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queen esther, music


This Rock n' Roll BlackGrrl's High Life

A Cautionary Tale

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Holy Blues and Solo Performance
queen esther, music
As an artist, the more hats I wear creatively, the more likely it is that I'll stay employed.  A few weeks ago, I auditioned for Healing Arts Initiative (HAI) and their On-Site Performance Program after some time away from the organization.  HAI is a city/state government funded organization that provides art/music to mental health and educational facilities, hospitals, hospices, etc. I initially worked with them when I first came to the city as a jazz/blues vocalist. That's when they were Hospital Audiences Inc.  I would hire my own collective and go into some pretty incredible situations. The gig I did on Riker's Island with a bassist and guitarist -- mostly Billie Holiday's body of work -- will stay with me forever.

This time around, I auditioned as as a solo performer -- just me and my Baby Taylor -- and at the beginning of the month, I found out that I've been accepted to their artist roster.

I'm expanding my repertoire as a performing songwriter to include country gospel and gospel blues -- also called holy blues -- because it's the sound that raised me. I know I'm veering towards it because I miss my people deeply, and I really miss the Lowcountry.   The upshot of it all is that the songs are so straightforward and uncomplicated, I'll be forced to get my guitar chops in order.  And it's inspired a lot of interesting songs that I hope to put into my next album.

During performances, there is an HAI monitor on the premises to assess your work for their files. My first gig  -- 60 minutes of holy blues in the rec room of an elder care/mental outpatient facility deep in the heart of Brooklyn -- happened last week. Here is what they wrote.


Audience Response: Stupendous. This group of residents and staff members overwhelmingly loved this. Tina, a staff person who stood in for Iola; our regular contact, who is currently out on medical leave, highly praised this performance and couldn't thank Queen Esther enough.

Additional Comments: This wasn't the overly produced, swelling, ramped-up, modern gospel that accompanies the ubiquitous Sunday morning, religious radio shows. It was a breathtaking recreation of raw-to-the-bone, plaintive and excruciatingly heartfelt, unadorned, old-time, rural gospel music; the spiritual equivalent of Robert Johnson's worldly, piercing, early delta blues. I personally felt transported to some unassuming, rustic, backwoods, Black American church of the 1930's. Queen Esther's relation to this music through her background, (born and raised in South Carolina), and innate, exquisite sensibility, was evident, as she spoke between songs, probing the audience's
knowledge of the music, while filling in a bit of the not-widely-known history of this vital and uniquely American art form. This was a beautiful, artistic and daring performance.