The first week of February was such a hit (you can see my playlist and description here) that I decided to do the same structure for this year's Mardi Gras night on February 13th. I've dj'ed Mardi Gras at Tuesday Blues for the last 3 years and it's such a treat to play the rich and diverse music that comes out of New Orleans and Louisiana. This year I chose to only play black artists, often playing a couple tunes by the same artist and giving a little introduction so that the dancers could learn a little bit about the artist and history behind the songs. I received rave reviews from the format I used both weeks, with many people coming up to ask me the name of the artist or a track or just to thank me for sharing stories and playing such great tunes.
I got asked to fill in at the last minute to dj at our weekly dance the first week of February, which is Black History Month. I knew I'd be djing all black artists during the month of February, but I wanted to do something special, so I decided to feature an often under-represented demographic in blues: Women. For the most part I played multiple songs by an artist so that the dancers could really get a feel for their sound. I introduced the artists and tried to give a little tidbit of information about them. It was challenging at times interrupting the typical flow and chatter between songs to talk, but once folks got used to it, they started quieting down when they heard my voice to hear what was next.
We started off with none other than Ma Rainey and then transitioned into Bessie Smith, who worked with and learned from Ma Rainey. I told folks about the movie Bessie, which follows Bessie Smith's life. Next I featured two songs by Portland artist. First a song that Bessie Smith kinda turned into the first music video, St. Louis Blues, done by two late great gospel singers Linda Hornbuckle and Janice Scroggins; and then a song by the women who is holding it down in their absence, LaRhonda Steele.
Keeping in the gospel theme we moved to Ruthie Foster. After that we moved to some piedmont and country blues, starting with an artist who just passed away who was not only an incredible piedmont blues guitarists, but also a phenomenal buck dancer: Algia Mae Hinton. Then another piedmont blues guitarist, Etta Baker, then Mattie Delaney, and then some hill country with Jessie Mae Hemphill. Then we transitioned to Kim Massie, a Chicago artist who plays for dancers and is incredible live, starting with an atypical delta song and then moving into her more typical sound full of sass and soul. Following that we had our birthday jam, done to Big Mama Thornton's Hound Dog.
We came back into the social dancing with Ruth Brown. Next up we had Linda Hopkins first with an earlier track and then a live one from late in her life. Then we had Dinah Washington. After that I played Catherine Russell, an artist based in New York who is incredible and I've had the pleasure of hiring for bamBLOOZled a number of years ago. The next artist I featured was Gaye Adegbalola, an incredible Virginia artist, both queer and an activitst, who I also had the pleasure of hiring for bamBLOOZled this past year. The first song is with her former group Saffire The Uppity Blues Women. After that I played some Etta James, playing a less familiar and then likely very familiar song. I ended my set with two artists who very openly used their music to work through their suffering and sang about their experiences as black women in America. First we had Billie Holiday. I mentioned that she wrote Strange Fruit, which I was not going to play because of it's graphic depictions, but highly encouraged folks to listen to if they hadn't before. Finally we had Nina Simone, who was also a political activist and had a movie about her, which had controversy due to her struggles in the industry with having very dark skin and wide nose and that not being reflected in the actress who played her. Because of it's content, I prefaced the last song and asked folks to really listen to the words of what it is like to be a black women in America. I requested that if someone wanted to dance that they solo dance and refrain from partner dancing and really let the song sink in.
I then passed it off to Jeff Anderson who played other artists I didn't get a chance to, like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, LaVern Baker, Alberta Hunter, Mavis Staple and Aretha Franklin. So I'll leave with one more...