Viola Wells

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b. 14 December 1902, Newark, New Jersey, USA, d. 22 December 1984, New York City, USA. Touring the TOBA circuit as a classic blues singer in the 30s Wells met and married guitarist Harold Underhill. She…
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Artist Biography by

b. 14 December 1902, Newark, New Jersey, USA, d. 22 December 1984, New York City, USA. Touring the TOBA circuit as a classic blues singer in the 30s Wells met and married guitarist Harold Underhill. She was a much-admired jazz and blues singer in her day, winning substantial respect, and envy, from her fellow singers and musicians. In the early to mid-40s, billed as ‘The Ebony Stick Of Dynamite’, she became a huge success at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre on 125th Street, and had her own radio shows as both performer and disc jockey. Despite such exposure she recorded only three times in her heyday (for Savoy Records in 1944-45) and retired from music in 1946 as a result of diabetes. In the mid-60s she was rediscovered by blues historian Sheldon Harris, who persuaded her to test for Columbia Records and reunited her with Victoria Spivey, who recorded a handful of sides by ‘Miss Rhapsody’. She remained in obscurity until April 1972 when she was again brought out of retirement to record a jazz blues album for the Saydisc-Matchbox label in New York City. Her last years were, happily, employed touring as singer with Clyde Bernhardt’s Harlem Blues And Jazz Band.