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  • Bobby Rush“Blues Singer–Plus”
  • William R. Ferris (bio)

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The consummate entertainer, Bobby Rush frequently changes clothes between songs, and he dances and interacts with his audience during his concerts. He especially reaches out to women. Playbill for a classic Rush performance, courtesy of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South.

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Bobby Rush’s musical career has taken him from Homer, Louisiana, to Arkansas, Chicago, and to his current home in Jackson, Mississippi, where he has lived since the early 1980s. His first instrument was a one-strand diddley bow made from a broom wire. His father Emmit Ellis Sr. was a minister who played guitar and harmonica in his church and encouraged his son’s interest in music.

Rush (born Emmit Ellis Jr.) first “recognized that [he] really loved the blues” as a child while listening to Nashville’s 50,000-watt radio station wlac and its disc jockey Bill “Hoss Man” Allen, who hosted a late-night blues program heard throughout the South. Allen promoted records by Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Little Richard, and John Lee Hooker with his “jive talk” commercials. On the air for forty-five years, Allen inspired a love for the blues in generations of his black and white southern listeners.

The consummate “entertainer,” Rush frequently changes clothes between songs, and he dances and interacts with his audience during his performance. He reaches out to women in his audience and tries to “put them in my arm, and kind of give them the upper hand.” He also proudly works the Chitlin’ Circuit of black clubs in small Mississippi Delta towns like Tchula. Describing his music as a “cross range of sound,” Rush draws his inspiration from diverse performers, including John Lee Hooker, Prince, Tony Joe White, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, and Muddy Waters. Together they give him what he calls “the fusion. I think that’s why I draw white and black.”

—William R. Ferris

Bobby Rush in his own words . .

When I first heard the blues, I was just a young boy who listened to a record radio station in Nashville, Tennessee. Bill “Hoss Man” Allen. Hoss Man was a guy who I knew from when I was born in a little place called Homer, Louisiana, who really played the blues on the radio. When I first heard it as a young kid, that’s kind of when I recognized that I really loved the blues. I guess I was already loving it, but I just recognized what I was listening to and what I was about. I’m just talking about a seven, eight-year-old kid. There may have been a few times that I heard the blues not recalling what station that I was listening to, but I’m thinking at that time about the only radio station that was playing the blues was wlac, which was a station out of Nashville. There was another station out of Memphis that at one time was hosted by B.B. King: wdia. But other than the two of them, where I was coming from there was no other way to get the blues—other than to sing them myself or hear somebody in my neighborhood singing them.

I liked what I heard. In fact, if you talk about black music, blues was the only [End Page 37] thing I heard a black man or woman singing. So I fell in line and in love with the kind of thing that I could relate to. I could relate to what I knew. That was my first establishing myself, being a blues man.

My personally defining the blues: to me, it doesn’t have to be things that are bad or good. The blues go in both directions. You can be happy about some things and have the blues, but it’s a temporary happiness. When a guy feels bad, he comes to the club. He’s down. I try to sing the song so I can lift them up, entertain them, make them forget about their problems. It’s just a temporary thing that makes you forget about your problems...


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