Jessie Mae Hemphill | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Jessie Mae Hemphill 

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Mississippi-born Jessie Mae Hemphill is that rarest of artists, a relatively young performer who lives and sings entirely within a folk tradition, with absolute sincerity and lack of self-consciousness. She shouts the blues in a dusky soprano with classic Delta urgency, and her guitar accompaniment complements her voice in the call-and-response tradition of the great blues soloists like Mississippi Fred McDowell, Lightnin' Hopkins, and early John Lee Hooker. Hemphill began her career as percussionist in a fife and drum corps--an important and often-overlooked facet of black southern folk tradition--and her love for a propulsive beat remains in her patented use of a foot tambourine as self-accompaniment. Jessie Mae's appearance at the 1987 Chicago Blues Festival was one of the fest's triumphs; when she really gets into it, her music conveys the stark mystery and power of a Delta midnight at full moon. Saturday, 8 PM, Southend Musicworks, third floor, 341 W. Superior; 283-0531.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tom Wofford.


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The Great Leap Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Upstairs Theatre
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