Ida Cox, Blues woman of the times
*On this date in 1896, Ida Cox was born. She was an African-American blues singer.
Cox was born Ida Prather in Toccoa, Georgia. Like some of her contemporaries, she left home at an early age and worked the Southern tent show and vaudeville circuit as a comedienne and singer. She spent some time with pianist Jelly Roll Morton before signing a recording contract with Paramount in 1923. Paramount billed her as the Uncrowned Queen of the Blues, though her singing style was as much influenced by vaudeville as by the blues.
Many of the seventy- eight songs Cox recorded for the label through 1929, and with other labels like Broadway and Silvertone (using pseudonyms such as Kate Lewis, Velma Bradley, Julia Powers, and Jane Smith) dealt with themes aimed at female audiences. Ida seemed to sing directly to Black women who saw themselves trapped by demeaning racial and social conditions, yet longed for dignity and respect, especially from the men in their lives. One of Cox's most enduring songs, "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues," hinted at sexual freedom. Two other Cox classics, "Pink Slip Blues" which dealt with the woes of unemployment, and "Last Mile Blues" a song about capital punishment, revealed a decidedly female view of social issues.
Ida Cox may have been the complete classic blues artist of the 1920s. Ida had a convincing blues delivery that made her one of the more popular female singers of the era like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. Cox symbolized the liberated spirit of some black American blues women in the '20s with her stylish outlook, lavish wardrobe, and business savvy. Cox wrote many of her own songs, often produced her own stage shows, and managed her own touring company, appropriately called Raisin' Cain.
With many blues fans Cox is best remembered for her graveyard songs- "Graveyard Dream Blues" "New Graveyard Dream Blues" "Coffin Blues" "Bone Orchard Blues" and "Cemetery Blues". In the 1930s Cox continued to perform and occasionally record. She appeared in John Hammond's Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall in 1939. Cox also recorded with jazz artists Charlie Christian, J.C. Higgenbottom, Lionel Hampton, Hot Lips Page, and Fletcher Henderson for the Vocalion and Okeh labels that same year. Later, in the early '60s, she recorded with Coleman Hawkins before retiring to Knoxville, Tennessee. She died of cancer on November 10, 1967.
Nothing But the Blues The Music and the Musicians
Edited by Lawrence Cohn
Copyright 1993 Abbeville Publishing Group, New York
Today in American History