Ida Cox Essay

This is a very belated response to a query from Paul Garon, listed in ‘Words Words Words’, Blues & Rhythm magazine No. 188. April, 2004. After listening to Chicago Bound Blues by female singer Yack Taylor (1941), he said that the recording “begins with Yack singing that she wants to leave old Bingham town, or at least it sounds like that.  Heading for Chicago, of course.  But I can’t find a Bingham Town anywhere”. (1)

The following is an attempt to answer Garon’s query-some 7 years later!  The Taylor recording itself was a really late cover of an early side by Ida Cox in 1923 [Para 12056 Tk.2] which spawned three other versions later the same year. (see Table 1 below) 

Late last night I stoled away an’ cried. (x 2)
Got the blues for Chicago, can’t be satisfied. 

Got the blues so bad, I’m gonna leave old Bingham Town. (x 2)
My man caught a train, it was Chicago bound. (2) 

Ida clearly sings “old Bingham Town”.

Table 1



Ida Cox1503-2* July-Aug. 1923. Chicago, Illinois
Ida Cox1503-3 as above
Ida Cox1503-4 as above
Ida Cox1503-5 as above
Ida Cox1503-6 as above
(Columbia unissued)  
1366-3 21/11/23.
New York City NY
CHICAGO BOUND BLUESHazel Meyers12379 30/11/23.
New York City NY
CHICAGO BOUND BLUESBessie Smith81391-3 4/12/23.
New York City NY

[ * Take 2 is not in B.& G. R. (1997) but is listed on Document DOCD-5322 issued 1995. Some lack of communication here? One for Howard Rye.] 

All takes (take-1 has not turned up yet) of the Ida Cox song are virtually identical, both lyrically and musically.  Only takes-5 and 6 include an additional verse which is a “T is for Texas” variant, some 4 years prior to country singer Jimmy Rodgers picking up on it for his Blue Yodel in 1927, as Steve Tracy pointed out in his notes to DOCD-5573 in 1997.
Ida Cox - 'Uncrowned Queen of the Blues' c. 1924
From the collection of John Tefteller and Blues Images with permission,


Hazel Meyers cut a fine version some 3 months later and she slavishly copies the earlier takes by Ida Cox.  Although in a different order but she uses the “Bingham Town” verse whilst omitting the “T is for Texas” lines.  Four days later Bessie Smith’s version followed the Myer’s order of verses except omitting the “Bingham Town” verse altogether.  This seems to imply a personal biographic detail (not always the case) regarding a ‘window’ on the earlier life of Ida Cox. Hazel Meyers placed this verse as the penultimate one in her song, presumably as it had no personal interest or meaning for her.  Chicago Bound Blues is credited to Lovie Austin who was often the excellent pianist on earlier Ida Cox recordings.

Now, to the nub of Paul Garon’s query.  Although not on early 20th. century maps, a 1995 road atlas does include a Bingham in Illinois.  It is only recently (2010!) that I came across a copy of McNally’s 1928 Handy Railroad Atlas of the United States.  Part of the criteria for this excellent and essential publication (to a Blues historian) is that only “towns of 2,000 population or over on railroads are shown on this map [of Illinois] (3)   This figure varies for other state maps included, between 500 and 5,000, depending on the population of a particular state in 1928.  So Bingham in the late 1920s was a very small burg indeed.  Yet it was served by a major railroad (the town was probably just a whistle stop) when presumably Ida Cox was living there.  The New York, Chicago & St. Louis RR-better known as the Nickel Plate Road-running from west to east leaving St. Louis, Missouri, and via Bingham crosses Ramsey, Illinois, which was a stop on the Illinois Central (I.C.).  The latter headed north for Chicago or southwards through Centralia, Illinois, (of Estes fame!) down to Cairo, Illinois, and on into Tennessee and then Mississippi on down to New Orleans.  Bingham is situated some 10 miles due south-west of Ramsey and nearly 20 miles north-west of Vandalia, Illinois; both in Fayette County

1995 road atlas - Bingham is circled near centre.

