By Susan Sliwicki
Decades before there were burning bras, hyphenated last names or girl power in general, blues queen Ida Cox laid out a game plan for the ladies: Kick back with a drink or two, have a good time, and for heaven’s sake, don’t take any crap from some sorry man.
It was 1963 when yet-to-be Mama Cass Elliot raised her voice to “Wild Women” as part of The Big 3. And while that song certainly fit right in with the increasingly wild times of the 1960s, especially the tail end of the decade with Woodstock, Vietnam protests and feminism, the fact of the matter is, Ida Cox had been sounding the alarm for nearly 40 years before.
Recorded in 1924, Cox’s “Wild Women Don’t Have The Blues” is one of the strongest and most enduring songs in her canon, said John Tefteller of Tefteller’s World’s Rarest Records. It was the B-side to “Cherry Picking Blues” on Paramount 12228.
“It’s a great record,” Tefteller said. “That has to be one of the most interesting Ida Cox records.”
A prolific performer, Cox recorded 78 sides for Paramount during her career there. But of all her songs, “Wild Women Don’t Have The Blues” is one of a few for which she is best known, and the one that is most steeped in popular culture.
“I’ve seen it on T-shirts and coffee mugs and bumper stickers, and when I first saw it, I thought, ‘Oh, someone finally paid attention to Ida Cox,’” Tefteller said. “Unfortunately, she gets no credit for it, and not a nickel in royalties for her family.”
Cox’s feminist anthem has resonated with generations of performers. Cyndi Lauper, Dee Archer, Francine Reed, Saffire, Spanky and Our Gang, Barbara Dane, Sue Keller, Cass Elliot with The Big 3 and even Bessie Smith all have covered it. And that’s just the women.
Lyle Lovett, Clarke Peters, Dennis Rowland, The Vipers and The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus have all taken a turn with Cox’s song, too.
Because Cox was so prolific, most of her records are fairly easy to obtain, Tefteller said. Cox’s early period recordings tend to bring about $500, while her middle-period recordings go for $600 to $800, Tefteller said.
“The last one she did for Paramount, which was done in 1930 or ’31, I know it’s out there, but I’ve never seen one,” Tefteller said. “They appeal more to jazz collectors, because she’s got some pretty good jazz accompaniment on the record.”
So who was the real Ida Cox? It’s kind of a trick question, considering the number of aliases she had over the course of her career. Born Ida Prather on Feb. 25, 1896 in Toccoa, Ga., she sang in the church choir as a child, and ran away from home to tour with the White and Clark Black and Tan Minstrels, who worked the theater circuit around 1910, according to “Blues Who’s Who.”
Cox, who also performed under the names Velma Bradley, Kate Lewis, Julia Powers, Julius Powers and Jane Smith over the course of her career, worked with Jelly Roll Morton around 1920, appeared on WMC-radio in Memphis, and joined the Paramount label, where she recorded from 1923-1929.
From 1929 to the early 1930s, she worked in theaters across the U.S. as part of the Raisin’ Cain revue, and worked in her Darktown Scandals Revue in the 1930s and 1940s. She also sang at Cafe Society, appeared at John Hammond’s Spirituals to Swing concerts and made new recordings on the Vocalion label in 1939-40 and with the Riverside label in New York City in 1961, according to “Blues Who’s Who.”
When she wasn’t singing about men, Cox found time to marry them. She was married to Adler Cox of the Florida Blossoms Minstrel Show circa 1920s, and teamed up with Husband No. 2, singer-pianist Jesse Crump, in the 1920s-1930s. Reportedly, Cox was married a third time, but details are scant. Cox suffered a stroke in 1944, but like the strong woman she sang about, she fought her way back to make an impressive comeback recording in 1961. Cox died of cancer Nov. 10, 1961, in Knoxville, Tenn.