Ida Cox was a vaudeville performer and a pioneering blues singer who, along with Gertrude MaRainey and Bessie Smith, founded the female blues genre. Cox was born Ida Prather on February 25, 1894, in Toccoa. She grew up in Cedartown, near Rome, and left home as a teenager to tour with a minstrel revue. Cox excelled at vaudeville singing, but when the popularity of vaudeville shows began to fade, she transformed herself into a formidable blues singer.

Ida Cox
Ida Cox

In 1923 she made her first blues recordings, “Graveyard Dream Blues” and “Weary Way Blues,” for the Paramount label. She met with immediate success and went on to record seventy-eight songs between 1923 and 1929, including “Cemetery Blues,” “Handy Man,” and her best-known song, “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues.” Cox wrote most of the songs that she recorded. As Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey achieved success and popularity, Paramount promoted Cox as the “Uncrowned Queen of the Blues.”

Ida Cox and John Hammond
Ida Cox and John Hammond

Like Smith and Rainey, Cox toured the blues circuit with pianists, including the renowned Jelly Roll Morton. A savvy businesswoman, Cox served as her own manager and producer, and enjoyed a lucrative career.

In 1939 Cox performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City as part of John Hammond’s second presentation of From Spirituals to Swing. She sang “Lowdown Dirty Shame” and “’Fore Day Creep” before a sold-out, integrated audience. The historic concert introduced the blues diva to a crowd that was perhaps just beginning to appreciate the artistry and significance of Black music.

After suffering a stroke in 1945, Cox lived in Chicago for a brief time before returning to the South in 1949. She lived with her daughter in Knoxville, Tennessee, and with her music career behind her, sang exclusively in her church choir until 1961, when she made one last recording, Blues for Rampart Street, at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The album featured an all-star band that included saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. Cox died in Knoxville on November 10, 1967.

Cox’s song “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” became the signature song for the rhythm-and-blues vocalist Francine Reed. Reed, who has toured with the country/pop musician Lyle Lovett, gives a rousing performance of “Wild Women” on Lovett’s 1999 album, Live in Texas.

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Ida Cox

Ida Cox

Ida Cox, a Georgia native, began her career as a vaudeville performer. She recorded her first blues songs in 1923 for the Paramount label, which dubbed her the "Uncrowned Queen of the Blues." By 1929, Cox had recorded seventy-eight songs, most of which she had written herself.

Ida Cox and John Hammond

Ida Cox and John Hammond

Ida Cox, a successful blues singer of the 1920s, meets with John Hammond some years after her 1939 performance in his From Spirituals to Swing concert for an integrated audience at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Hammond, a prominent musician and producer, worked throughout the 1930s to integrate the music business.