Folk and Blues Musician Rhiannon Giddens Named MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius’ Grant Winner – The New York Times

Rhiannon Giddens MacArthur
The past year has been a whirlwind for Rhiannon Giddens, the Grammy-winning musician who became the first woman and first nonwhite person to win a major prize for excellence on the banjo and then celebrated the release of her latest album, “Freedom Highway,” with a performance at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility.

But none of it prepared her for what initially seemed like an innocuous call last month from an unfamiliar number in Chicago.

“I had fantasized about that moment ever since I knew it existed,” Ms. Giddens, 40, said, recalling the day she learned she was among the 24 people chosen as 2017 fellows of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “I was sitting in a cafe somewhere on tour, and I was just super-shocked and overcome.”

The fellowship, which honors “exceptionally creative people,” comes with a no-strings-attached grant of $625,000, to be awarded over five years. It is known colloquially as the “genius” award, to the sometime annoyance of the foundation.

Cecilia A. Conrad, a managing director of the foundation and the leader of the fellows program, said the goal was to find “people on the precipice,” where the award will make a difference, but also to inspire creativity more broadly.

“We hope that when people read about the fellows, it makes them think about how they might be more creative in their own lives,” Ms. Conrad said. “It does something for the human spirit.”

Read the full article here: MacArthur Foundation Names 2017 ‘Genius’ Grant Winners – The New York Times

Mavis Staples on Prince, Trump, Black Lives Matter, and Her Exercise Regimen | The New Yorker

Mavis Staples
By Elon Green

The last eight months—roughly the amount of time since Donald J. Trump’s Inauguration—haven’t smothered Mavis Staples’s irrepressible optimism, but it’s been palpably tempered. She faced dark days even before the election in 2016, when Prince died that April. Staples’s feelings for Prince, her friend and onetime producer, bordered on maternal: he had two mothers, she once said, and she would e-mail him with the greeting “Hello, son!” “Oh, Lord, I miss Prince so much. I can hardly listen to him yet without breaking down,” she told me recently, briefly home from the road. Staples has photos of Prince in her house in Chicago, including a wall calendar from 1987 given to her by the man himself. “It’s from back in the day. But I keep it hanging and every month I change it.”

Prince’s love for the Staple Singers, the legendary gospel group, was genuine and deep. He opened his last concert, a week before he died, with “When Will We Be Paid,” a gorgeous, denunciatory song off the family’s 1970 album, “We’ll Get Over.” The lyrics catalogue the labor of black Americans (“We have worked this country from shore to shore / Our women cooked all your food and washed all your clothes”). When Pops Staples performed it, he would recall his grandfather, who had been a slave in Mississippi. Prince recorded “When Will We Be Paid” in October of 1999. He sent the track to Mavis, and she took the song to her father. Pops, who would be dead in a year, asked excitedly if Prince had really recorded it. “Yes, sir,” she said.


Read the full article here: Mavis Staples on Prince, Trump, Black Lives Matter, and Her Exercise Regimen | The New Yorker

Crain’s Chicago Business: How a venture-capital veteran got the blues

Sona Wang58, began her venture-capital career at Allstate Venture Capital, then went on to found three independent VC firms. When the last one, Ceres, began winding down five years ago, she and a group of partners created Chicago Blues Experiencea for-profit blues museum and performance space to open in 2019. Wang and her husband, who have two grown daughters, have a home in Evanston and an apartment in the Loop.

Where did you grow up?
I spent my first five years in South Korea, at that time still devastated by and recovering from a civil war. My family immigrated to the United States and ended up in South Central Los Angeles. None of us spoke any English. To say that I experienced a series of culture shocks would be an understatement. You learn resilience and optimism.

How did you get interested in the blues?
On our first date, my husband took me to Blues on Halsted. He plays guitar, and that night, he wrote out on a napkin the 12-bar blues structure for me. That was my first lesson in the blues. One of my favorite blues singers is Etta James. She could melt your heart singing blues, jazz, R&B, rock or pop. When I listen to Adele, I hear Etta.

Have you met Buddy Guy?
It was in a roomful of people in 2012. We presented our plan. He said, “Wait a minute,” and we stopped in our tracks. He said, “I’ve been waiting 25 years for you folks to walk into my office and tell me we are finally going to do this.” It was such a seminal moment.

