From left: Peaches Staten, Sharon Lewis, Nellie Travis, and Deitra Farr at Harlem Avenue Lounge
Blues capital of the world? Chicago still claims the title, but with the genre struggling to hold on to its tiny slice of the music industry’s ever-diminishing pie, it’s mostly an honorific. Making up an even smaller sliver are the divas of Chicago blues, the women who followed in the footsteps of Koko Taylor but remain largely unheralded in this male-dominated world. “I’ve run into a lot of stumbling blocks,” says Nellie “Tiger” Travis, who, at 52, has spent 20 years on the local blues circuit. “But I’m good at what I do.”
Janice Monti, of Dominican University in River Forest, agrees. Monti is the organizer of the school’s third Blues and the Spirit, two days of talks and performances intended to celebrate the city’s rich musical heritage and call attention to the keepers of the flame, especially the ladies. “We’ve got women, incredible talents, who record and tour overseas but are not recognized in Chicago,” Monti says. “The lived experience, the lyrics, the musical contributions have a lot to tell us about what it’s like to be Everywoman today.” We’ll sing to that.
GO Blues and the Spirit III runs May 18 and 19 at Dominican University. The musicians pictured here perform May 18 at Harlem Avenue Lounge; for info, dom.edu/blues.
Photograph: Saverio Truglia; Photo Assistant: Tim Blokel; Makeup: Cindy Shute