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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Aug 7, 2023

When a young Black woman came to town  in the 1920’s came to town to make a blues record, she accomplished that and more. Having had a successful recording career in her youth, she decided to form a record label that would keep older blues musicians recording. Just press play to hear the whole story. —— —

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Andrew Wanko, Public Historian of the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s history on 88.1, KDHX. ——

In 1926, teenager Victoria Spivey sat alone and nervous on a 600-mile, one-way train ride bound for St. Louis. It was a city bigger than any she’d ever seen during her Texas childhood, and a place where she knew no one. But more than anything, Victoria Spivey wanted to make a hit blues record, and St. Louis was where to do it. ———

At the DeLuxe Music Shoppe on Market Street, she sat down at the store’s piano, and belted out her chilling original song “Black Snake Blues.” Within a week the obvious hit was being pressed in New York City, and it would sell countless thousands of copies within the year. She became a staff songwriter for the St. Louis Publishing Company, and in 1927 scored her next smash hit. The socially conscious “T.B. Blues” chronicled the discrimination faced by the era’s victims of tuberculosis. ———

With an animated voice and distinct nasal moan she called her “tiger squall,” Victoria Spivey captivated 1920s listeners across dozens more records. When the Great Depression dissolved recording opportunities, Spivey pivoted to become an actress. In 1929 she starred in King Vidor’s film Hallelujah!, among the earliest major Hollywood productions to feature an all-black cast. The following April, she graced the front cover of The Crisis, the official publication of the NAACP.  ———

Victoria Spivey retired from show business by 1950, but as the folk revival of the 1960s took hold, a new generation of fans on both sides of the Atlantic were seeking her out. In 1962 she founded Spivey Records, and got other older blues musicians – including former St. Louisans Lonnie Johnson and Big Joe Williams - recording again for new audiences. On one Spivey Records recording session, an almost completely unknown young folk singer named Bob Dylan provided backing vocals and harmonica. He wouldn’t remain unknown for long, and he and Victoria remained good friends. You can find a picture of them side by side on the jacket of Dylan’s 1970 album New Morning, released just six years before Victoria Spivey passed away. ———

Here's History is a joint production of the Missouri Historical Society and KDHX. I’m Andrew Wanko, and this is 88.1 KDHX, St. Louis. ———