a free tribute concert celebrating blues legend Memphis Minnie
The Waterfront Plaza at Brookfield Place
230 Vesey St, New York, NY 10281
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The 2019 edition of the New York Guitar Festival celebrates 20 years of live concerts, panels, and workshops that span the huge range of the guitar.  And it celebrates one of the instrument’s pivotal but overlooked figures: Memphis Minnie.  “Memphis Minnie was an incredible force during one of the most trying times for a black woman to be a performer in popular music in America,” says Amythyst Kiah, the singer/songwriter/guitarist who will be part of the tribute concert.  Minnie began her career in 1929, recording the song “When The Levee Breaks” with her husband Joe McCoy, known as Kansas Joe.  That song would go on to great fame when Led Zeppelin recorded it in 1971.  She was an early exponent of the Delta blues style – an urgent, passionate guitarist.  But she was also a formative influence on the electric blues sound associated with Chicago, and her career in the 1930s and 1940s – both solo and with her later husband, Lil Son Joe – produced hit songs like “Bumble Bee” and “Me and My Chauffeur Blues,” which have also gone on to long and productive musical lives.  

Memphis Minnie died (yes, in Memphis) in 1973, largely forgotten by a music world that had moved on to rock & roll, soul, and funk – all of which would be hard to imagine without that electric blues sound she helped shape.  But guitarists in the know were aware of her importance – Bonnie Raitt paid for her headstone.  On June 1, several generations of musicians (not all of them guitarists) gather at Brookfield Place's Waterfront Plaza to celebrate Minnie’s music and her enduring legacy.  Multiple Grammy winner Fantastic Negrito, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, the elemental live performer Toshi Reagon, and Rachael Price from Lake Street Dive are just some of the musicians who will perform their own interpretations of the timeless sounds of Memphis Minnie.  


Featured artists:

DJ Spooky

Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky is a composer, multimedia artist and writer whose work immerses audiences in a blend of genres, global culture, and environmental and social issues. He’s a 2014 National Geographic Emerging Explorer and 2018 recipient of The Hewlett 50 Arts Commission Award for his latest work QUANTOPIA: The Evolution of the Internet.

David Bromberg

David Bromberg haunted the streets of Greenwich Village learning guitar first hand from Rev. Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt on his way to becoming an in-demand session musician and accompanist. David’s unannounced performance before 400,000 at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 launched a legendary career as a recording artist and bandleader in his own right.

Brandon Ross

Brandon Ross has played guitar with Cassandra Wilson, Henry Threadgill, Bill Frisell and many others.  He also leads an improvising chamber music group called For Living Lovers and the avant-power trio called Harriet Tubman.  

Rafiq Bhatia

Guitarist Rafiq Bhatia plays in the avant-pop band Son Lux, but refers to his own music as “maximalist minimalism.”  He draws freely from jazz, rock, and contemporary classical music to create work that celebrates hybridity, both musically and personally.   

Jontavious Willis

Blues guitarist Jontavious Willis has wasted little time in attracting the attention of today’s living blues legends.  His mentors include Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo, and though still in his early 20s, his songs echo the long wisdom and experience of generations of blues players.  

Rachael & Vilray

Singer Rachael Price is a member of the surprise hit-making acoustic band Lake Street Dive.  Vilray is a singer, whistler, and swing guitarist.  Together they play intimate, front-porch style music at venues ranging from small clubs to the Newport Folk Festival. 

Brandee Younger

The harp has a cliched image that Brandee Younger is happy to skewer.  Classically trained but inspired by the spiritual jazz of Alice Coltrane, she brings the harp to situations where it might not be expected, from jazz outings with her own quartet to gigs with hip hop and pop stars like Common and John Legend.  

Nicole Atkins with Binky Griptite

Nicole Atkins’s songwriting has been compared to Roy Orbison and to the legendary writing teams of the Brill Building.  But she also recognizes great songwriting by others; she’s released numerous covers, including a version of “When The Levee Breaks.”  Binky Griptite is best known as the lead guitarist for the late, great Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. 

Kaia Kater

The worlds of the Caribbean and Canada come together in Kaia Kater’s life and her music.  She is a banjo player, a singer, songwriter, and student of Appalachian folk music.  She is also one of the four remarkable women of color – all of whom play banjo – in the group called Our Native Daughters.

Alsarah and the Nubatones

Alsarah is a singer and ethnomusicologist, and the daughter of Sudanese rights activists who fled to the US.  Based in New York, she formed the Nubatones to create a new type of pop music informed by the music of Northeast Africa.  The Nubatones combine the sounds of Afrobeat with Western funk and soul.  

Amythyst Kiah

Amythyst Kiah is a southern blues/alt country singer and songwriter.  Best known as a guitarist, she is also part of the banjo-playing foursome Our Native Daughters with Kaia Kater.  She was featured in the film A Great American Tapestry, The Many Strands of Mountain Music, which traces the connections between the folk traditions of the British Isles and African-American music.  

Abdoulaye Alhassane Toure & Banning Eyre

Abdoulaye Alhassane Toure is a singer and guitarist from Niger, now based in New York.  Banning Eyre is a veteran guitarist and long-time producer for the public radio show Afropop Worldwide.  He has produced books and recordings focused on the diversity of modern African music.  

Fantastic Negrito (with Vernon Reid)

Fantastic Negrito won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album in 2016, and then repeated the feat this year.  After an early career as an R&B singer (under the name Xavier), and a near-fatal car accident, he reinvented himself as a modern blues troubadour/griot.  Vernon Reid is best known as the guitarist for the rock band Living Colour and is on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 best guitarists of all time.  He is a regular guest of the NYGF.