Black History Month Blues Series
The Monroe County Library System’s award-winning history lesson with a backbeat.
With awards from the Public and Michigan Library Associations, the Rhythm & Blues Foundation and The Blues Foundation’s 2009 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Education (the blues world’s most prestigious honor available to non-musicians), the series is now the state’s longest running annual blues celebration.
Blues 2021 – Monroe County’s 34th Annual Black History Month Blues Series
2021’s edition of the Blues Series will give extra oomph to “once in a lifetime,” knock wood, as all events in the series go online-only, with a concert made available on the Monroe County Library System’s Facebook page each and every Tuesday at 7:00 pm beginning on February 2. Those four performances will set the table for a very special Big Gig! concert, which will go live at 7:00 pm on Saturday, February 27th.
All events will remain online for 24 hours.
“It’s going to be an unusual year, to understate,” said Blues Series project manager Bill Reiser, “but rather than taking a year off, we’re committed to presenting a series that keeps the tradition alive in as close to the spirit of the event as today’s reality allows. An online event will never be the same as a bunch of us gathering together to experience live music in the moment, but look at it this way—for this year, anyway, there’s no standing in line waiting for doors to open, no late night drive home on slippery roads, and everyone’s got the best seat in the house without having to show up two hours before showtime. And you can watch in your pajamas, if that’s your thing.”
Tuesday, February 2, 2021 at 7:00 pm
Jontavious Willis in Concert
2021’s schedule kicks off at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, February 2, with the triumphant Blues Series return of Grammy nominee Jontavious Willis, who knocked out a standing room only crowd at the Ida Branch Library in 2018. Living Blues wrote about the Georgia native: “Only a few like him emerge every decade or so, when even the most hard core blues fans realize immediately that this is the real deal, a player and singer whose got it all: Deep roots feeling, instrumental prowess and a voice that carries the heart and soul of the blues with unwavering connection to the ancient roots.” Jontavious grew up singing gospel music at the Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church with his grandfather. At the age of 14, he came across a YouTube video of Muddy Waters playing “Hoochie Coochie Man” and was hooked. That’s when he set his course on the blues. All types — Delta, Piedmont, Texas, and gospel–as a fingerpicker, flat-picker and slide player, on guitar, harmonica, banjo and cigar box. His 2019 album Spectacular Class, produced by Keb’ Mo’ and executive produced by Taj Mahal, earned a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album.
Tuesday, February 9, 2021 at 7:00 pm
Bobby Rush in Concert
The Blues Series is honored to welcome Bobby Rush, the legendary Grammy-winning Blues Hall of Famer, twelve-time Blues Music Award winner, and B.B. King Entertainer of the Year, who’ll make his series debut with a rare solo acoustic performance. Rush is one of the last Black bluesmen from the class to emerge out of and triumph in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. He has recorded for more than 20 labels over his nearly 70-year career, from Checker/Chess and ABC to Philly Int’l and Rounder/Concord, accumulating more than 400 songs, 75 releases, and now 27 albums. After earning a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album and a Blues Music Award for Album of the Year for his studio recording Porcupine Meat in 2017, he spent a year writing his follow-up. In 2019, at age 85, he released Sitting on Top of the Blues, featuring 11 originals, earning him another Blues Music Award and Grammy Award nomination. To cap off 2019 he had a cameo in the Golden Globe-nominated Netflix original film Dolemite Is My Name, the Rudy Ray Moore biopic featuring Eddie Murphy as Moore.
Tuesday, February 16, 2021 at 7:00 pm
Victor Wainwright in Concert
Though his career began over a decade ago with genuine rock n’ roll honky-tonk, Victor Wainwright has broadened his artistic scope over the years to include music representing virtually every corner of the roots music world. His insatiable interest in music discovery, sheer love for entertaining, and curiosity have led him all around the world, and the resulting perspective is a reflection of his passion for entertaining and creating progressive roots music in an effort to move the art form forward. Composer, producer, vocalist, and award winning entertainer and piano player; Victor is a raucous high-octane, dynamic performer and crowd pleaser with soul to spare. Truly “back by popular demand” after his wild 2016 Blues Series debut at the Bedford Branch Library.