Any other famous people?
Mick Jagger, last year in London at the opening of “Exhibitionism.” I thanked him for agreeing to be on the Chicago Blues Experience Artist Board. He was very gracious. The second was Sharon Stone. She was in town for President Obama’s farewell address. We had this long lunch with a mutual friend at Cafe Spiaggia. At one point we were discussing Chicago Blues Experience. She said, “Did you talk to Marty about the project?” And then, right there, she started texting Martin Scorsese. I am rarely starstruck, but that was a wow moment for me.

What comes after Chicago Blues Experience?
I have two things on my bucket list. One is cooking lessons in Kyoto and Paris. The second is creating a very large painting. The title will be “An American Dream.” It will be a bit of a montage, depicting the most salient moments of my most fortunate life. I expect it will take years to finish, and it will start with learning how to paint.

Mick Jagger collects art. Maybe he’ll want to buy it.
Oh, that would be wonderful. I don’t know that it would be for sale, but that’s a nice thought.

Source: Mini profile: Sona Wang, Chicago Blues Experience – Business Of Life – Crain’s Chicago Business

Daily Southtown: “Bluesman John Primer returns to play Beverly Arts Center”

“The sound and style of Chicago blues was built by artists such as singer and guitarist John Primer, who migrated to Chicago in 1963 at the age of 18.

Primer and the Real Deal Blues Band perform July 14 at Beverly Arts Center’s Baffes Theatre Mainstage near his former home in Chicago’s Morgan Park community.

His 2017 releases included “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do,” a collaboration with blues harmonica player Bob Corritore released in April, and “Chicago Plays the Stones,” an all-star album released in May and featuring Primer on “Let It Bleed” and “Angie.”

Read the full story in the Chicago Tribune‘s Daily Southtown.

WGN Radio: “Highway to ‘Blues Heaven’: Preserving and promoting the past and future of Chicago’s musical legacy”

“…Co-founders Bill Selonick and John Boncimino, of the upcoming Chicago Blues Experience Museum, slated for a downtown location at 25 E. Washington, talk about their five-plus year long process of creating an immersive music museum to explore the music and its link to the city; Jackie Dixon, President of Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation (and Willie’s daughter) shares some of her plans on future of the foundations headquarters at the Chess Records building (2120 S. Michigan Ave) and the goal of having both locations be active, living incubators of music and ideas to not only preserve the city’s musical heritage, but push it forward; Joe Morganfield shares a pair of live tunes and talks about his memories of his father Muddy Waters and the state of Muddy’s first Chicago house on S. Lake Park, and more.”

Listen to the full radio conversation.

APP: “Legendary guitarist Buddy Guy back in Red Bank”

“Guy, who will return Wednesday to the Asbury Park Press Stage at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, is routinely near the top of Rolling Stone magazine’s ‘100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time’ list and his pal and fellow guitar hero Eric Clapton believes that Guy is the greatest living guitarist…”

[Mick] Jagger—who recently recorded a version of ‘Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)’ with Guy for a Chicago Blues Experience album—and [Keith] Richards are huge fans.”

Read the complete story. “Mick Jagger & Buddy Guy Together On New Rolling Stones Cover”

“Mick Jagger makes a guest appearance on a new version of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker),’ from their 1973 album Goats Head Soup, by blues giant and longtime Stones ally Buddy Guy.

The new rendition is on an exclusive CD called Chicago Plays the Stones, which features Chicago blues musicians covering 12 Rolling Stones songs. It’s a collaboration between Grammy-nominated producer Larry Skoller’s Raisin’ Music Records and Chicago Blues Experience, which is scheduled to open in the city in 2019.”

Read the full story here.

For updates on this project, like the Chicago Plays the Stones Facebook page.

To learn more about this tribute album and purchase the CD and/or audio download today, visit

Crain’s: “Mick Jagger backs Buddy Guy on new Chicago blues museum record”

Chicago Plays the Stones features Chicago blues musicians covering a dozen Rolling Stones songs…One highlight is a rendition of ‘Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)’ sung by Buddy Guy and Mick Jagger.”

Read the full story here.

To stay in the loop, be sure to like the Chicago Plays the Stones Facebook page.

To purchase and learn more about the album, visit