Kansas City blues is a genre of blues music. It has spawned the Kansas City Blues & Jazz festival and the Kansas City Blues Society.
Although Kansas City, Missouri is known primarily for jazz, it has also contributed to the history of and the preservation of the blues.
Kansas City did not enter into blues history until the 1940s. Kansas City blues artists Pete Johnson and Big Joe Turner recorded a style of music called jump blues, which later provided the foundation for rhythm and blues, and later rock and roll. Charlie Parker dabbled in the blues in the late 1940s with his release of the hit “Now’s the Time”, a bebop jazz number that gave a nod to the popularity of the blues in Kansas City, by using the familiar blues pentatonic scale and blue notes.
The blues scene in Kansas City produced Jay McShann, Julia Lee, Little Hatch, Sonny Kenner, and Cotton Candy. The blues was popular in small nightclubs and after-hours jam sessions. Many Kansas City musicians would finish their “paying” gigs at weddings, jazz clubs etc. and then pack up and head to the 18th and Vine-Downtown East, Kansas City district to participate in all-night parties that would sometimes continue well into daylight. The 18th & Vine jam sessions continue today at Kansas City’s Musician’s Foundation. The Musician’s Foundation has immunity from liquor laws, and has not changed its outlook since the 1940s.
The contemporary blues scene in Kansas City is alive and vibrant, recently foisting numerous acts onto the national stage. While the blues circuit is perhaps less prestigious than it once was national touring acts coming out of the Kansas City area market include: Trampled Under Foot (now defunct), Moreland and Arbuckle, LeVee Town, Samantha Fish, Kelley Hunt, Danielle Nicole, Amanda Fish, Nick Schnebelen, and Rev. Jimmie Bratcher.
Clarence “Sonny” Kenner spent a lifetime entertaining audiences, both in Kansas City and around the world. Born into a family of entertainers, Kenner grew up only a block away from what is now the Kansas City Musicians Foundation. During his career he shared the stage with Bob Hope, Quincy Jones, Redd Foxx and Charlie Parker. “I could hardly play when I was on stage with ‘Bird,” remembered Kenner. “I was too busy just trying to listen to him! He was a real idol of mine.” Over the years Kenner became friends with Redd Foxx. “We’d hang out together after shows and he would take me to all the parties. I couldn’t believe all the movie stars I used to see at those things.”
Little Hatch was a regionally famous Kansas City harmonica player and band leader from the 1950s until his death in 2003. Little Hatch spent decades tirelessly performing the blues all over Kansas City and the Midwest.
Cotton Candy was Kansas City’s queen of the blues. She was an accomplished singer, songwriter, pianist, author, and poet. Cotton was born on New Year’s Day in 1931. Cotton won numerous awards, including being one of the few women inducted into the Elder Statesmen of Jazz. She is a founding member of the Kansas City Blues Society, and donated her time and energy to a variety of charities.