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KCBS Blues Hall of Fame

2015 Charter Inductees

Jim Jackson's Kansas City Blues, Part 1 & 2, (Vocalion Records)  1927

Composed and performed by Jim Jackson

 

Apparently, Jim Jackson had introduced “Kansas City Blues” to “many potential record buyers before the record was issued” on the medicine show circuit in the Southern states. 

This song was one of the first and biggest race hits, rumored to have sold a million copies, making it perhaps the first record ever to do so. It was covered many times over the decades by Joe Williams, Walter Horton, Robert Nighthawk and more. 

The song contains the line "It takes a rocking chair to rock, a rubber ball to roll...", and is mentioned as one of the candidates to the First rock and roll record.

 

Priscilla Bowman

 

Kansas City's "original rock 'n' roll mama," vocalist Priscilla Bowman was born in Kansas City, Kansas in 1928.  As a teen she regularly performed in area nightclubs with local pianist Roy Searcy and with the band of Kansas City jazz pianist Jay McShann.

In 1955, Bowman cut her first song with McShann, the #1 R&B hit "Hands Off".   Bowman continued to record rhythm and blues through the end of the 1950s, achieving artistic and critical triumphs in the face of waning commercial success.

The first full-length album collecting many of her 1950s recordings, “Original Rock And Roll Mama,” was released in 1986. She revived her career in the 70s, performing at clubs and festivals, but retired in 1987 due to cancer, which claimed her the following year.

 
 

Willie Cyrus

At age 23, Willie Cyrus moved to Kansas City in 1953 where he became a promoter and club owner of the Town Hall Ballroom located at 4011 Troost.  

 

He promoted and worked with acts such as The Dramatics, The Dell’s, The Chi-Lites, Bobby Womack and Little Milton and witnessed the rise of countless other artists’ careers.

Willie Cyrus change the way music was presented in Kansas City, turning concerts into events.  He was also the first person to host concerts at the Royals Stadium, booking acts such as Earth, Wind &Fire and Parliament.

 

In 1959 Cyrus revived the Thanksgiving Blues Breakfast Dance, a tradition in Kansas City’s African American community dating back to the ‘30s which continues today.

 

Millage Gilbert

 

Before moving to Kansas City 1962, Millage Gilbert worked with Sam Myers and Elmore James in Mississippi.  In his 20s, Millage arrived in Kansas City from Jackson, Mississippi, and became a mainstay in the Kansas City blues scene for over 50 years. He performed for 17 years at the Grand Emporium’s weekly Saturday matinee until its 2004 closing.  He has played at festivals home and abroad and toured Britain.  

Gilbert and his Down Home Blues Band have performed at many Thanksgiving Day breakfast dances, opening for Bobby Bland and other national artists.  He also has regularly performed in other clubs around town, including current longstanding weekly gigs at the 42 Restaurant and Lounge and Danny’s Big Easy.

His CD “Three Faces”, released in 1997 on the Red Hot Records label, and, for his 75th birthday in 2007, was rereleased as the Greatest Hits of Millage Gilbert.

 

Provine "Little" Hatch

 

On his way home from the Navy after WWII, Provine Hatch stopped in Kansas City. He liked the city's feel and, after meeting a woman, he decided to live here.  Little Hatch became a mainstay of the Kansas City Blues scene for over 50 years. 

He held day jobs but played nights in clubs around town.  In 1962 he played with guitarist George Jackson before forming his own band, the Houserockers.

Hatch retired from music for nearly 10 years before resuming in 1987. He released albums Well, All Right! in 1993, Goin' Back in 2000, and Rock with Me Baby in 2003.

He toured Europe and played frequently at local clubs, including a standing Friday night happy hour gig at the Grand Emporium.  

Winston M. W. Holmes

Pioneer “race” record label owner and promoter, Winston Holmes was largely responsible for Kansas City blues and jazz coming into national prominence in the 1920’s, helping get record contracts for the Bennie Moten Band, Ada Brown, the actress Hattie McDaniel, and Lottie Kimbrough.

In the 1920 he ventured into the music business, selling records and piano rolls out of his home. Around 1925 Holmes organized his Merritt Records label to issue all-Negro records. They were issued in pressings of several hundred each and were sold only by Holmes in his own store at 1704 E. 18th.

He had the first electrical recording studio in Kansas City and recorded local artists for national labels.

