American Epic is an award-winning documentary series about the first recordings of rural music in the U.S.A. and their cultural, social and technological impact on the world. Using the last surviving electrical sound recording system from 1925, meticulously rebuilt for this film, The American Epic Sessions documents twenty contemporary artists, paying tribute to their early influences and the technology that gave birth to popular music. Using recent interviews, early recordings, and a wide range of period film, photographs, and documents, many of them previously unknown or unpublished, American Epic explores the varied sources and extensive impact of this explosion of American popular culture.
Interdisciplinary artist and educator avery r. young is a 3Arts Awardee and one of four executives for The Floating Museum. His poetry and prose are featured in several anthologies including The Golden Shovel Anthology and The BreakBeat Poets. Most recently, his poetry is featured in photographer Cecil McDonald Jr’s In The Company of Black(Candor Arts). He is the featured vocalist on flouist Nicole Mitchell’s Mandorla Awakening (FPE Records)and is currently touring with her Black Earth Ensemble and his funk/soul band de deacon board. Young’s first collection of visual and traditional poetry, neckbone (Northwestern University Press) will be released Spring 2019.
Barry Dolins is the former Deputy Director of the internationally renowned Chicago Blues Festival, held annually in Grant Park. Serving 27 years, he retired in 2010. Barry is currently an “artist-in-residence” with Media Burn Archive to help digitize his valuable recordings from 1982-1984.
Born into and raised by a sharecropping family in rural Georgia, vocalist and multi- instrumentalist Bill Sims Jr. is an internationally respected master of the blues. He began playing piano at age four and by fourteen he was playing professionally in a rhythm and blues group. A Warner Bros. recording artist, Mr. Sims is also an accomplished musical director and has lent his talents to many theater and film productions in New York and the United States. His film credits include Lackawanna Blues, Miss Ruby's House, American Gangster, and the recent Cadillac Records. He was also the subject of a critically acclaimed PBS documentary, An American Love Story, in 1999. Mr Sims currently lives in NYC where he mentors a new generation of blues and roots musicians.
Billy Branch was discovered by Willie Dixon, the “father of modern Chicago Blues,” while Branch was still in college. Willie encouraged Branch to finish his
college education, which he did, but instead of going to law school after receiving his political science degree, he began touring with the Willie Dixon Chicago All-Stars. He’s recorded with Willie Dixon, Johnny Winter, Lou Rawls, Koko Taylor, Eddy Clearwater, Honeyboy Edwards, Syl Johnson, Lurrie Bell, Lonnie Brooks, Ronnie Baker Brooks, John Primer, and Taj Mahal, just to name a few. In addition, Branch has received three Grammy nominations; has won multiple W.C. Handy Awards from the Blues Foundation; an Emmy Award; an Addy Award; two Chicago Music Awards; and numerous humanitarian achievement awards. His internationally recognized “Blues in Schools Program” is committed to teaching both young and old about the Blues as the roots of America’s music. Branch has become the ambassador of the Chicago Blues. He and his band, the Sons of Blues, have delivered this cultural legacy around the world, having made over 70 international tours. The 2017 Chicago Blues Festival honored the 40th anniversary of Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues.
Charlie Musselwhite is more than a great harmonica player—he's a consummate Chicago bluesman with roots that stretch to Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker and the giants of the genre. Charlie released his first album in 1966 and has been at it ever since. Although long revered among blues aficionados—Musselwhite was the model for the Blues Brothers parody of the briefcase-toting harp player—he also enjoys wider appeal as a solo performer and an accompanist for a diverse lineup of rock, pop, gospel and soul artists.
Now 72 years old, Charlie Musselwhite shows no signs of slowing down. His most recent albums have been among his finest, demonstrating his talents as a bandleader and musical curator. Energized and in fine voice, he remains true to his roots while continuing to evolve and expand the boundaries of his art.
Multi-talented Grammy Award-winning blues artist and actor Chris Thomas King has been known for his audacious fusion of blues and hip-hop, but the Louisiana-born King reached a whole new audience with the 2000 Coen Brothers film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" -- not only appearing on the award-winning soundtrack but also playing a prominent supporting character, the legendary bluesman Tommy Johnson. King had previously been a determined progressive, hoping to reinvigorate the blues as a living African American art with a more contemporary approach and adamantly refusing to treat it as a museum piece whose "authentic" forms needed careful preservation.
