Artist Spotlight  
Shirley Lewis
By Robert John, correspondent to
© 2004, 2005 - All Rights Reserved

Shirley Lewis, Boston's First Lady of the Blues, has been thrilling audiences for decades. The joy and enthusiasm she feels while performing are obvious, and the fun she has while onstage quickly spreads throughout the audience making each and every show a very special event.

Shirley's philosophy on the Blues is simple. It's about feeling good. While some people may think that the Blues is about feeling bad, Shirley

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 in 1963.

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 today?

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.

© 2004, 2005 - All Rights Reserved

You may contact Shirley Lewis on the web at: