UPDATE as of Fri 2/24/2023, 2 PM: This concert has been canceled.
Cicero Blake’s career spans the trajectory of modern soul music from doo-wop to contemporary southern soul-blues. Blake was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1936, though many biographies incorrectly state 1938. After his family relocated to Chicago in the 1950s, he attended Marshall High School, where he cofounded the Goldentones, a doo-wop group that evolved into the legendary Kool Gents and also provided a springboard for well-known soul singer Dee Clark. Blake, meanwhile, went on to become the featured vocalist in the show band led by pianist Sonny Thompson before launching his own recording career in 1963. Over the next decade or so, Blake appeared on various local and regional labels, and then in 1978 he released the song that earned him something like soul-blues immortality: “Dip My Dipper.” This lascivious ode to illicit eros revitalized Blake’s career and played a major role in codifying the hybrid style known as southern soul or soul-blues: a blend of bluesy emotionality, playful adult carnality, and deep-soul vocal stylings with an R&B sheen. Though health problems have curtailed Blake’s public appearances in recent years, he remains one of our most beloved musical elder statesmen; he was one of several local soul pioneers honored with a special tribute at the 2022 Chicago Blues Festival.
For Blake’s 87th birthday, a multigenerational lineup of blues and soul-blues stylists has been assembled to fete him. Veteran Willie White has a thick, muscular voice, augmented with a tightly controlled vibrato and an armamentarium of shadings; he can convey deep feeling with choked gasps and gruff, blues-inflected murmurs, and when he’s built enough tension he’ll ascend into soaring testimonials of desire and release. Mzz Reese has become one of the most in-demand singers on the local circuit with her sultry, emotionally rich vocals and onstage charisma; her signature song, “Cookies,” a sexual throwdown in the vein of her idol Denise LaSalle, is the title tune of her self-released 2015 debut CD (a follow-up release is in the works). Theo Huff’s voice recalls Johnnie Taylor’s in his prime, and he sounds like a world-toughened veteran despite his relative youth. His resonant timbre, flamboyant onstage demeanor, and sassy call-and-response churchiness invariably get even Chicago’s most soul-seasoned clubbers to their feet—and when she’s in the house, that includes Ann Davis (widow of Tyrone Davis), in a sure sign that a torch is being passed. Jeannie Holliday commands a remarkable range—at her best, she sounds almost like a soul-blues Minnie Riperton—and her repertoire includes the usual southern soul standards as well as challenging neosoul and pop tunes such as Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk” and T.L. Williams’s “Gettin’ Mo’ Money Than You,” a range that highlights her technical virtuosity and broad emotional appeal.
Cicero Blake’s 87th Birthday Willie White, Mzz Reese, Theo Huff, and Jeannie Holiday will perform in honor of Blake, and Blake himself is likely to sing a few songs. Sun 3/5, 8 PM, Blue Note, 1715 Roosevelt, Broadview, $20 at the door, 21+