At the ceremony, I was sitting beside an elderly woman and we began talking about hats as she and I were the only ones who were wearing hats. I told her that I was allergic to the sun and I wore hats to protect my skin and she said she'd always worn hats to church, but she wore them now mostly because she'd lost nearly all of her hair.
I introduced myself and Gerald to her and told her where we came from and she asked, "You came all the way from Ohio for this?" I told her it was one of the most important things in our lives as I had been a member of SPLC since its inception. When I asked her name, she responded, "Sippie." I asked, "Were you named for Sippie Wallace?" She exclaimed, "Honey Chile, how on earth do you know about Sippie Wallace--you're too young--and too white!" I began singing: "
"Now, women be wise,
Keep your mouth shut,
Don't advertise your man."
Sippie said, "You do know her!" I told Sippie that I became a fan in the 1960s during the Folk Music Revival. I said, "I know I'm a Mighty Tight Woman, Up The Country, and."; I was about to continue a list of Wallace's songs, but Gerald interrupted and said, "Please don't get her started!"
I mentioned, "Bonnie Raitt would never let us forget those wonderful women blues singers, and by the way, Sippie also loved hats!"
She did not know Bonnie Raitt and when I told her about all the work Bonnie had done to guarantee that the old-time blues and rock musicians received their royalties, she was amazed. She asked, "Is she a singer too?" I answered, "Yes, ma'am, she's a blues singer." Sippie shook her head and asked, "Well, pshaw, is she a white girl?" I answered, "Yes ma'am." and Sippie replied, "Well, doesn't that just beat all?"
Sippie Wallace (Beulah Belle Thomas) was born in Texas in 1898 and died in 1996. She was a classic female American blues singer comparable to Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. In the 1920s she began recording and became known as "The Texas Nightingale". She said that her nickname "Sippie" came because her teeth were so far apart she had to sip everything.
After an impressive career in the 1920s and 1930s she faded into obscurity but found a new, appreciative audience during the popularity of folk music in the 1960s.
Instead of hearing me, listen to Sippie sing Women Be Wise: