Next generation: Claudette King carves out her own blues legacy
B.B. King opened the Durham Performing Arts Center in 2008 with the sweet bent notes of his electric blues guitar. He has returned to the venue several times since that inaugural concert.
Saturday, King’s daughter Claudette will perform her first concert in Durham during the Bull Durham Blues Festival. Claudette King has toured nationally and internationally. She got booked for the Bull Durham Blues Festival after she went through a list of national festivals, including Durham’s. “I went through each and every one of them,” King said in an interview from Atlanta. “I got a call back and it went from there,” she said.
She grew up in San Francisco, where she first sang in school for talent contests. “From there, I went to church. Church was what gave me the ability to tell a story and deliver it,” she said. King then began singing in clubs and venues in the San Francisco area, eventually performing with her father, and Etta James, one of her influences.
In the 1960s and 1970s, her father led a resurgence of interest in the blues, and for many he became the living face of the blues. Claudette, however, said she was not aware until years later of her father’s influence in the blues world. “You don’t realize that unless you are actually involved in the same thing they do,” she said. His influence is “like a bell that rings constantly. … I get so much recognition from saying, I’m B.B. King’s daughter.”
Growing up, King was influenced by vocalists like Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan and Mahalia Jackson. She also listens to modern rhythm and blues artists like R. Kelly and Beyonce. “Basically, right now my focus is on my dad. … For me to become a good blues artist, I pay attention to him,” King said.
She has made her mark on two recordings – a country-blues album titled “Whiskey Makes Me Sing,” and more recently “We’re Onto Something,” for Dan Bacon’s Blues Express label. She is working on a follow-up to “We’re Onto Something,” which reflects her blues, jazz and rhythm and blues influences. The album has slow ballads (“Too Little Too Late,” “This Ain’t How I Planned It”), electric blues with Stax Records-style horns (“Whole Lotta Nothing”) and gospel influence (“Isn’t Peace the Least We Can Do”).
She finds audiences at festivals and concerts receptive to her approach to the blues. “As long as you tell the story and make sense, they relate to it,” King said. In performance, her philosophy is, “Whatever you do, come out strong, hold that intensity until that story clears and is understandable. … Make sure that whatever you are doing is for real, in order for them to feel what you are putting out.”