Acclaimed blues artist defies categorization

Posted Online: July 02, 2014, 12:07 pm
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By Jonathan Turner,
Deanna Bogart is a multi-talented musician who doesn't like things called labels, or genres.

As a bandleader, singer, songwriter, producer, pianist and saxophonist, the 54-year-old Detroit native combines the best of boogie-woogie, contemporary blues, country and jazz into a fusion blend she calls "blusion."

"I'm genre-free and I think music is, too," said Ms. Bogart, who's returning to the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival Saturday after several years. "I'm compelled to write or play for other reasons. It's setting your life in music, and I never detoured from that."

Ms. Bogart's "blusion" -- alternately called spontaneous, sophisticated, fearless and fun -- has garnered her three consecutive Blues Music Awards' Horn Instrumentalist of the Year honors for 2008, 2009 and 2010, and she's won more than 20 Wammies, Washington, D.C. area music awards. Last fall, after 30-plus years in the Washington area, she moved to southern California.

"I don't think about style, the music or what an artist brings to it," Ms. Bogart said. "When somebody says, 'How can you listen to that?,' I don't know what you're talking about. It's music, so I'm comfortable with all of it. It's honest, getting to whatever my truth happens to be."

She spent her early years in Phoenix and New York City, climbing on any available piano bench to plunk and play. At the age of six, she was "gently removed" from the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music for playing piano by ear instead of learning to read music. While in middle school, Ms. Bogart yearned to play the saxophone. Typical of those times though, she was told, "Girls play the clarinet, not the sax." She came to pick up a tenor sax at about age 20 and hasn't looked back.

She is a featured player in the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Revue, jamming with Tommy Castro, Magic Dick (founding member of the J. Geils Band), and other prominent guitar slingers. Ms. Bogart remembers her early years as a budding musician and is an avid educator and mentor, sharing her insight and wisdom with students of all ages -- including offering a workshop 7 p.m. Saturday in Davenport.

Ms. Bogart -- whose newest CD is Blind Pig Records' "Just a Wish Away" -- has played for U.S. troops in Iraq, Kuwait and Egypt as part of the "Blues on the Nile" tour, including performances at Cairo University, the Cairo Opera House and even a concert at the Great Pyramids.

The Nashville Blues Society has called Ms. Bogart "a brilliant multi-instrumentalist, adept on piano and sax, with a beautiful vocal delivery."

Downbeat said she "possesses a gift for approaching blues, soul and R&B material with warmth and firmness. Her originals here, in particular the beautifully sung, intelligent ballads 'Blue By Night' and 'Tender Days,' sound as fresh as if she'd magically plucked them out of the air.

She makes sure every show is different than the one before.

"Whatever the show, it should be unique to that night," Ms. Bogart said. "I've never used a set list in the million years I've been doing it. If it's magic, it's magic. I feel honest, to be giving the best I can."

"It's important for me to be genuine and authentic," she said. "If something crazy happens, you go with it. Otherwise, it's all the same. A connection with the audience is important. If it's not there, there are other places I can connect, with me, and sometimes you play even better."

She's excited to play with the longtime bassist from Spyro Gyra on tour, and her latest disc was recorded in New Orleans with musicians she'd never met before, which added a new flavor to her material.

"It was scary and exciting," Ms. Bogart said. "It's vital to keep things fresh and interesting."

Karen McFarland, of Davenport, entertainment committee co-chair for the Mississippi Valley Blues Society, is excited to have Ms. Bogart as one of very few female artists among the 27 acts in the three-day fest lineup on two stages -- topped by headliner George Thorogood and the Destroyers 11 p.m. Friday, and Ms. Bogart 10 p.m. Saturday.

Carrying blues history into the future

Ms. McFarland also shares her passion for educating youth on the blues, as the 400-member MVBS has made it a priority for years, with the festival's "BlueSKool" since 2001 and blues musicians working in area schools year-round since 1991.

"They won't hear about this in their history books," Ms. McFarland said of the blues. "The blues is a window onto American history -- history of the railroad, history of great migrations. It's important for the kids to understand, the blues are the root of American popular music, especially rock and roll."

BlueSKool this year includes the youth band Winter Blues All-Stars, at 6 p.m. Friday, moderated by Ellis Kell and Bret Dale. The schedule of internationally acclaimed bands also includes Q-C favorites The Mercury Brothers (this year's Iowa Blues Challenge winners) at 6 p.m. tonight, and the Ernie Peniston Band at 10 p.m. tonight.

Ms. McFarland, 64, has been an MVBS member since 1987 and is proud that it's the only major blues festival to be entirely put on by a volunteer, nonprofit organization.

"It's the emotion. It's so vital," she said of the music. "I was also very interested in my college days in folklore. This is African-American folk music, it's what the blues is. It just spoke to me."

"The people that founded the Blues Society did say, they were tired of having to take three-hour road trips to Chicago," Ms. McFarland said. "They supported the blues coming through town."

The Blues Festival -- which will be along 2nd Street downtown for the second straight year, forced out of LeClaire Park due to flooding -- was honored late last year with a "Keeping the Blues Alive" Award from the International Blues Foundation of Memphis, in the festival category. The Blues Foundation notes that the local fest has become "one of the longest running, most prestigious blues festivals in the world."

It was nominated for the award by musician Michael "Hawkeye" Herman, himself a KBA recipient for education in 1998 and a former member of the board of directors of the Blues Foundation. In his nomination, Mr. Herman noted that "The 2014 KBA Award would be a most auspicious way of honoring this event's 30 years of hard work and dedication to 'Keeping the Blues Alive' in both spirit and action."

If you go

What: Mississippi Valley Blues Festival.
When: 5 p.m. to midnight today; 2:30 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.
Where: 2nd Street between Main and Ripley streets, with some activities in the River Music Experience, at 2nd and Main, Davenport.
Tickets: $10 for Thursday; $25 for Friday and Saturday. For more information, including a complete schedule, visit


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