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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Blues Man Bobby Rush


Bobby Rush (Emmett Ellis Jr.) is proud of his heritage and his hometown roots.

Grammy Award winner is proud of his NWLA roots

The Bayou State carries a musical mythology of sorts. But it ain’t mythology; it’s reality and the truest story you’ve ever heard. There is something about the water, dirt, air and the ghosts of Louisiana that sings a song all by itself. I was born in the perfect place to do what I do. I can’t overstate the power of growing up in northwest Louisiana, where I got my music honestly in the soil and ghosts of Claiborne Parish.”

—From “I Ain’t Studdin’ Ya, Bobby Rush’s American Blues Story.”

The Clarion-Ledger calls him a Mississippi blues legend. Small towns up and down the Chitlin’ Circuit from Chicago to Arkansas and Texas claim him as their “king.” But Bobby Rush is quick to tell you that he’s, plain and simple, a Louisiana man. And Northwest Louisiana thinks we’re damn lucky to have him still lovin’ us.

“All My Love For You” is blues icon Bobby Rush’s third Grammy Award-winning album featuring all-original songs and his signature groove. “It’s not about a woman,” says Bobby Rush (he prefers the two names be said together). “The songs on this album are about my life, my ups and downs, and the people who were always there to lift me up. They are about where I’ve been, and where I’m going, like the words in the first song on the album, ‘I’m Free.’”

“We come a long way, but I got a long way to go. … It’s a shame a boy 9 years old had to work so hard every day. I used to pick cotton in the cotton field. Don’t mind picking cotton, y’all, if I own the cotton fields.”

At 90 years old, this last-man-standing funk/blues musician, singer and composer has won 16 Blues Music Awards and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame and Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame. He was the first blues artist to perform in China and played at the White House for Bill Clinton. And in 2021 he published an autobiography, “I Ain’t Studdin’ You: My American Blues Story” with Herb Powell. But one of his favorite honors came from his hometown of Homer, Louisiana, in Claiborne Parish, when he was named a Louisiana Legend during a festival that celebrates the beauty, history, people and resources of Claiborne Parish.

Bobby Rush takes great pride in being from Northwest Louisiana, and Claiborne Parish takes even more pride in celebrating their Louisiana Legend. Darden Gladney, past president and board member of the Herbert S. Ford Museum and a Louisiana State Arts Council member, says, “We are proud that from rural Claiborne Parish beginnings to international fame, Bobby Rush is proud to call Claiborne Parish home. We are in the second year of a project that celebrates all things juke joint, and Bobby Rush has been a generous resource to us throughout the project. He has a strong interest in our work to tell the story of our local culture.” Bobby likes to tell the folks of Claiborne Parish, “I might have crossed over, but I didn’t cross out.”

Rush’s story of performing along the Chitlin’ Circuit or Juke Joint Trail of that Louisiana region is, in part, what brought the significance of preserving the musical culture of the juke joints to the attention of the Ford Museum in Homer. The museum, in association with the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Shreveport Regional Arts Council and the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development launched “Journey of the Juke Joints” in 2023 to preserve the memory of these now almost obsolete places where African Americans would gather on Friday and Saturday nights for relaxation and recreation, live music, the steady beat of guitars and harmonicas, and the bootlegged alcohol that drew many patrons. The project is now in its second phase, “Rhythm and Roots.” The museum’s mission is to share, preserve and interpret the history, culture and art of the North Louisiana Hill Country. Grant funding from the Shreveport Regional Arts Council has been essential in enabling the museum to serve the public in this way. The juke joint project has been a wonderful way to celebrate local history, as well as to celebrate Bobby Rush.

“My name is Bobby Rush. I want everybody to know I was born to sing the blues. I sing the blues everywhere I go. I’m not like B.B. King; I’m not like Guitar Slim. I’m not like Muddy Waters. I’d a whooped all of them. I’m the one, I’m the one... who put the funk in the blues.”

— Bobby Rush

The juke joints were where an underaged Bobby Rush, whose mustache was painted on his lip with burned-out matches to make him look older, started his musical career. Bobby says, “Outa them joints — big and small — the world got the best art the good old U.S. of A. has ever produced: Count Basie, Little Richard, John Lee Hooker, Duke Ellington, B.B. King and others. Juke joints in the South never forget the blues. Something about the South always holds the blues close to its bosom.”

Bobby Rush says that blues is the mother of all music, and if you don’t love blues, you probably don’t love your mama. “Blues came out of slavery and started as a sort of secret language between the enslaved peoples. It’s still a language for me — the way I talk to my audiences.” On his latest Grammy Award-winning album, Bobby Rush does some straight blues and funk talking with songs like “Running In and Out,” “TV Mama,” about loving his mama with the big wide screen, “One Monkey Can Stop a Show,” and possibly the one that tells Bobby Rush’s story the best, ” I’m the One,” where he talks about growing up in the country in North Louisiana and reminds everyone that he is the one who put the funk in the blues.

“My name is Bobby Rush. I want everybody to know I was born to sing the blues.

I sing the blues everywhere I go. I’m not like B.B. King; I’m not like Guitar Slim. I’m not like Muddy Waters. I’d a whooped all of them. I’m the one, I’m the one ... who put the funk in the blues.”

Rush spent decades burning up the juke joint and Chitlin’ Circuit with his colorful, high-energy, sometimes risqué live shows. Continuing to put on more than 200 over-the-top performances a year at some of the world’s largest music festivals and venues, he recently played a series of standing-room-only shows in Paris, France. And for all that he’s done and all that he’s seen, Bobby Rush says he holds his head up highest and takes most pride that he was born Emmett Ellis Jr., after his daddy, in the little town of Colquitt, Louisiana, between Haynesville and the Claiborne Parish seat of Homer.


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