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12-1:15pm Nora Jean Wallace

Nora Jean Wallace (formerly Nora Jean Bruso) was born in Mississippi but Chicago can proudly claim her as one of the city’s own. Still, she never abandoned her roots, including from her blues shouting father Bobby Lee Wallace and gospel singing mother Ida Lee Wallace. While Wallace began performing in the early 1980s, guitar great Jimmy Dawkins saw her at a Chicago club and brought her into his band. That set her trajectory into overdrive as she accompanied him on stages throughout the world. Wallace took the lead for her own debut, Nora Jean Bruso Sings The Blues (Red Hurricane) in 2002 and her rough voice has become only more dynamic in the years since. This includes her 2020 album, Blueswoman (Severn), which also serves as a bold statement of purpose after she took a hiatus from recording. Along with original tunes that are very much in the straight ahead blues tradition, she also powers through soul-blues tracks by George Jackson and Syl Johnson. (AC)

1:30-2:45pm Keith Johnson & The Big Muddy Band

Born in the Mississippi, Keith Johnson came to the blues for reasons beyond geography. As the great nephew of Muddy Waters and grandson of gospel singer Texcellar Fields, it was only a matter of time before he brought his voice to the music. But it was not that much time, as Johnson began writing songs in high school and while he was a student at Delta State University (where he went on to earn his MBA degree). He continued writing tunes while also sharpening his singing and guitar lines, including playing lead with the Grady Champion Blues Band in 2016. He also took part in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis that year where he worked with musicians who worked with his legendary great uncle, including Bob Margolin and Eddie Shaw. Johnson then formed the Big Muddy Band and they’ve released the stunning single “Creeping and Walking” along with the holiday-themed EP, Sounds Like Christmas, while they’re working on a full album of his material. Along with his talents as a musician, Johnson wrote the crime novel, Free-Man. (AC)

3:00-4:15pm J’Cenae

J’Cenae sings in a sultry purr that recalls soul and R&B sirens like Sylvia and Mtume’s Tawatha Agee,  but her phrasing, her melisma-enriched melodic lines, and the subject matter of her songs (she portrays a woman who’s ready and willing to share love but  refuses to take second place or be treated as anything less than the queen she is) bespeak a sensibility honed by hip-hop and contemporary R&B along with the blues and southern soul that she has embraced as her own.  Born Jacqueline Cenae Williams in Rolling Fork, Miss., in 1986, she began her career as a background singer, working with the late Marvin Sease (a.k.a. “The Candy Licker”) among others. Her 2016 debut, “Good Stuff,” caught the attention of both club DJs and radio programmers, and since then she has built a reputation as one of the music’s most promising new voices. In 2023, J’Cenae released “Set the Groove” on her own Raw Soul Muzik label, an infectious hard-funk/R&B workout that has become a club favorite. In today’s southern soul-blues world, where genre distinctions matter less than groove, emotional honesty, danceability, and vocal prowess, J’Ceane is rapidly becoming a leading light. (DW)

4:30-5:45pm Big A & The Allstars

Anthony “Big A” Sherrod’s blues roots run deep. A native of Clarksdale, Miss., his godfather was Big Jack Johnson, a.k.a. The Oil Man, who was both a beloved figure on the Clarksdale scene and a bluesman of international renown; another important mentor was the late guitarist and educator Johnnie Billington, under whom Sherrod studied in the after-school program at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale.  By the time he was in his teens, Sherrod was an accomplished musician—his musical armamentarium grew to include guitar, bass, piano, and drums—and he soon expanded his territory to include appearances at clubs and festivals across the U.S. and overseas. He currently has two full-length albums to his credit: a 2014 recording done live at Red’s, Clarksdale’s world-famous juke joint, and Right On Time, released in 2022 on Nola Blue.  His sound remains rooted in the raw-edged blues of the Delta tradition, but he’ll also update it with melodic, chordal, and rhythmic ideas adapted from deep soul and southern soul-blues – all delivered with the kind of naked emotional honesty that can’t be faked, and which remains the hallmark of the true bluesman. (DW)


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