GRACE NOTES: Ladies sing the blues

A few of Atlanta’s most notable

GEORGIA’S OWN: Ma Rainey. photo credit: "Rainey" by Iraia.beain is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
Photo credit: "Rainey" by Iraia.beain is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

The “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey, once said, “The blues help you get out of bed in the morning. You get up knowing you ain’t alone.” Ladies who sing the blues know just what she meant.

Georgia natives Ma Rainey and Ida Cox, along with Bessie Smith, were not only trailblazers musically but also in how they challenged early 20th century notions of how a woman should behave. Gleefully throwing off the shackles of “ladylike” constraint, each possessed a no-holds-barred delivery and sassy attitude that proclaimed lion-hearted defiance in the face of sorrow and raucous celebration in freedom, autonomy, and solidarity with other women.

Over the years, Atlanta has developed a reputation as the home of first-rate women’s blues talent, whose numbers included Francine Reed, Cora Mae Bryant, Sandra Hall, Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, and Lola Gulley. But while it may be too late to see these iconic women perform, you can still experience that swagger and soul right here in our hometown. Here are a few of those who do it best, each offering her own unique take on the blues while continuing the legacy of her foresisters:

Mandi Strachota


SOUL CROONER: Mandi Strachota. photo credit: Corinne Shapiro

Strachota has played Northside Tavern, Rootstock, and an impressive number of other venues in- and outside of Atlanta. At once tough and tender, Strachota’s vocal expression is often reminiscent of Amy Winehouse. With punch-you-in-the-gut honesty, she relates personal experiences of depression and disappointment with determination to live her best life, regardless. Her original music is haunting and forthright, and her covers of singers like Aretha Franklin are not to be missed, either.



Nathalie Rose


TEARING UP THE NORTHSIDE: Nathalie Rose. photo credit: Daniel Santil

A relative newcomer to the Atlanta blues scene, bassist and vocalist Rose is one of only a handful of women (most notably the late Lola Gulley) who holds residency at the renowned Northside Tavern. She adds a good measure of funk and soul to high-energy covers that span from Muddy Waters and Freddie King to Michael Jackson and Rick James.





Melissa Goehner


SWEET MELISSA’S BLUES REVUE: Melissa Goehner. photo credit: Jen Jones

Goehner and her band, Sweet Melissa’s Blues Review, canvas the Atlanta area playing venues that include Napoleon’s in Decatur and Mableton’s The Green Room. Her vocal power and attitude will make you sit up and listen to what may as well be a history lesson in blues-inspired rock. She covers the gamut of decades and influences, all with a healthy dose of female persuasion, beginning with Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Tampa Red and culminating in the music of Janis Joplin, the Allman Brothers Band, and Led Zeppelin.



Blue Velvet Atlanta


LADIES SING AND PLAY THE BLUES: Blue Velvet. photo credit: Miriam Millen

In Blue Velvet Atlanta, the ladies not only sing the blues – they also play all the instruments. Atlanta’s only all-female blues band brings down the house at places like Cajun Blues, Cultivation Brewery, and Napoleon’s with a mixture of R & B, rock, and a little funk sprinkled in. Minda Scrogan channels Koko Taylor and others with conviction. Her tight support group includes Sandra Senn (drums), Johanna Millin (lead guitar), Cindy Adler (bass), and Kathie DeVane Holmes. Holmes‘ boogie-woogie keyboard runs and delicate flute solos add sometimes surprising flourishes that heighten the sound of well-loved and lesser-known standards.


Jesse Williams


BLUES FLOWER CHILD: Jesse Williams. photo credit: Ally Troy

Williams’ circuit extends just outside of Atlanta to the Midtown Greenway in Gainesville and vineyards all over north Georgia. Joni Mitchell and Nora Jones may not immediately come to mind when you think of the blues, but Williams somehow threads elements of their acoustic folk and jazz influence into originals and covers that span from the traditional sounds of Sippie Wallace to the smokier blues-rock vibe of Susan Tedeschi.





Lisa Kitchens


CARRYING THE TORCH: Lisa Kitchens. photo credit: Martin Krohne

Kitchens fronts The Rockaholics, a band which plays at bigger name venues like Northside Tavern along with lesser-known (but worth checking out) places like Full Throttle Roadhouse and Reid’s Deli. She fuses the blues, rock, and country influences she grew up with to interpret covers that range from Aretha Franklin to Little Big Town. When she’s not performing, she’s out promoting the blues as an officer of the Atlanta Blues Society.



Hurricane Red (Kathy Skott-Myhre)


SWEET AND SALTY: Hurricane Red. photo credit: Jimbo Vision

Skott-Myhre plays at Atlanta’s pigment-monikered trio: The Painted Pin, The Painted Duck, and The Painted Pickle. Fronting the Sweet and Salty Blues Band, her earthy voice scoops you up with covers of songs by Etta James, Bonnie Raitt and the more obscure Gaye Adegbalola, along with a variety of funk, soul, and blues-based classic rock. Her originals are also worth a listen and draw on the rich variety of inspiration that inform her other work, all while staying close to the spirit of the blues.



Michelle Malone


STANDING STRONG: Michelle Malone. photo credit: Jolie Loren

Whether playing with her self-named band, Canyonland, or the Hot Toddies, long-time Atlanta singer and guitarist Malone is a familiar figure around town, playing most recently at Madlife Stage and the Red Clay Music Foundry. A prolific songwriter and adept performer, she melds country rock and socially conscious lyrics into originals heavily colored in blue.




Diane Durrett


RENAISSANCE WOMAN: Diane Durrett. photo credit: Emerald Dove

Durrett will be playing the upcoming Tunes by the Tracks in Stone Mountain. The multi-talented Durrett is not only an award-winning singer and songwriter but also a skilled guitarist, producer, and engineer. Among honors that include the Atlanta Blues Society People’s Choice award, she’s opened for people like Tina Turner and Koko Taylor. You may find a live show in Atlanta difficult to catch, but you can listen to her original music, including her most recent album, Put a Lid On It, which reached #2 on the Soul Blues International Music Report.



E.G. Kight


THREE-G INSPIRED: EG Kight. photo credit: Bonnie R. Gehling

Kight mostly frequents venues in Chattanooga and Macon but is worth catching on her occasional visits through town. She play’s Eddie’s Attic June 1. She credits goats, guitars, and God for her success, and all three have found their way into an extensive country-laced, Chicago-style blues catalog of original songs. Her storytelling skills and down home southern humor add warmth to already spirited live performances. When she brings her 90-year-old mother on stage to sing with her it’s sure proof that you are never too old to sing the blues.

Whether you like them sweet or spicy, heated up or simmered down, Atlanta offers a plethora of opportunities to hear women of a variety of ages, backgrounds, and influences sing the blues. No matter how different their styles may be, all these women will rock you into the sisterhood of those who tackle life’s challenges head-on and celebrate life’s joys without apology.

To paraphrase Ma Rainey, the blues help women to remember that they’re not alone. And, yes, the songs do sometimes relate familiar struggles. But more importantly, ladies who sing the blues welcome you into a sorority in which its twin hallmarks of bravado and authenticity might just remind you of your own. —CL—