Bitten by the Blues is Iglauer’s memoir of a life immersed in the blues—and the business of the blues. In this book, Iglauer takes us behind the scenes, offering unforgettable stories of those charismatic musicians and classic sessions, delivering an intimate and unvarnished look at what it’s like to work with the greats of the blues. It’s a vivid portrait of some of the extraordinary musicians and larger-than-life personalities who brought America’s music to life in the clubs of Chicago’s South and West Sides. Bitten by the Blues is also an expansive history of half a century of blues in Chicago and around the world, tracing the blues recording business through massive transitions, as a genre of music originally created by and for black southerners adapted to an influx of white fans and musicians and found a worldwide audience.
Deitra Farr is considered one of Chicago ’s top vocalists, according to Living Blues Magazine (May 1997). Fiery, energetic, and soul-stirring describes this woman, who has over the years been nominated for Traditional Female Blues artist of the year by the W.C. Handy Awards, Female Blues Artist of the year by the Living Blues Critics Awards, the British Blues Connection Awards, and the Les Trophees France Blues awards. On October 4, 2015 Deitra was inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame as a " Legendary Blues Artist ". On December 9, 2016 the National Southern Soul Foundation gave Deitra " The Most Popular Blues Artist Award". Deitra is the recipient of the 2017 Jus Blues Music Foundation's "Koko Taylor Queen of the Blues Award".
Blues Kids is an internationally recognized multicultural, interdisciplinary, artist-in-residency music program founded by musician, author and educator, Fernando Jones. It is designed to help improve literacy through music in a hands-on, nurturing environment. Blues Kids is an internationally recognized multicultural, interdisciplinary, artist-in-residency music program founded by musician, author and educator, Fernando Jones. It is designed to help improve literacy through music in a hands-on, nurturing environment. Join us in kicking off their 30th Anniversary season and Blues Camp's 10th Anniversary season. For more information on how Blues Kids and Blues Camp visit BluesKids.com/Chicago.
James Porter is a Chicago-based writer/DJ/musician who has been chronicling the roots music scene for various publications. A Loyola University graduate, he was a staff writer at New City magazine starting in 1994, followed by being on the original staff of Time Out Chicago, writing about the local and national roots/blues music scenes. He also worked with the Blues In The Schools foundation, teaching middle-school students about the blues heritage in Birmingham, AL and Baltimore, MD. A freelancer for various publications, such as the Chicago Sun-Times, Living Blues, No Depression, Chicago Reader and Illinois Entertainer, Porter’s writing has also been featured in Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, A Native's Guide To Chicago, and Flying Saucers Rock & Roll. As a musician, he has performed with the bands Hoodoo Hoedown, the Dealbreakers and Tijuana Hercules. As a DJ, he had a residency at The Hideout. Currently, he is the host of Hoodoo Party, a monthly showcase on WLUW-FM, specializing in early rock & roll and rhythm & blues, ca. 1950-67. Next year, he will have a book published by Northwestern University Press - Wild In The Streets: Tales From Rock & Roll's Negro Leagues, a book about underrated African-American rock pioneers.
Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton is a musician bringing back the magic of a bygone era of American jazz. Drawing inspiration from the blues scene of the 1930s, Paxton has become a master of forgotten music, transporting his audiences to another time. By the time he was 18 years old, Paxton was declared legally blind, lending way to his moniker “Blind Boy.” Still, his love of music never waned. The multi-instrumentalist and musical virtuoso continues forward on his historical mission, rediscovering and spreading the genius of the original black music of America.
As the title of his critically acclaimed Atlantic Records CD suggests, Grammy Award and Blues Music Award Nominee, John Primer is truly “The Real Deal.” At 8 years old, John borrowed his first guitar and started to strum. Before that he played a homemade guitar built on the wall of the house with a broom wire, 2 nails, and 2 rocks to make it tight. With the sounds of Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Little Milton, Elmore James, BB & Albert King reverberating through his Grandmother Laura Nell’s tube radio, John was instantly hooked. Early inspiration came from his family steeped in spiritual, gospel, blues and R&B tradition. As a young boy John’s mother knew he would be a singer, “he came out singing” she would say. John first appeared on stage at the local Baptist church, in his hometown of Camden Mississippi.
