Since 1988, when Detroiter Robert Jones brought the blues, “the roots of all American music,” to our Navarre Branch, the Monroe County Library System’s annual Black History Month Blues Series has thrilled tens of thousands of music lovers of all ages with free entertaining, educational concerts performed by local, regional, national and international blues and roots music artists. Legends like Willie Dixon, Pinetop Perkins and Robert Jr. Lockwood have been joined by legends-in-the-making like Saffire-The Uppity Blues Women, Billy Branch and Victor Wainwright.
With awards from the Public and Michigan Library Associations, the Rhythm & Blues Foundation and The Blues Foundation’s 2009 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Education (the blues world’s most prestigious honor available to non-musicians), the series is now the state’s longest running annual blues celebration.
Blues 2019 - Monroe County’s 32nd Annual Black History Month Blues Series
Our 2019 schedule is primed to take listeners on a rollicking, month-long cross-country tour of American blues and roots, with the rich musical traditions of Louisiana and New Orleans, Chicago, the Mississippi Delta, and all points in between converging on Monroe County, Michigan for five free weeknight concerts starring living legends like Billy Branch, Kenny Neal, and Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne and up-and-coming stars like Kevin “B.F.” Burt, Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, and Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons. The Big Gig! on Saturday, February 23, stars the heart and soul of the rich musical traditions of New Orleans, Walter “Wolfman” Washington & The Roadmasters, saxophone powerhouse Vanessa Collier, and Rev. Robert B. Jones, Sr. Rev. Jones will be making his 32nd annual Blues Series appearance.
Friday, January 18, 2019
Ellis Library & Reference Center - 7:30 pm
Blues / rock guitar virtuoso Anthony Gomes, who headlined Monroe’s 2018 Big Gig! concert, is back by popular demand to kick off Monroe County’s 32nd Annual Black History Month Blues Series with a free “warm-up” acoustic / electric concert at the Ellis Library & Reference Center. Gomes, whose new record, Peace, Love & Loud Guitars, was just named Blues Rock Review’s 2018 Album of the Year, will take the stage at 7:30 pm, presented by Friends of Ellis and the Monroe County Library System. No advance tickets are required, and seating is general admission, first-come, first-served until library capacity is reached. Doors will open at 6:00 pm.
3700 S. Custer Rd. Monroe, Michigan
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Ellis Library & Reference Center - 7:00 pm
A rare solo acoustic duo concert by living legends kicks off the 2019 Blues Series when the rich musical traditions of Louisiana and Chicago cross paths at the Ellis Library. Kenny Neal, the second-generation proponent of Baton Rouge swamp blues, teams up with his longtime friend Billy Branch, whose harmonica genius has spread from the Windy City to the world, for a raucous, soulful performance. Kenny Neal, born in New Orleans and raised in Baton Rouge, began playing music at a young age. Learning the basics from his father, singer and blues harmonica master, Raful Neal, Kenny is known as a modern swamp-blues and multi-instrumentalist who draws from the sizzling sounds of his native Louisiana. Billy was discovered by Willie Dixon, the “father of modern Chicago blues,” while Billy was still in college. Since those early days, Billy has played on over 150 different recordings, including 12 under his own name. He’s received three Grammy nominations, won multiple W.C. Handy Awards from the Blues Foundation, an Emmy Award, an Addy Award, two Chicago Music Awards, and numerous humanitarian achievement awards.
3700 S. Custer Rd. Monroe, Michigan
Tuesday, February 12, 2019
Dorsch Memorial Branch Library - 7:00 pm
After blowing up Beale Street during the 2018 International Blues Challenge and leaving Memphis with three of the blues world’s highest honors—First Place in the solo/duo category, the Cigar Box Guitar Award for best solo/duo guitarist, and the Lee Oskar Award for best harmonica player—Kevin “B.F.” Burt is no longer one of the best-kept secrets in blues. For more than 25 years Kevin has been electrifying audiences throughout the Midwest, dispelling the myth that true blues has no roots in Iowa. His unique, soul-inspired presentation earns him comparisons to artists like Bill Withers and Aaron Neville, with audience rapport compared to the late, great B.B. King’s. Kevin is a self-taught musician (vocals, harmonica, and guitar) whose smooth, warm vocal presentation sets a mood of relaxed exhilaration, with a welcome mixture of serious music and infectious humor audiences of all ages enjoy. His voice and presence are powerful and his delivery ranges from the sweetest, fullest, juiciest come-on to the most playful growl.
