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SPIVEY, VICTORIA REGINA

Victoria Spivey (1906-1976)

Blues singer and Houston native Victoria Spivey with Bob Dylan
at a studio session for Spivey Records in 1961. A relatively unknown
Dylan, in one of his earliest recording sessions, contributed harmonica
and backup vocals to two songs recorded by bluesman Big Joe Williams
on Spivey’s 1962 release of Three Kings and the Queen.
Larry Willoughby Collection, Courtesy of Huey Meaux.

SPIVEY, VICTORIA REGINA (1906–1976). Victoria Regina Spivey (known as Queen, Vicky, and Jane Lucas), blues singer and songwriter, daughter of Grant and Addie (Smith) Spivey, was born at Houston on October 15, 1906. Her mother was a nurse, and her father had his own family string band. Victoria learned piano as a child and during her teens played at local parties in the Houston area. In 1918 she played in Lazy Daddy's Fillmore Blues Band and L. C. Tolen's Band and Revue in Dallas; in the early 1920s she worked with Blind Lemon Jefferson and others in gambling houses, "gay houses," and other clubs in Galveston and Houston.

Known for her "`mean' blues with a hard and nasal voice," she made her first recording with her own composition "Black Snake Blues" on the OKeh label in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1926. Her sisters Addie (Sweet Peas), Elton Island (the Za Zu Girl), and Leona were also singers who toured with her into the 1930s, working in vaudeville houses, barrelhouses, and theaters through Missouri, Texas, and Michigan. Vicky's popularity increased because of her role in the 1929 King Vidor film Hallelujah. She wrote most of her songs and recorded them between 1926 and 1937. She recorded or performed with Louis Armstrong, Henry Allen, Lee Collins, Lonnie Johnson, Memphis Minnie (Minnie Douglas Lawless), Bessie Smith, and Tampa Red (Hudson Whittaker).

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After her first marriage to trumpeter Reuben Floyd, she married William (Billy) Adams, a dancer, and performed with him. She was married two other times. From 1952 to about 1960, she performed only occasionally and largely dropped out of the music scene and settled down at her home in Brooklyn, where she worked as a church administrator and devoted time to her church choir. 

The 1960s, however, brought a folk and blues revival. With jazz author Len Kunstadt, Spivey started her own label, Spivey Records, in 1961 to produce her own recordings and those of other blues artists. One of her earliest releases was Three Kings and the Queen (1962), which included a young Bob Dylan on blues harmonica and backing vocals. From 1963 to 1966 she contributed articles to Record Research and Sounds and Fury. In 1970 BMI awarded her the Commendation of Excellence "for long and outstanding contribution to the many worlds of music." Vicky Spivey died at New York on October 3, 1976, and was buried in Greenfield Cemetery, Hempstead, New York. She was survived by two daughters. She is honored in the Houston Institute for Culture’s Texas Music Hall of Fame. Spivey Records was relaunched in 2007 and offered remastered rare recordings from the label.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Donald Bogle, Blacks in American Film and Television: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland, 1988). John Chilton, Who's Who of Jazz: Storyville to Swing Street (London: Bloomsbury Book Shop, 1970; American ed., New York and Philadelphia: Chilton, 1972; 4th ed., New York: Da Capo Press, 1985). Sheldon Harris, Blues Who's Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1979). Jazz on Record: A Critical Guide (London: Hutchinson, 1960; rev. ed., London: Hanover, 1968). Eileen Southern, Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1982). Spivey Records (http://www.spiveyrecords.com), accessed November 23, 2011. Mary Mace Spradling, ed., In Black and White (Detroit: Gale Research, 1971; rev. ed., Kalamazoo Public Library, 1976; 3d ed., with suppl., Detroit: Gale Research, 1980, 1985).

Donna P. Parker

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Donna P. Parker, "SPIVEY, VICTORIA REGINA," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fsp25), accessed August 20, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on May 13, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.