Special Delivery Blues

Sippie Wallace and Hersal Thomas, 1920s

What was the 1960s Folk Revival, and how was Odetta a unique figure in it?

Compare Odetta's "Special Delivery Blues" with other classic blues songs ("Crossroads Blues," "Call It Stormy Monday"). What elements of the classic blues are present? Twelve-bar blues chord pattern. Each verse consists of three lines: two antecedents and a consequent phrase (AAB). Emotions are expressed through vocal pitch bending, growling, and other effects.

Compare "Special Delivery Blues" with other classic songs of the Folk Music Revival ("This Land Is Your Land,""The Times They Are A-Changing," "Now that the Buffalo's Gone,""The Hammer Song"). What unique folk styles did Odetta bring to the Revival?

Odetta's "Special Delivery Blues" is not as overtly political as many of the other songs of the 1960s Folk Revival. What political messages—particularly what messages about race and gender—does the song send? Compare and contrast these messages with the messages of other songs from the 1960s Folk Revival.

"Special Delivery Blues" performed by Odetta on Best of the Vanguard Years, © 2006. Available on Itunes, Spotify, and YouTube.


For more information on Odetta visit her official website.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. For the lyrics please consult this online source:


Sipple Wallace
Photo of Sippie Wallace.

"Special Delivery Blues" is a song composed by siblings and blues musicians Sippie Wallace and Hersal Thomas, who first recorded the song in the 1920s with Louis Armstrong on trumpet. The song was later performed and recorded by Odetta for her 1963 album One Grain of Sand. One year later, in 1964, Odetta's recording of the song became part of the album American Folk Singers & Balladeers, which also included songs by other legendary American folk musicians, such as Joan Baez, Doc Watson, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, Maybelle Carter, the Weavers, and Mississippi John Hurt.

Odetta Holmes (known professionally as simply Odetta) was born in 1930 in Birmingham, Alabama, and moved to Los Angeles, California, with her family when she was six years old. She began taking voice lessons at age thirteen and went on to study classical singing at Los Angeles City College. She joined a touring company singing in the musical Finian's Rainbow but became interested in the folk music scene in San Francisco, where she began singing in nightclubs. In 1953 she sang in the Blue Angel nightclub in New York City and met folk musicians Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte, who supported her work singing American traditional music, such as ballads, blues, American folk, and spirituals. Odetta's 1956 album Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues was an influential album on those who would become involved in the folk music revival scene of the 1960s. It expanded the conception of folk music to include African American musics and introduced the blues to new audiences. Folksinger Bob Dylan said that the album inspired him to put down the electric guitar that he was playing as a teenager and pick up an acoustic one.

As a civil-rights activist in the 1960s, Odetta participated in the 1963 March on Washington. Before Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech," Odetta sang "I'm On My Way" on the Lincoln Memorial Plaza as part of a spiritual trilogy providing encouragement and inspiration to participants in the movement. King called Odetta the "Queen of American Folk Music."

Odetta brings her confident, powerful voice and guitar playing to "Special Delivery Blues." With strong emotion in her voice, she tells the story of a woman whose "man packed his trunks and said, 'I'm goin' away.'" He told her he would write to her, but she does not receive any letters and has the "special delivery blues."



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