to the women as Monkey Women. Women are fully evolved and there is no excuse for such behavior; women have choice. Such women are just "no-good". Notice also that this discourse seems in no way connected to the Tarzan story complex that might be considered more in the popular realm. Not only does Ida Cox have information or an awareness of these Darwinian issues, she expects her
43 This theme of the importance of silence and secrecy is an old one in African American community and culture, harking back to such stories as "You Talk Too Much, Anyhow" anthologized in Afro-American Folktales, selected and edited by Roger D. Abrahams and "Mary Belle and the Mermaid" as retold by Virginia Hamilton in Herstories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales and True Tales.
44 These challenges to mainstream groupthink around age and body image still find expression in women's blues in the latter half of the twentieth century. On her album, Royal Blue, Blueswoman Koko Taylor writes and sings, "I'm an old woman, built on a young woman's frame/ I'm an old woman, built on a young woman's frame/All I need is five minutes/I'll take any woman's man".
45 Based on interviews with some two hundred women, playwright Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues by captures the women's stories concerning their sexuality.
46 Quoted by Hazel V. Carby in "It Jes Be's Dat Way Sometime: The Sexual Politics of Woman's Blues", Radical America, Vol 20, No. 4, pp. 9-22.
1 Many thanks to Professor Ralph Crowder for his connections of street scholars and their oratory with Black Theater - not to mention his invitation to contribute a chapter to this volume. I wish to acknowledge the work of Ruth Sanford and thank her daughter, Mei-Mei Sanford Ph.D for introducing me to her mother's definition of intellectuality which has deeply influenced my own. Much thanks also to Charlie Jéné along with the community at the Downtown Supper Club, Riverside California for opportunities to perform and communally experience the blues, to Joyce Warhop for her enthusiastic help with research and to Anna Hurlbutt for the use of the word "lush" to describe a big and beautiful woman. Much thanks to archivist and historian Suzanne Flandreau. Thanks, as well, to Bertha Hope, Carline Ray and Paula Hampton for their work in speaking for recreating the stories of, and being blueswomen. Thanks, always, to Alissa Suzanne Wilson for her help, support and encouragement. Many thanks to the Library Staff of the University of California, Riverside, and particularly to Ken Furuta and Peter Bliss of Reference and Janet Moores, Maria Mendoza and Kimberly Noon of Interlibrary Loan. Finally, few researchers in this area would have had access to the work of early twentieth century blueswomen had it not been for the work of Rosetta Reitz and Rosetta Records. Her re-issues of "Independent Women's Blues" have been indispensable in reestablishing the importance of these blueswomen and bringing their contributions to light.…