Author, songwriter and educator Patricia J. Ricketts (not that Ricketts but the restaurateurs-of-old, they-were-here-first Ricketts) generously contributes this week’s column. Ms. Ricketts’ novel Speed Of Dark is due for publication in May of 2022.
Talent spiked with compassion and humor. That’s Holle THEE Maxwell. Legendary songstress of Chicago Blues and Paris Jazz, Maxwell’s musical entrée into the world of performance was opera. Yeah, opera! When asked how it informed her Blues style, she sang a scat line delivered in a Blues song. “Phrasing makes the difference” and establishes Maxwell’s style as unique.
“I’m alive when I’m singing onstage,” said Ms. Maxwell. “I tell the whole story, my whole being is in the song: my voice, my body. Barry Dolins, Deputy Director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events and the coordinator of the Chicago Blues Festival for many years, once commented I remind him of a vaudeville act, putting everything out there—gesture, voice passion. And I took that as a compliment.” Totally agree. “When I’m up there I look into the audience’s faces. Look them right in the eye, then I take them on a musical journey with me.”
Ever talented, Ms. Maxwell has written a memoir of her life during her time spent with Rock impresario Ike Turner titled Freebase Ain’t Free, which chronicles the soulful excitement of performing with him and, ultimately, his spiral down into the world of drugs. Through it all, Maxwell kept her voice in tune and her audiences rapt.
In the next breath, she mentions the Blues somewhat wistfully. “I can’t sing anymore after a thyroid operation damaged my vocal chords three years ago.” She sighs then turns this situation into something humorous. “People used to claim I was a Blues singer, but I told them, I’m not a Blues singer because I don’t have the blues.” Then she adds with a wry smirk, “If my band ever left me, it was ‘cuz I run ‘em off.” She laughs. “But I got depressed after that operation. You could say I got the Blues then. Only now I can’t sing.” She hesitates, then laughs again. “So, I’m still not a Blues singer.”
Typical of Ms. Maxwell, she’s turned her own blues into something upbeat for others. Because she’s been homeless and without a job at different times of her life, she understands what others have experienced during this past pandemic year. So, she created MaxxemomMusic, the umbrella organization for Black Musicians Matters, which distributes food every other Thursday at The East Odyssey Lounge, 9942 S. Torrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60617. Still giving. Still making heart-to-heart connections with others.
Holle THEE Maxwell, Jazz and Blues songstress of talent, compassion and humor. Makes for a legend. Right?
– Patricia J. Ricketts
Photo taken at Motor Row Brewing, August 4, 2016.
– Peter M. Hurley
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Mr. Hurley is a contributing photographer and writer for Living Blues Magazine and the staff photographer for Chicago Blues Network. His recent book Blues Legacy: Tradition and Innovation in Chicago, in collaboration with Blues historian and author David Whiteis, showcases his work in the field. His passion for blues music began with a 6th grade dance party discovery of Bo Diddley which led to Little Walter, muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and so on. It continues to this day.
VISIT PETER’S WEBSITE HERE.