Ida Cox could have easily got a train from Chattanooga, Tennessee-where she spent some considerable time and recording a Chattanooga Blues-up to Ramsey on the I.C. changing over to the Nickel Plate for a very short ride to Bingham.  Maybe she met the man in her Chicago Bound Blues there and decided to live in the little town for a while.  Ms. Cox who was from Toccoa, Georgia, in Stephens County, spent some considerable time in northern cities such as Chicago and New York where she recorded extensively between 1923 and 1940.  Using the Nickel Plate Road to nearby Ramsey, Ida Cox could catch an I.C. train direct to the Windy City.

A section of McNally’s 1928 map of Illinois railroads - I have written in Bingham in top right hand corner.
The Nickel Plate is clearly marked from St. Louis and crossing Ramsey

Like many of her contemporaries this vaudeville-blues singer was a ‘ramblin’ woman in her younger days.  Jaybird Coleman’s words; 

Gotta head full of foolishness, my baby got a ramblin’ mind.(4) 

are more typical than not.  As well as her sojourns in Chicago, etc. she also “frequently toured as [a] feature artist on [the] vaudeville circuit down [the] East Coast through [the] 20s;”. (5)   But despite being one of the 4 ‘hard hitters’ of the genre along with Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and Clara Smith-and just as successful- she is not featured in the Guinness Blues Who’s Who. Although her regular early pianist and sometime husband, Jesse Crump, is!  Ms. Cox is only mentioned ‘en passant’ in the latter’s entry.


Nickel Plate Road

A smart new dining car (c. early 1930s) with fast trucks (sets of bogie wheels) on the Nickel Plate Road.
Black waiters would prove the smooth running by filling cups of coffee to the brim and they would not spill!
The official (initialled) name of the railroad  appears in small letters above an end door.

“In the late 19th. century, nickel was used interchangeably with silver to describe something of prestige or quality.  The glittering prospects and substantial financial means of the Nickel Plate’s founders prompted Ohio newspaper editor F.R. Loomis of theNorwalk Chronicle to label it ‘the great NewYork and St.Louis double track, nickel plated railroad’ in an editorial published March 10, 1881”. (6)   A wide-spread story that the railroad laid its route with nickel plated tracks is almost bound to be apocryphal-for the prohibitive cost alone.  The railroad was sold, for $7,000,000, three days after opening in 1881 to William H. Vanderbilt who owned the New York Central RR., a powerful rival to the Nickel Plate and regarded the latter as “one of those nuisance railroads, built parallel to the Central’s Lake Shore route for 500 miles between Buffalo [New York] and Chicago.” (7)   Facing probable anti-trust charges in the courts, the NYC sold the Nickel Plate in 1916. (8)   As already noted, the latter ran from St. Louis, crossing the I.C. at Ramsey (where Ida Cox could leave the Nickel Plate from Bingham, Illinois, to catch an Illinois Central train to Chicago) and headed for Buffalo, NY.

Copyright ÓMax Haymes 2011


1.Garon P. p.22
2.“Chicago Bound Blues (Famous Migration Blues)” Ida Cox vo.; Lovie Austin pno. July-August, 1923. Chicago, Illinois.
3.McNally R.


4.“No More Good Water Cause The Pond Is Dry” Jaybird Coleman vo. hca. c.13/8/27. Birmingham, Alabama.
5.Harris S.          p.134
6.Sanders C. p.151
7.Saunders Jr. R. p.50
8.Sanders Ibid. (see p.153) and also Sanders. Ibid. p. 52

Illustration of Ida Cox from the collection of John Tefteller and Blues Images with permission,


1.Harris ShelbyBlues Who’s Who[ Da Capo. New York] 1989. Rep. 1st. pub. 1979.
2.McNally Rand.1928 Handy Railroad Atlas Of The United States [Kalmbach Publishing Co. Milwaukee, Wisconsin] 1948. Rep. 1st pub. 1928.
3.Sanders CraigLimiteds, Locals, And Expresses In Indiana, 1838-1971 [Indiana University Press.Bloomington. Indianapolis]2003.
4.Saunders Jr. Richard.Merging Lines: American Railroads 1900-1970[Northern Illinois University Press. De Kalb] 2001.
5.Discographical details: Robert M.W. Dixon. John Godrich. Howard Rye.Blues & Gospel Records1 890-1943. 4th. Ed.,(rev.).  Ed. [Clarendon Press. Oxford] 1997.

