Photo: Courtesy of the artist
Every child wrestles with a parent’s legacy. That struggle, however, is particularly fraught for children of famous musicians. Trixie Whitley, the 25-year-old only child of the late, great experimental blues-rocker Chris Whitley, has contended with her father's legacy as she makes a name for herself in the music world.
Whitley first came into the spotlight alongside her dad, singing cameos on his records and dancing next to him at his concerts, including a 1999 set at the Chicago club Martyrs’ that was recorded for a live album. Her first EP, released in 2009, led to her joining Black Dub, a band created by Daniel Lanois, the record producer known for his work for the likes of U2 and Bob Dylan. In February, she released her first full-length solo record, Fourth Corner.
Consider poor Frank Sinatra Jr., who once declared that "a famous father means that in order to prove yourself you have to work three times harder than the guy off the street." The likes of Jakob Dylan, various Lennons, Marleys and Hank Williamses, and so on have similarly grappled with being overshadowed by their fathers and winning recognition on their own.
That challenge is made greater by Whitley’s eerie resemblance to her father. She inherited his huge, haunted eyes, lean, long-limbed physique and twitchy movements. His influence also is evident in her guitar playing, particularly the jarring, angular chord progressions that drive “Never Enough,” and the stormy feedback that drenches “Hotel No Name.”
But when Whitley opens her mouth, she sets the music entirely on her own terms. She has an enormous, soulful voice, a powerhouse instrument that recalls Etta James. On “Irene,” the opening track of “Fourth Corner,” she cries, “Irene, you ain’t taking my freedom away” with such force that you imagine she’s shredded her nemesis. It’s an old-school instrument, but Whitley doesn’t use it to go the retro soul route.
“I was born to listen to the oldest voices,” she sings on the record-closing “Oh Joy.” Yet what’s most striking about Trixie Whitley is that even while evoking those voices, including her father’s, she’s found her own.
Trixie Whitley performs May 3 at SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., evanstonspace.com; $15 to $27