The New York Guitar Festival and Arts Brookfield will present “Memphis Minnie: In Search of the Hoodoo Lady,” a free, outdoor concert celebrating the life and music of influential blues guitarist Memphis Minnie. The Saturday, June 1st, 7pm event will be held at Brookfield Place’s Waterfront Plaza in lower Manhattan.
The concert will feature musicians across an array of genres and will include Marc Ribot, Rafiq Bhatia, Rachael & Vilray (featuring Lake Street Dive’s Rachael Price), Nicole Atkins, Binky Griptite, Kaia Kater, Jontavious Willis, Toshi Reagon, Brandon Ross, Amythyst Kiah, Alsarah and the Nubatones, Brandee Younger, Abdoulaye Alhassane Toure, Banning Eyre, and Grammy Award-winners Vernon Reid and Fantastic Negrito.
A supremely influential and pioneering blues guitarist, Minnie was one of the first blues artists to go electric in 1942 and is considered a crucial link connecting acoustic Delta blues with the electrified Chicago sound. Chuck Berry, Big Mama Thornton, and Muddy Waters have acknowledged Minnie’s influence. Bonnie Raitt called her “one of American musical history's most vibrant and pioneering artists," and Langston Hughes described a 1943 performance of hers in the Chicago Defender as “a musical version of electric welders plus a rolling mill” that made folks “holler out loud”!
A gifted blues guitarist who played on Beale Street in Memphis – both in the clubs and sometimes on the street itself -- Memphis Minnie’s place in the guitar pantheon is criminally understated, even as her influence is hard to overstate. Minnie started recording in 1929, and she had a huge impact on the sound of the blues. Minnie helped define the sound that brought us Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. The sound that later brought us The Rolling Stones and Cream and a host of others. Her song “When The Levee Breaks,” highlighting her relentless, rolling guitarwork, was redone in 1971 by a quartet of English lads calling themselves Led Zeppelin. And that version of the song has now been sampled more than 100 times, including by Dr. Dre, Beyonce, and Eminem. Minnie’s 1941 hit, “Me And My Chauffeur Blues,” featuring Memphis Minnie’s sly, forceful vocals, has also had a long afterlife, including covers by Nina Simone and Jefferson Airplane.
Memphis Minnie was, in the words of the Grammy-winning singer and guitarist Fantastic Negrito, “a genius that was hiding in plain sight.” Another artist joining in this year’s tribute, the guitarist and musicologist Banning Eyre, describes her this way: “Elegant, stylish and tough as shoe leather, she epitomized everything the world loves about America’s most enduring folk music.” But by the time she died in 1973, she was largely forgotten.
“Somehow it just feels right to kick off the New York Guitar Festival’s 20th anniversary season on the 90th anniversary of the start of Memphis Minnie’s recording career. Lucinda Williams sees Memphis Minnie as ‘the most important female singer, songwriter and guitarist in the history of Delta blues’ yet there’s been scant notice on the New York cultural scene of her achievements. We’d like to change that,” says Festival artistic director David Spelman, noting that additional NYGF anniversary events at various venues will be announced throughout the year.
In her final public remarks as first lady, Michelle Obama said, “Our glorious diversity—our diversities of faiths and colors and creeds—that is not a threat to who we are; it makes us who we are.” The New York Guitar Festival’s 20 years of wide-ranging programing embody that “glorious diversity.” Festival co-founder Spelman adds, “Art—and especially the guitar—transcends borders, languages, and cultures. The NYGF is one of the most vibrant, inclusive, and stimulating guitar festivals in the world . . . for this generation of music lovers and the next.”