is quick to point out that Blues is an uplifting force
- one that releases people from the troubles they may be experiencing.
After attending several of Shirley's shows, we couldn't agree more.
Barrelhouse Blues ("BB") is pleased to present an inside glimpse
of this amazing woman, performer and friend. We hope
you enjoy it, and please make it a point to see Shirley
at one of her shows. We can assure you that you will
enjoy every moment.
BB: You’ve been entertaining audiences for a long time.
How did you get your start singing the Blues?
SL: I began singing at the age of 4 so there was not time
for influences. My father taught us songs to sing and my mother taught
us the gospel songs. We didn't listen to much music in the household, because
we didn't have a radio or TV or modern conveniences until much later. My
siblings and I sang in fairs, schools, and churches throughout the East
Coast as the Lewis Gospel Singers. I was approached by a talent scout looking
for a vocalist to sing and he heard me and asked me to audition for this
band who just happened to be opening for BB King. I told him I had never
sang any of this kind of music, yet I agreed to do the audition and surprise
of surprises, I passed the audition and knew the songs somehow that they
wanted me to sing. The words just came to me by listening to the music.
I was elated to be opening for BB King. That was my start with the blues
BB: Starting your career as an opening act for BB King was
quite an accomplishment. What other memories and highlights of your career
stand out in your mind?
SL: There are so many, but these are a few. Being the headliner
in the first Black is Beautiful show in 1972 in Vancouver BC Canada. I
still remember how well the Canadians treated me, with respect and dignity.
Headlining in Chattanooga, Tennessee, 1997, at the Bessie Smith Strut Riverbend
Blues Fest in front of 80,000 people or more. It was like a sea of people.
Being chosen by Boston Woman Magazine in 1989 as one of the 100 most interesting
women of Boston. Receiving the Poetry Award twice, 2002, and 2004 for my
poetry from the International Society of Poets, and getting the Lifetime
Achievement Award from Blues Trust in 2001. There are so many its hard
to recall all of them, but thank you for asking.
BB: Having been performing since 1963, what changes have
you experienced within the music industry? Have the audiences changed?
Is it any different performing today than when you got started?
SL: Well the Audience at that time was all black. And clubs
were packed to the gill. Everyone would be into the music and having so
much fun. It was electrifying. The crowds now are a lot more white in certain
areas, and at times can be electrifying but people are held back from expressing
their enjoyment the way it used to be. Blues people like to have close
contact with one another from the stage to the audience. In a lot of venues
that has been removed.
BB: Who are some of the musicians you enjoy listening to
SL: I mostly listen to live performances except for reviewing
CD's of local talent to review for the Newsletter for the New England Blues
Society Online. I enjoy David Maxwell, Ronnie Earl, Robert Jr. Lockwood,
Pinetop Perkins, BB King and so many more. The list goes on.
BB: Is it still exciting to perform on stage? How do you
maintain your enthusiasm?
SL: I honestly believe that my music comes from the soul
and heart. When I write and arrange and come up with creative ideas, this
keeps me enthusiastic. The music from me is alive and uplifting and tells
my life through music.
BB: What would you like your fans to know most about you
and your music?
SL: I hope that my music and career keep moving forward and
reaches out and touches the heart and soul and mind of people of all ages,
which happens at my venues. People of all ages come to my shows and the
rooms are still filled after all these years. It keeps getting better and
better. The young people really support me and my shows and it is exciting
to see this still happening. Some of the club owners around here think
that the young people don't come out to see the older performers, but in
this type of music the young people are the ones who are really into the
music, Blues and Soul.
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