Viola McCoy (WHM) + some gospel stuff

Lea A. Gilmore
Mon Mar 17 06:59:47 EST 1997

<Happy Monday Everyone! (I wonder if that is an oxymoron...)  This is the
eleventh profile of blues-women for Women's History Month. >

Viola McCoy is not as well known as many of her contemporaries  (Bessie
Smith, "Ma" Rainey, Mamie Smith, etc. ) who performed during the "Classic
Blues' period of the 1920's.

Viola, born c1900 in Memphis, TN. was a beautiful woman who sang her songs
and played the kazoo (!) with flair and fashion.  Her true name may have been
Amanda Brown, but was also known as (get this): Daisy Cliff, Fannie Johnson,
Gladys Johnson, Violet McCoy, Clara White, Bessie Williams and Susan
Williams.  Several of the women performing during this period used an

During the early twenties, she reportedly settled in New York City to work in
the local clubs.  In 1922, she appeared in the MOONSHINE REVUE at Lafayette
Theatre. From 1923 to 1924, she recorded on several record Labels (Vocalian,
Pathe/Banner, Gennett/Columbia/Ajax and Edison) with Fletcher Henderson's
Jazz Five, Choo Choo Jazzers and the Kansas City Five.

Viola was also a seasoned musical theatre and musical comedy performer.  She
was a regular on the TOBA /RKO circuits and  peformed in cabaret and
vaudeville shows throughout the 1920's.

In the early 1930's, Viola continued  singing and performing in musical
revues.  She worked such venues as the Harlem Opera House and The Apollo
Theatre.  Around 1938, Ms. McCoy settled in Albany, NY and  from that time on
remained mostly inactive in music.  She died c1956.

Unfortunately, Viola McCoy, like many of her "sisters" remain virtually
unknown, even to those of us in the "blues community."  During her career,
she entertained and brought smiles to many.

I watched the most_incredible_Gospel  music program last night on PBS.  It
included _extensive_footage of: Thomas Dorsey,  James Cleveland, Sister
Rosetta Tharpe (an incredible guitarist!), The Fairfield Four, The Clara Ward
Singers, John P. Kee and so many more.  FYI: Since we have been discussing
Gospel music semi-regularly, I believe I will profile some of the great women
of gospel during this month also.

Speaking of Gospel: the choir from Maryland that I was a soloist with this
past December in Vienna, Austria has been invited on an extensive tour that
will include several cities in Germany, Saltzburg(sp?) and ending in Vienna
for Advent.  To us, singing Gospel is like "breathing,"  so when the
enthusiam of the Europeans permeates anything within 50 feet, it just makes
me...well, speechless (And that is a hard thing to do! :-).

Tomorrow: Lane Wilkens (Keeping the acoustic blues alive.  Just a voice and a
guitar.  She's very good and a funny lady too. )

Lea Gilmore
Baltimore, MD
"Happy St. Patrick's Day"
(Especially, to my_favorite_Irish dude! :-)

More information about the Blues-l mailing list