Uncovering Detroit Sound: Sippie Wallace and Son House in the Folklore Archives

Archivist Bart Bealmear explains how he rediscovered recordings of famed African American blues musicians Sippie Wallace and Son House buried in the Reuther Library’s Folklore Archives. One of the most famous female blues vocalists in the 1920s, Sippie Wallace left the blues stage for four decades, choosing instead to sing and play the organ at Leland Baptist Church in Detroit. The recording Bealmear uncovered in the Folklore Archives captures Wallace demoing T.B. Blues in her living room in 1965, prior to her professional comeback in 1966. Bealmear also shares a clip from an April 18, 1965 WDTM interview with American Delta blues singer and guitarist Son House, recorded when he performed at the DeRoy Auditorium at Wayne State University in Detroit. In the excerpt, House tells the story of discouraging a man named Robert from playing the guitar due to poor skill — a man who turned out to be famed blues musician Robert Johnson.

Bealmear also promotes an upcoming concert featuring Detroit’s “Soul Ambassador” Melvin Lincoln Davis and Dennis Coffey, R&B and soul guitarist for the Motown Records Funk Brothers studio band. The concert will be held in the atrium of the Reuther Library on January 23, 2020 on the stage of the historic Bluebird Inn, restored and on loan from the Detroit Sound Conservancy. Doors open at 6 p.m.

Related Collections
Folklore Archive: Studies and Research Projects
Folklore Archive: Student Field Projects Records
Folklore Archive: Student Field Projects Photographs
Sippie Wallace, T.B. Blues, 1965
Son House, WDTM interview, April 18, 1965 (excerpt #1)
Son House, WDTM interview, April 18, 1965 (excerpt #2)

More Information
Detroit Sound Conservancy
Dennis Coffey

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Interviewer: Dan Golodner
Interviewee: Bart Bealmear
Sound: Troy Eller English
Image: Sippie Wallace, Walter P. Reuther Library, Virtual Motor City project: vmc49649_1

With support from the Reuther Podcast Collective: Bart Bealmear, Elizabeth Clemens, Meghan Courtney, Troy Eller English, Dan Golodner, and Paul Neirink