Estelle Mama Yancey
(January 1, 1896 – April 19, 1986)
Nominated four times for the Blues Music Awards as “Traditional Blues Female Artist,” Yancey (born Estella Harris in Cairo, Illinois) grew up in Chicago, where she sang in church choirs and learned how to play the guitar. In 1917, when she was 21, she married Jimmy Yancey, who had traveled the U.S. and Europe as a vaudeville dancer. She often sang with him at informal get-togethers and house parties in the 1930s and 1940s and performed with him at Carnegie Hall in 1948. Estelle recorded frequently with her husband, a great boogie-woogie/blues piano player. In 1943, the Yanceys recorded for Session Records, and went back into the studio to record the album Pure Blues for Atlantic Records. The session was just a few months before Jimmy Yancey's death that same year. Estelle continued to perform and record. One of the best examples of her soulful, expressive vocals can be found on an album for Atlantic Records, Jimmy and Mama Yancey: Chicago Piano, Vol. 1. (1952). Songs include "Lady Bump," "Devil Eyes," "Wizard Bump," "A-B-C of Love," "1-2-3-4...Fire!," "Big Bad Boy," "Baby Doll," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "I'm Knocking (At Your Door)." Recordings with other pianists include "South Side Blues" for the Riverside label (1961), some records with Art Hodes for Verve Records in 1965, and Maybe I'll Cry with Erwin Helfer for the Red Beans label in 1983, recorded at age 87. Estelle Yancey died in Chicago, Illinois at age 90.