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Shawn Ballarin

Alberta’s Joyous Blues

In the early 1980s I had the pleasure of seeing Alberta Hunter perform her captivating mix of bawdy blues, ballads and gospel tunes. Hunter was bewitching, her love of the music was infectious. She was in her mid-80s. The last time I saw her perform she had to be helped onstage in a wheelchair, but when she sang the years melted away. The music was in her blood.

In her first career the teenage Hunter started singing in brothels and bawdy houses, like many blues and jazz artists of the day. She became the toast of Chicago while still a teen, performing with King Oliver & his Creole Jazz Band featuring Louis Armstrong. She lived in New York during the Roaring ‘20s and performed in France during the historic Jazz Age. She recorded for many jazz labels, had a radio show in the 1930s and performed on Broadway. She was also a songwriter. Her “Downhearted Blues” was a giant hit for acclaimed blues singer Bessie Smith.

In the 1950s Hunter retired from music, trained to become a nurse and, at age 62, went to work at a New York hospital. She lived in relative obscurity until the late 1970s after she’d been forced to retire at the age of 81 from nursing. Then Hunter launched a second career, performing at famed New York jazz venue The Cookery. Downhearted Blues: Live at the Cookery is a reissue of a recording made of one of Hunter’s marvelous performances. Check it out at rockbeatrecords.com and discover or rediscover one of the great women of the blues. Hunter died in 1984. I still treasure memories of her live performances and the joy she brought to her audience.

Hot Notes

The Iguanas have several shows in the area including Thursday, Sept. 29, at The 21st Saloon at 5:30 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 1, at Lincoln’s Zoo Bar. (See 8 Days.) On Thursday, Sept. 29, Alligator Records’ Guitar Shorty plays the Zoo 6 p.m.-9 p.m., followed by the Blues Orchestra featuring Honeyboy Turner and the Lil’ Slim Blues Band after 9 p.m.

Matt Cox and Travelling Mercies gig at Harrah’s Stir bar on Friday, Sept. 30, at 9 p.m.

Robert Cray is scheduled for the Horseshoe Casino’s Whiskey Roadhouse on Wednesday, Oct. 5.

 

posted at 04:28 pm
on Monday, September 26th, 2011

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