Tuesday, February 23, 2021 at 7:00 pm
Selwyn Birchwood in Concert
The Blues Series debut of Selwyn Birchwood, the groundbreaking blues visionary Rolling Stone called “a remarkable, contemporary bluesman…a powerhouse young guitarist and soulful vocalist.” Since the 2014 release of his Alligator Records debut, Don’t Call No Ambulance, Birchwood’s meteoric rise from playing small Florida clubs to headlining international festival stages is nothing short of phenomenal. He calls his original music “electric swamp funkin’ blues,” defined by raw and soulful musicianship played with fire-and-brimstone fervor. His gritty, unvarnished vocals draw his audience deep inside his unforgettable tales of love, passion, pain and pleasure. His latest Alligator Records release, Living in a Burning House, dropped on January 29.
Saturday, February 27, 2021 at 7:00 pm
The Big Gig! – Monroe County’s 34th Annual Black History Month Blues Concert
The 2021 Blues Series concludes with a long overdue tribute to Detroiter Rev. Robert B. Jones, Sr. who began the series with a 1988 solo acoustic performance at our Navarre Branch Library and has returned each and every year since. His masterful combination of impeccable, multi-instrumental musicianship, deep knowledge of the history of blues and roots music, and compelling (and often hilarious) storytelling, has served Monroe County’s music fans well, as Rev. Robert’s starred in and co-created what’s been called “a history lesson with a backbeat” that’s lasted for over three decades. For this online Big Gig! he’ll be joined by some faces familiar to Blues Series regulars (we may announce some of these in advance) and a special surprise guest or three (which we will not).
Camera Credit for the Big Gig! goes to: Dave Schall and Cory Robinson
Audio recording: Dave Schall
All audio and video post-production: Dave Schall
2021 Blues Series Thanks
While there was really never any doubt there’d be a 34th Annual Black History Month Blues Series, in spite of it all—and that “all” is doing some power lifting in a pandemic–it did not and could not happen without the commitment and creativity of a disparate group of good humans I’m fortunate and honored to get to work with on this project.
Personal and professional thanks to Tim McGorey, Rev. Robert B. Jones, Sr., Peter Madcat Ruth, Matt Watroba, Samuel James, Jontavious Willis, Victor Wainwright, Bernice Jones, Rich DelGrosso, Phil Wiggins, Patrick “I knew you’d check to make sure” Dunn, Kevin Hopkins, Harty Weidemann, Jack Randall, Nancy Bellaire, Dorothy Krueger, Sandy Calkins, Suzanne Krueger, Amber Reed, David Ross, Dave Schall, Cory Robinson, Tom Ryder, Casey Watterworth, MarZee Meyers, Lee Markham, and Molly Luempert-Coy.
Thanks to Connie Carroll and United Way of Monroe / Lenawee Counties—sorry for ducking the photo op.
Breaking a pact to not thank each other in every exchange, special thanks to my colleague Christine Greggs for all of the above-and-beyond she asserts is “just doing her job.”
And for keeping me (relatively) sane: Eivor, Charyse, and Anais, who deserves a thank you list in and of itself, and who very, very likely saw that last part coming.
– Bill Reiser, Monroe County Library System
Blues Series Sponsors
Monroe County’s 34th Annual Black History Month Blues Series is presented by the Monroe County Library System, Monroe County Community College, and the 2021 Blues Coalition of community partners: DTE Foundation, Friends of Carleton, Friends of Dorsch, Friends of Ellis, and Friends of Ida.
This project is supported by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
To learn more about the Blues Series, please contact the Monroe County Library System at 734-241-5277.