Blues Is A Woman

Blues Is A Woman. Written by Pamela Rose. Directed by Jayne Wenger. Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA.

A stellar Bay Area cast of strong, accomplished Bay Area musicians (Tammy Hall, Kristen Strom, Shaunna Hall, Daria Johnson, Ruth Davies and Pamela Rose) create a magic evening of sound and story in Pamela Rose’s jukebox history of the blues, Blues is a Woman. Focusing on the contributions and major achievements of female blues pioneers from Ma Rainey to Bonnie Raitt through live concert, seldom heard anecdotes and rare video, BIAW is both highly entertaining and educational.

Daria Johnson (drums/vocals). Photo by Jane Higgins.

Pamela Rose is no stranger to musicology, having previously created wild Women of Song, celebrating women composers of early jazz. She’s obviously done her research, lovingly telling the story of the blues in a compelling multimedia experience. Act One focuses early roots of the blues from Ma Rainey’s 1927’s “Don’t Fish in My Sea” sung by Pamela Rose, to Daria Johnson’s sizzling rendition of “Nobody Know the Way I Feel This Morning”, a 1924 recording by Margaret Johnson, and Ida Cox’s sly “One Hour Mama (Tammy Hall and Kristen Strom).

Guitarist Shaunna Hall and horn player Kristen Strom. Photo by Jane Higgins.

The storytelling includes mention of many of the early ‘black pearls’; Mamie Smith, the world’s first million-selling black female blues recording artist, the great Bessie Smith who’s “Backwater Blues” chronicled the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, and Memphis Minnie, guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter whose recording career lasted from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Act Two brings us up to date, adding white blues singers who liberally ‘borrowed’ the blues from their poorer, lesser known peers. Peggy Lee is represented with “You Was Right Baby” on video which then transitions to the live actors. Pamela Rose and Kristen Strom have fun with Dinah Washington’s double entendre’d “Big Long Sliding Thing”, and Rose knocks it out the park on Janis Joplin’s hit” Ball and Chain”, written by blues great Big Mama Thornton. Daria Johnson delivers a rocking version of “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” and a gut-wrenching cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “Love Me Like a Man”.

Tammy Hall (piano) and Pamela Rose (vocals). Photo by Jane Higgins.

The musicianship is top notch throughout; sax and clarinet work by Strom, solid rhythm lines by bassist Ruth Davies drummer Daria Johnson, scorching guitar work from ace guitarist Shaunna Hall, and the blues tempos of Tammy hall on the keys. Blues Is A Woman is delight from start to finish, skillfully blending music, theatre and history into a captivating time capsule of energy, passion and artistry.

Performance run through August 27th, 2017   415.798.2682