Grammy award-winning blues musician Bobby Rush will soon be putting on a special performance at the Ellis Theater in Philadelphia to celebrate his 90th birthday.
On November 10, the “90th Birthday Celebration” will include several outdoor festivities starting at 8:00 p.m. before the live concert kicking off inside the theater later in the evening. Tickets can be purchased here.
Rush was born Emmett Ellis, Jr. outside of Homer, Louisiana on November 10, 1933, to Emmett and Mattie Ellis, later picking up a guitar around the age of 11 after playing on a diddley bow for years. His family then relocated to Pine Bluff, Arkansas in 1948, where he eventually decided to pursue a career as a professional blues musician in his teenage years.
The seasoned guitarist and singer explained during an interview on The Gallo Show that it was then that he decided to adopt his stage name in respect for his father, who was a pastor of two churches at the time.
“If you had someone spiritual in your life or around your house, the blues was devil music, but not in my house,” Rush explained. “If he had told me not to sing the blues, I probably wouldn’t have sung the blues because I was just that into my father, what he said was right to me.”
Over the next few years, Rush would sneak into clubs across the South donning a mustache created with matchstick ash.
During his time in Pine Bluff, the young bluesman befriended legendary slide guitarist Elmore James and played around the Deep South with him and harmonica ace Little Walter, among others. Rush met other blues greats of the era during his travels, such as Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, inspiring the musician to move to Chicago in 1951.
“I was thinking about my freedom as a man, especially as a blues man, as a Black man. I wanted to go to Chicago because everyone told me that I could go where I wanted to go, do some of the things I couldn’t do in the southern states, eat in places I couldn’t eat, and stay in places I couldn’t stay,” Rush said.
Once in the Windy City, Rush assembled a band with a young Freddie King on guitar before playing gigs throughout the West Side and the suburbs for the next few years.
Rush made his first recording debut titled “Someday” on the small Jerry-O label in 1964, with his release of “Sock Boo Ga Loo” propelling him into the big leagues of R&B three years later. In 1971, Rush broke through on the national charts with the lowdown funk grinder “Chicken Heads,” which has since been featured in the Samuel L. Jackson film Black Snake Moan and the HBO series Ballers.
After living in Chicago for nearly three decades, Rush moved to Jackson, Mississippi to be closer to his family and fans.
Rush earned his first Grammy nomination nearly three decades later for his 2000 album Hoochie Man before being nominated again in 2014 for Down in Louisiana and 2015 for Decisions. Two years later, Rush was given his first Grammy win for his 25th studio album, Porcupine Meat, which featured guest artists Dave Alvin, Joe Bonamassa, Vasti Jackson, and Keb’ Mo’.
That same year, Rush accomplished the rare feat of winning two Blues Music Awards for different albums: Album of the Year for Porcupine Meat and Historical Album of the Year for Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History of Bobby Rush. Since then, Rush has received two more nominations for Best Traditional Blues Album, with Rawer than Raw being named his second Grammy award-winning album in 2021.
“The blues is the mother of all this music and if you don’t like the blues, you probably don’t like your mama,” Rush said. “Someone always asks me, ‘So Bobby Rush, why do you always sing the blues? Is it because your woman left you?’ Now, you can always have the blues when your woman leaves you, but you can also have the blues if they stay around too long.”
Rush is also a member of the Blues Hall of Fame, Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame, and the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame.
He has appeared in numerous documentaries and films since the start of his career, with one of his most recent cameos being in the Golden Globe-nominated Netflix original film Dolemite Is My Name, the Rudy Ray Moore biopic featuring Eddie Murphy. Rush then followed up the film’s release with “Dolemite Kid,” a single inspired by his nine years on tour with Moore, his day working with Murphy, and the hit film itself.
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