He recorded as a performer between 1924 and 1929, sometimes with Lottie Kimbrough or Charlie Turner.  His duets with guitarist Charlie Turner are primarily novelty pieces, including the unusual two-part "The Death of Holmes' Mule."  He had a reputation high enough that he recorded 3 sides for Paramount Records.  

In the Depression of 1929, the Holmes Music Company went out of business.  He abandoned the music industry and never returned to it. 

 
 

Julia Lee

 

A stellar vocalist and pianist, Lee was a Kansas City legend who performed with Bennie Moten’s orchestra prior to her solo career.  She first recorded on the Merritt record label in 1927 and signed on with Capitol in 1944.

She had a string of hits in the late 40’s, including “Snatch and Grab It”,  “King Size Papa” ,  "I Didn't Like It The First Time (The Spinach Song)" and "My Man Stands Out".

Julia Lee's double-entendre songs and rocking piano made her a major attraction in Kansas City.   Jazz greats would seek her out when visiting the area. 

Although her hits dried up after 1949, she continued as one of the most popular performers in Kansas City and was active up until her death in 1958.

 

James Columbus "Jay" McShann

Born in Okla., Mr. McShann was already a well-traveled musician when he settled in Kansas City in 1936. He helped establish what came to be known as the Kansas City sound: a brand of jazz rooted in the blues, driven by riffs and marked by a powerful but relaxed rhythmic pulse.

In 1939 he added more sidemen, among them teenage saxophonist Charlie Parker, but it was their 1941 hit “Confessin’ the Blues,” that brought the band prominence in the blues.

McShann staged a well-deserved comeback in the 70s.  He is the subject of the film Hooties Blues (1978), and figured prominently in the 1979 film The Last of the Blue Devils about Kansas City Jazz.

 

Bennie Moten

Born and raised in Kansas City, Bennie Moten led the Kansas City Orchestra, the most important regional blues-based orchestra active in the Midwest in the 1920s, and helped to develop the riffing style that came to define many of the big bands of the 1930s.

 

Moten's bass player Walter Page, with his walking bass lines, gave the music an entirely new feel. Many tunes recorded when Bill Basie, Jimmy Rushing and Ben Webster were members of the band became swing classics.

Moten's popular 1928 recording of "South" stayed in Victor's catalog and became a big jukebox hit in the late 1940s. It remained in print as a vinyl 45 until RCA stopping making vinyl records.

 

Jimmy Rushing

Known as "Mr. Five by Five", Jimmy Rushing was a blues shouter and swing jazz singer best known as the featured vocalist of Count Basie’s Orchestra for 13 years in the 30s and 40s, helping establish the jump blues tradition.  It is well exemplified by his performances of "Sent For You Yesterday" and "Boogie Woogie" for the Count Basie Orchestra.

He could project his voice so that it soared over the horn and reed sections in a big-band setting. Basie claimed that Rushing "never had an equal" as a blues vocalist. The band’s legacy included a year at the Reno Club where they performed seven days a week, for eight to 12 hours per day. 

After leaving Basie, his recording career soared, as a solo artist and a singer with other bands. Rushing appeared in the 1957 television special Sound of Jazz, singing one of his signature songs "I Left My Baby" backed by many of his former Basie band compatriots. In 1958 he was among the legendary musicians included in an Esquire magazine photo by Art Kane later memorialized in the documentary film A Great Day in Harlem.

 

Rushing was one of eight jazz and blues legends honored in a set of US postage stamps issued in 1994.

 

Joseph Vernon "Big Joe" Turner

Considered an archetypal blues shouter and a founding father of rock 'n' roll, Joseph Vernon "Big Joe" Turner was born in Kansas City in 1911. His first job was as a singing bartender at the Hole in the Wall on Independence Avenue.  He was known to be able to sing for hours, making up lyrics on the spot and never repeating any.

According to the songwriter Doc Pomus, "Rock and roll would have never happened without him."  He and pianist Pete Johnson were among the first to mix R&B with boogie-woogie, resulting in jump blues in the late 30s and 40s - a style that presaged the birth of rock and roll.

Turner cut a string of early rock & roll classics in the 1950s, including “Chains of Love,” “Honey Hush,” Shake, Rattle and Roll,” and “Flip Flop and Fly.

and “Corrine Corinna.”

Capitalizing on his reputation as a pioneer, Turner shuttled easily shared  stages with Fats Domino, the Clovers, Bo Diddley and a variety of other acts on Alan Freed’s package rock n roll/r&b tours.