It was hotter than hell in Atlanta on July 1, 1991, when my good friend Jewel Harris and I heard Charles Brown perform at a long-forgotten jazz club in Underground Atlanta. The smooth-voiced former high school chemistry teacher was still in fine form that night, nearing 70, as charismatic as any of those other west coast blues crooners that were popular in the post-World War II years: T-Bone-Walker, Lowell Fulson, Amos Milburn, and Johnny "Guitar" Watson.
But the songs that the audience remembered the most were those two great Christmas songs that Brown made famous: "Merry Christmas Baby" (1947) and "Please Come Home for Christmas" (1960), both of which Brown reprised on that steamy night in Georgia, to the delight of Jewel and me and the rest of the adoring audience. Merry Christmas Baby!
Those few faithful followers of my Blog might recall my 11/21/2020 epistle that lauded Mississippi Hill Country Blues and those talented bluesmen who are continuing the musical tradition born in West Africa and sustained to this day in the rolling hills around Oxford and Holly Springs, Mississippi.
Among them, the latest Hill Country bluesman to be honored is none other than Cedric Burnside (pictured above), the grandson of the true Big Daddy of the genre, the late, great R.L. Burnside himself. Cedric started touring as the drummer for his granddaddy when he was just 13 and has continued to grow and develop both as an accomplished blues drummer and as an exciting guitarist and vocalist, working along the way with the likes of Jessie Mae Hemphill, Kenny Brown, Lightnin' Malcolm, Richard Johnson, Jimmy Buffett, T-Model Ford, Widespread Panic, and the Jon Spenser Blues Explosion.
Cedric Burnside and Lightnin' Malcolm
With several Blues Music Awards and two Grammy nominations already notched in his guitar, at 43, he has added still another Grammy nomination this year for his album "I Be Trying." In addition, he was recently presented with one of America's highest honors in folk and traditional music, a 2021 National Heritage Fellow award by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Keep up the inspiring work, Cedric! Lord knows, you be trying!
Charles Farley is an author who lives and writes in Huntsville, Alabama.