Sunday, July 27, 2003

City is home to queens of blues



By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

If Dayton is the Birthplace of Aviation (airplane inventors Wilbur and Orville Wright lived there), Cincinnati can call itself the Birthplace of the Blues.

Cincinnatian Mamie Smith was the first African-American to record a successful blues song. Her "Crazy Blues" became a huge hit record in 1919 and ushered in the 1920s blues craze for African-American female singers that included the great Bessie Smith (no relation), Alberta Hunter and Sippie Wallace, who was a major influence on Bonnie Raitt.

For a long time, though, a woman's place in the blues remained at the front of the stage, singing in a pretty gown, while blues musicians were men.

By the end of the '20s, guitar-slinging women were appearing, including Memphis Minnie and lesser-knowns such as Mattie Delaney and Geeshie Wiley. Louis Armstrong's Memphis-born second wife, Lil Hardin, was a pianist who recorded with blues singers, notably Alberta Hunter, in sessions for Gennett Records in Richmond, Ind.

With 2003 being the Year of the Blues, it's fitting that the Queen City Blues Fest is paying tribute to the early country blues styles in its biggest-ever acoustic lineup.

And, since, thanks to Cincinnati's Smith, the blues first gained national popularity as a woman's music, it's even more fitting that two of those acoustic blues virtuosi are women - guitarist Rory Block and harmonica player Annie Raines.




QUEEN CITY BLUES FEST PREVIEW
Blues Fest schedule
Women get blue, too
Six local ladies who belt the blues
City is home to queens of blues
Players give fest doses of tradition, progression

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