MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE —
When the first blues recordings appeared in the early 1920s, women singers like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith were the stars. But over the years since then, men have come to dominate the blues scene. Women continue to sing the blues, though, and their talents were on display in Memphis, Tennessee recently at an event held outside the International Blues Challenge.
She sounds like she came right out of the Mississippi Delta, but singer Eleanor Tsaig and the Ori Naftaly band are from Israel, where she says blues music is starting to gain an audience.
"The Jewish people have a lot to sing the blues about," Tsaig said.
She and the band members now live in Memphis and they came to the Center for Southern Folklore
to perform at The Women in Blues Showcase.
"We are all women, we are all sisters and it's the blues, you know, so it is just great, so much fun," Tsaig said.
"This is their chance not to just celebrate blues, but the feminine aspect of blues… these are the young performers who have young ideas, young dreams, young goals," said Judy Peiser, director of the Center for Southern Folklore.
But event organizer Michele Seidman says she and co-organizer Terri Robbins want to counter the resistance they say exists to booking women in clubs and festivals.
"We often have to fight harder to get the same respect as the guys, so we have to bring it harder, we bring in every bit of fire, passion and soul that we have go," she said.
Robbins says women have a lot to offer to blues music.
“They bring guts, deep-roots soul, passion, I think,” she said.
An example of that is Lady Rose, who came to the showcase from the eastern U.S. state of Maryland.
"I put my heart and soul into what I am doing and I think it shows in what I sing and audiences really appreciate that," she said.
She says her biggest reward comes from fans who tell her she made them cry.
"It really makes you feel good that you can touch someone," she said.
Lady Rose says it is important for young women to have successful female blues performers to emulate -- as they develop their own styles and reach down deep to express their own feelings.