Katherine Davis is a Vocalist, Songwriter, Actress, Recording Artist, and Blues-In-The-Schools Educator. Her passion for singing was influenced at an early age due to her family’s musical background, which included an array of musical genres; typical for what ended-up being settled into Chicago prior to the 50’s. Diversity for culture, music; understanding the depth of history inherent with the blues, depicting freedom from slavery; coupled with the narrative woven deeply within struggling musicians during a tumultuous era; became the threshold of influences for Katherine’s unbridled interest to teach children. For Katherine, it’s about sharing her life experiences, expanding a deeper understanding for today’s youth –in relation to their hidden gifts for music, while expanding their purview and appreciation for the heritage of blues, the personalities and icons that preceded them, which is woven into the fabric of this nation’s culture. These are the types of perspectives from which Katherine creates her inter disciplinary curriculum.
Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, one of the best known living blues drummers today, learned 99% of what he knows about drumming from his father and was also inspired by acclaimed drummers: Odie Payne, Fred Below, Earl Phillips, Louie Bellson, S.P. Leary, Francis Clay and Art Blakey, Sonny Payne, Clifton James and many others who paved the way. And with those experiences Kenny has revitalized and created new interpretations of the blues drummers as he pushes blues drumming to new innovative and tradition styles. Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith is a world famous, multi-award winning, blues drummer extraordinaire who in 2011 won a Grammy award for his remarkable work on Joined at The Hip with Pinetop Perkins and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Kenny had the honor and privilege of contributing to that project both through song writing and drumming and is delighted that his accomplishments and talents were recognized by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Leanne’s vocal skills can be tracked back to the churches of Inkster, Michigan, where traditional songs of the late Reverend James Cleveland and Evangelist Shirley Caesar were strong influences in her life and her career choices and was requested to sing background on several occasions.
At the age of 15, she sang with the Southwestern Michigan State Choir as a lead singer under the direction of the late Mattie Moss Clark. After relocating to Chicago, Illinois and recording with several groups and church choirs, the Lord directed Leanne to the Grammy Awardwinning Reverend Milton Brunson and The Thompson Community Singers The Tommies”. As premier lead vocalist, she had countless No.1 songs with The Tommies. Some of these included The Holy Ghost, Waymaker, Guess You’re Wondering, Just a Prayer Away, just to name a few.
Matthew Skoller is the Programming Director of this year’s Logan Center Bluesfest and one of Chicago’s most respected harp blowers and blues bandleaders. For the past 32 years he has played all of Chicago’s heaviest showcase venues and toured much of the world with his super tight ensembles. Deeply rooted in the tradition of the Chicago blues elders with whom he worked and studied, Skoller has developed a unique style that conjures the past while being firmly planted in the present. In the past 7 years he has performed on 4 Grammy nominated CDs and 2 of his original compositions have been nominated for song of the year by the Blues Music Awards. Including the title cut of his 2016 release Blues Immigrant which has been hailed by critics as one of the best Blues releases of that year. He has produced 2 of Lurrie Bell’s most critically acclaimed CDs and coproduced Chicago Blues A Living History: The (R)evolution Continues as well as 5 of his own albums.
Ruthie Foster is a singer-songwriter who explores a wide palette of American song forms—Blues, Gospel, Folk, Soul and Jazz. She was born in Gause, Texas, where she was raised in a family of gospel singers. These influences, as well as her father’s love of blues and soul music, provided the basis for her all-encompassing approach to art. From her humble beginnings to a tour of duty with the U.S. Navy Band, Foster’s voice has taken her on a journey where, the artist says, “the one consistency in all my music is just the joy […] that’s why I want you feeling and hearing.” Foster’s last three albums have each been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Blues Album. She won seven Blues Music Awards, a Living Blues Critics’ Award for Female Blues Artist of the Year, three Austin Music Awards for Best Female Vocalist, and the Grand Prix du Disque award from the Académie Charles-Cros in France.