18 E. First Street, Monroe, Michigan
Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Carleton Branch Library - 7:00 pm
Seattle songsters Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons give life to voices that have long been silenced in American culture. Their award-winning performances are highlighted by storytelling that, rather than bringing the past to life, vividly shows how the past still lives in the present. Through their songs, audiences witness current issues crop up again and again in folk songs, dance tunes, acoustic blues, and prison ballads. Ben & Joe bounce from fiddle & banjo breakdowns to a cappella field hollers, early jazz to gospel songs featuring Piedmont guitar style and rattlin’ bones. With the same versatility that won them the International Blues Challenge in 2016, and allowed them to record with National Heritage Fellow (and Blues Series alum) Phil Wiggins, the duo celebrates the ways Americans have triumphed over oppression through the vitality of their art. Audiences walk away from Ben & Joe’s concerts and workshops inspired to learn more of their own history and engage more deeply with their communities.
1444 Kent Street, Carleton, Michigan
Thursday, February 21, 2019
Ida Branch Library - 7:00 pm
Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton is an American multi-instrumentalist blues musician and vocalist from Los Angeles. He plays banjo, piano, and violin, and his musical influences are mainly rooted in the early blues from the 1920s and 30s. Jerron’s family, originally from Louisiana, moved to LA in the ‘50s where he grew up before moving to New York city in 2007, where he currently resides. With a strong interest in blues and jazz music before World War II, Paxton’s sound is influenced by the likes of Fats Waller and “Blind” Lemon Jefferson. According to Will Friedwald in the Wall Street Journal, Paxton is “virtually the only music-maker of his generation playing guitar, banjo, piano and violin, among other implements, to fully assimilate the blues idiom of the 1920s and ’30s, the blues of Bessie Smith and Lonnie Johnson.” Back by popular demand, Jerron makes his triumphant return to the Black History Month Blues Series, joined by his friend and very special guest Aaron Jonah Lewis, a multi-instrumentalist, performer, and educator who has appeared on dozens of recordings, from bluegrass and old time to traditional jazz, contemporary experimental and Turkish classical music projects.
3016 Lewis Avenue, Ida, Michigan
Saturday, February 23, 2019
1555 S. Raisinville Rd. Monroe, MI 48161
Monroe County’s award-winning annual celebration of Black History Month and the blues, “the roots of all American music,” stars legendary New Orleans blues, funk, and R& B artist Walter “Wolfman” Washington and his band, The Roadmasters. Wolfman’s music embodies both the wildness and sophistication of the Crescent City, with his smooth croon roaring into raw blues, and his searing guitar peppered with the well placed chords of bebop.
Also appearing is Vanessa Collier, one of the blues and roots world’s up-and-coming stars, whose soulful vocals, mighty saxophone and witty songwriting have been racking up rave reviews, awards, and accolades around the world.
Returning for his 32nd year as host is Detroit-based multi-instrumentalist, storyteller, and educator Rev. Robert B. Jones, Sr.
The Big Gig! is an extremely popular event. No advance tickets are available (or required) and seating is general admission, first-come, first-served until Meyer Theater capacity is reached. Doors to the theater will open at 6:00 pm.
Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Bedford Branch Library - 7:00 pm
The legendary Boogie Woogie Piano Hall of Famer closes out Monroe County’s 32nd Annual Black History Month Blues Series in style, joined by his very special guest, percussionist (and Blues Series alum) Michael Shimmin. “Blues Boss” has been a travelling musician almost all his life, playing in show and cover bands from Texas to Hawaii, from Peoria to Paris. His powerful music recalls the era when piano players like Fats Domino, Amos Milburn, and Bill Doggett worked the Chitlin’ Circuit on the “strolls” in dozens of American cities. Kenny’s 2011 recording debut, An Old Rock on a Roll, earned him a Blues Foundation nomination for the Pinetop Perkins Piano Award, and a 2012 Living Blues Award for Best New Contemporary Blues Recording of 2011, as well as one naming him Most Outstanding Keyboard Musician. His latest album is Inspired by the Blues. Mike Shimmin is one of the most in-demand percussionists in the state of Michigan, a member of the Earthwork family who frequently plays and tours with Blues Series alumni Joshua Davis and Peter Madcat Ruth when not on the road with the olllam.
8575 Jackman Road, Temperance, MI
Thanks to Our Sponsors
Monroe County’s 32nd Annual Black History Month Blues Series is presented by the Monroe County Library System and the 2019 Blues Coalition of community partners: Monroe County Community College, DTE Energy Foundation, Friends of Bedford, Friends of Carleton, Friends of Dorsch, Friends of Ellis, Friends of Ida, and Lettie Kempf.
This activity is supported by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
Past Blues Series Events
Enjoy video from the 2018 Big Gig!