Award-winning harmonica virtuoso Sugar Blue is not your typical
received his first harmonica from his aunt, and proceeded to
hone his chops by wailing along with Bob
Dylan and Stevie Wonder
songs on the radio, he was soon to be influenced by the
jazz greats such as Dexter Gordon and Lester Young.
Born James Whiting - he was raised in Harlem, New York, where
his mother was a singer and dancer at the fabled Apollo Theatre.
He spent his childhood among the musicians and show people
who knew his mother, including the great Billie
Holiday, and decided that he wanted to be a performer.
Blue has used this background to his advantage, though, creating
an ultra-modern blues style and sound that is instantly recognizable
as his own.
began his career as a street musician and made his first recordings
in 1975 with legendary blues figures Brownie
McGhee and Roosevelt Sykes
. The following year, he contributed to recordings by Victoria
Spivey and Johnny Shines before pulling up stakes and moving
to Paris on the advice of pioneer blues pianist Memphis
in France, Blue hooked up with members of the Rolling
Stones , who instantly fell in love with his sound.
The Stones invited Blue to join them in the studio. Besides
his work on the Some Girls album, he can be heard on Emotional
Rescue and Tattoo You . He appeared live with the group on
numerous occasions and was offered the session spot indefinitely,
but he turned it down, opting instead to return to the States
and put his own band together rather than became a full-time
sideman. Before returning to the U.S. in 1982, Blue cut a
pair of albums, Crossroads and From Paris to Chicago.
decision to return home, despite his growing renown as a session
player, was spurred by his desire to work with and learn from
the masters of blues harmonica. Thus he came to Chicago and
proceeded to sit in with the likes of Big
Walter Horton , Carey Bell , James Cotton and Junior
Wells . Blue went on to spend two years touring with
his friend and mentor Willie Dixon as part of the Chicago
Blues All Stars before putting his own band together in 1983.
With his own band, Blue's star continued to rise. He received
the 1985 Grammy Award
for his work on the Atlantic album, Blues Explosion,
recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival.
recorded on Dixon's Grammy-winning Hidden Charms album in
1989, has performed on festival stages with classic artists
like Muddy Waters, B.B.
King , Art Blakey and Lionel Hampton and has also
set his sights on television and the big screen. He sat in
with Fats Domino, Ray Charles, and Jerry Lee Lewis for the
Cinemax special, Fats Domino and Friends, and has appeared
on screen and in the musical score of Alan Parker's acclaimed
1987 thriller Angel Heart, starring Robert De Niro.
has played and recorded with musicians ranging from Willie
Dixon to Stan Getz to
Frank Zappa to Johnny Shines to Bob Dylan , he is perhaps
best known for his signature riff and solo on the Rolling
Stones' hit Miss You from their Some Girls album. Blue performs
his own version of the song on his 1993 Alligator debut BLUE
BLAZES. With his second release IN YOUR EYES Sugar
Blue emerges as a singular, profound songwriter as well as
a harmonica wizard.
He has appeared across America, Europe and Africa at many prestigious festivals - Chicago, Zurich, Den Haag, Antibes, Nice, Cannes, Montreal, Pistoia, Bern, Rapperswil,... Blue continues to appear in clubs and festivals around the world.
In 2008 following the release of "CODE BLUE " Sugar Blue received two nominations as Best instrumentalist - Harmonica at the Blues Awards and as Outstanding Performer at the Junior Wells Harp Award in Memphis.
He is also featured in the Spike Lee film producion "The Perfect Age of Rock'n'Roll" along with Pinetop Perkins and Hubert Sumlin . The film is to be presented at the Sundance Film Festival and is starring Jason Ritter, Kevin Zegers, Ruby Dee and Peter Fonda.
Sugar Blue appeared in the tribute video "We Are One" that played before the massive all-star Inaugural Concert at the Lincoln Memorial, in front of the millions that came to witness the historical presidential inauguration on Jan 20, 2009.
Blue comes back in 2010 with his newest recording effort: of the "THRESHOLD" album, Blue says, "I believe that the greatest threshold of all is love because it is the fount from which all human life springs. Life echoes the sounds of our interactions: joy, sadness, heartache, passion, loneliness, intimacy, celebration or solemn occasion. We have tried to give voice to these feelings in this musical offering."
Blue incorporates what he has learned into his visionary and
singular style, technically dazzling yet wholly soulful. He
bends, shakes, spills flurries of notes with simultaneous
precision and abandon, combining dazzling technique with smoldering
expressiveness and gives off enough energy to light up several
city square blocks... And sings too! His distinctive throat
tends to be overlooked in the face of his instrumental
virtuosity - he's got a rich, sensual voice with a whisper
of huskiness which by itself would be something out of the
But oh, there's that harmonica again... !!