John Primer has known Steve and all his brothers way back when they were just kids growing up on the south-side of Chicago. John would visit their Dad, Carey Bell. Steve first joined the RDBB way back in 1996 and he even came to John's jam nights at Checkerboard Lounge before that. He is an Original RDBB Member. His father, the Legendary Carey Bell taught him how to play harmonica. Steve and his brothers all grew up learning how to play the blues. His big brother is the Legendary Lurrie Bell and both his younger brothers Tyson Bell, bassist and James Bell, drummer complete the Bell Family Dynasty Band. Steve has come a long way with his sound. He has not only taken all that his father taught him, but has established his own very unique sound of his own He is like a blues harmonica train, so hold on tight he'll take you for a ride!
Inspired by the '60s piano-drums recordings of Otis Spann and S.P Leary, pianist Johnny Iguana and drummer Michael Caskey formed The Claudettes in 2011. The band has since evolved into a four-piece group with vocals and guitars, but the original concept of the group (as heard on their early recordings) was a piano-drums instrumental blues duo. Johnny had toured with Junior Wells and Otis Rush and recorded with many Chicago blues legends (as well as his own cult-favorite punk-organ band Oh My God), and Michael had grown up playing drums for multiple bluesmen in Detroit and is now one of the most in-demand drummers in Chicago.
This video won the Independent Music Award for Best Long-Form Music Video.
Ruben Santiago-Hudson is a Tony Award-winning actor, an accomplished writer/director with three Obie awards. In addition to an Emmy and Golden Globe nomination he received numerous accolades for his screenplay of HBO’s Lackawanna Blues. Most recently he received a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director Of A Play for his Tony Award winning revival of August Wilson’s JITNEY. Which also garnered Outer Critics Circle, Drama League and NY Drama Critic Circle awards along with 6 Tony Award nominations. Ruben received the 2013 Lucille Lortel and Obie Award for Best Direction of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, and in 2016 an Obie Award for Special Citations: Collaboration of the play Skeleton Crew with playwright Dominique Morriseau. Ruben recently stared in BET series The Quad and made his television directorial debut. He recurs in Showtime’s hit series Billions opposite Damian Lewis and also on OWN’s new David Makes Man alongside Phylicia Rashad.
Ruben made his Broadway acting debut in Jelly’s Last Jam, opposite Gregory Hines. He originated the role of Canewell in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, which earned him several awards including Broadways most prestigious award, the Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award for Featured Actor in a Play. Other Broadway credits include Lydia Diamond’s Stickfly produced by Alecia Keys and August Wilson’s Gem Of The Ocean.
Plumpp, who had written four books of poetry and Black Rituals (a prose work of social psychology about behavior that supports oppression of the black community) by 1975, won the Illinois Arts Council Literary Award that year for Clinton. His next and most comprehensive work, The Mojo Hands Call, I Must Go, brought him even more acclaim, winning another Illinois Arts Council Award for Poetry and the Carl Sandburg Literary Award for Poetry from the Friends of the Chicago Public Library in 1983. The poem "Fractured Dreams," says Cunningham, "dramatizes the effort of a self-doubting and self-denouncing protagonist to keep faith with that reservoir of collective identity best articulated by the blues tradition," and, in the title poem, reports a Choice reviewer, the speaker returns "to his rural origins via a reconversion to the mystical belief in the life force, the Mojo hands, that had sustained his people in the past."
Tyehimba Jess is the rare poet who bridges slam and academic poetry. His first collection, leadbelly (2005), anexploration of the blues musician Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter’s life, was chosen for the National Poetry Series by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and was voted one of the top three poetry books of the year by Black Issues Book Review. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that “the collection’s strength lies in its contradictory forms; from biography to lyric to hard-driving prose poem, boast to song, all are soaked in the rhythm and dialect of Southern blues and the demands of honoring one’s talent." Jess's second book Olio (2016) received the Pulitzer Prize.
Zahra Glenda Baker is an accomplished folk and jazz vocalist. She encourages people of all ages to celebrate their individual voices and to discover the joy of communal singing.
Zahra is partner in the 30-year old storytelling performance duo: In the Spirit; a member of several jazz ensembles including Sitarsys and Classic Black; and sings in the folk music duo ShaZah. She recently co-founded the community sing-a-long group Freedom Song Leaders, which has performed at schools and festivals in the Chicago area. Zahra currently works for the Old Town School of Folk Music as a Wiggleworms instructor. She often leads Family Folks and Song music sessions at the Logan Family Saturday events. Zahra is also a teaching artist in Chicago schools through Urban Gateways.