Spotlight: Roomful of Blues
Copyright © Vanity Fair magazine, June 2003.
"It's so nice to see all these people in one room," said Ruth Brown, "and not at a funeral." The occasion:
the "Salute to the Blues" show at Radio City Music Hall last February, which kicked off what Congress has declared
the "Year of the Blues."
The concert, which assembled a historic lineup of blues and R&B legends, rock stars and hip-hop artists, was the
first step. Next month, a seven-film documentary series will air on PBS, produced by
Martin Scorsese. The films, directed by Clin Eastwood, Mike Figgis, Wim Wenders, Marc Levin, Richard Pearce,
Charles Burnett, and Scorsese himself, feature archival footage (Son House, Mussy Waters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe)
as well as performances by contemporary greats (Lucinda Williams, Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Van Morrison). In addition, there will be an
accopanying book, the prerequisite CD boxed sets, DVDs, and a traveling exhibition -- all in conjunction with
the Memphis-based Blues Foundation and Seattle-based Experience Music Project. "As a longtime fan of the blues,"
says Scorsese, "I took on 'The Blues' to make people -- especially young people -- aware of the enormous
influence this music has had, and continues to have, on popular music." The Tadio City concert, filmed by director Antoine Fuqua
for relase later this year, included such highlights as Mavis Staples' bone-chilling "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean"
and duets by David Johansen and Hubert Sumlin, Bonnie Raitt and B.B. King, and James Blood Ulmer and Alison Krauss.
Cackstage, too, camaraderie reigned: from Staples, Macy Gray, and Angie Stone sharing a room and some pecan pie
to Solomon Bruke serving ribs in his dressing room. There hasn't been a collection of musicians of this caliber onstage
since, possibly, 1976, when Scorsese filmed The Last Waltz. And from the oldest exponents of the blues
(Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Lazy Lester, David Honeyboy Edwards, Robert Lockwood Jr.) to the youngest (the Jon
Spencer Blues Explosion), the lineup was living, breathing proof of the Willie Dixon line, "The blues are the
roots; everyhting else is the fruits." --LISA ROBINSON