Transcriptions by Max Haymes

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Background Essay on Mahalia Jackson

Mahalia Jackson is an American gospel singer famous for her involvement in the civil rights movement. This short overview describes her life and career.

Mahalia Jackson is an American gospel singer, widely regarded as the best in the history of the genre.  She was born on October 26, 1911 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Mahalia was the child of John A. Jackson, a barber and preacher, and Charity Clark, who died at the age of 25 when Mahalia was four years old. In 1916, her father sent her to live with her aunt Mahalia "Duke" Paul. Aunt Duke did not  allow secular music in her house, but Mahalia's cousin would sneak in records. Even at a very young age, Mahalia had a booming voice and she would sing hymns and old-time gospel tunes around the house.

Mahalia Jackson is viewed by many as the pinnacle of gospel music. Her singing began at the age of four in her church, the Plymouth Rock Baptist Church in New Orleans. Her early style blended the freedom and power of gospel with the stricter style of the Baptist Church. As a teenager, through her cousin's aid, she was influenced by such famous singers as Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Enrico Caruso and Ma Rainey, and her own style began to emerge into a more soulful expression.

In 1927, at the age of 16, she moved to Chicago and found work as a domestic. But soon after, she found plenty of work as a soloist at churches and funerals after joining the Greater Salem Baptist Church choir. Her unique contralto voice caught the attention of many small churches from coast to coast. Larger, more formal churches frowned upon her energetic renditions of songs. After performing with the Prince Johnson Singers, she began recording for Decca Records in 1937. When the records did not sell as well as expected, she became a beautician. However, after five years of touring with composer Thomas A. Dorsey at gospel tents and churches, Mahalia's popularity and success garnered her another record contract, this time with Apollo Records, from 1946 to 1954. She then switched to Columbia Records, from 1954 to 1967, where she attained broad recognition as a spiritual singer.

Throughout the 1950s, Mahalia's voice was heard on radio, television and concert halls around the world. Her shows were packed in Europe, and her audience was very enthusiastic at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival, at a special all-gospel program she requested. In 1954, she began hosting her own Sunday night radio show for CBS. She performed on the Ed Sullivan show in 1956 where she catapulted gospel music into America's mainstream. She sang for President Dwight Eisenhower and at John F. Kennedy's inaugural ball in 1960.

From the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott until her death, Mahalia was very prominent in the Civil Rights Movement. Very close with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she often performed at his rallies--even singing an old slave spiritual before his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington in 1963. She also sang at his funeral five years later.

The year of her death, Mahalia was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In addition, she was posthumously inducted into the Gospel Music Association's Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1978. Mahalia Jackson is widely regarded as the greatest gospel singer in history and one of the voices of the 20th-century. Indeed, her good friend Martin Luther King said "a voice like hers comes along once in a millennium." In 1997, Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame "as a pioneer interpreter of gospel music whose fervent contralto was one of the great voices of this century."

Despite her doctors ordering her to slow down, Mahalia refused and collapsed while on tour in Munich in 1971. She died of heart failure on January 27, 1972, at her home in Evergreen Park, Illinois.

Well-Known Songs

•    How I Got Over"
•    "Trouble of the World"
•    "Silent Night"
•    "Go Tell It on the Mountain"
•    "Amazing Grace"
•    "Take My Hand, Precious Lord"
•    "Remember Me"
•    "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho"
•    "Holding My Saviour's Hands"
•    "Roll Jordan, Roll"
•    "The Upper Room"
•    "We Shall Overcome"
•    "I'm on My Way to Canaan"
•    "You'll Never Walk Alone"

Source | Essay adapted from: Jules Schwerin, Go Tell It: Mahalia Jackson, Queen of Gospel (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) and Bob Darden, People Get Ready: A New History of Black Gospel Music (New York: Continuum, 2004).
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Article/Essay
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Background Essay on Mahalia Jackson,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed March 14, 2018,


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