Seems like everybody’s singing the blues these day. Even President Barack Obama was seen belting out a verse of Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” at the White House’s Black History Month celebration. And it’s a fitting time to celebrate blues music, as this year would have marked Johnson’s 100th birthday. More than just the archetypal bluesman, Johnson was a supremely skilled musician whose influence spans generations.
On Tuesday, March 6, the Apollo Theater will present “Robert Johnson at 100,” a celebration of Johnson’s centennial featuring an all-star, genre-spanning lineup of performers gathered to pay tribute to the influential bluesman. Among the artists scheduled to appear are the Roots, Macy Gray, Savion Glover, rapper Chuck D, rock iconoclast Todd Rundgren, Elvis Costello, legendary singers Sam Moore and Bettye LaVette, bluesmen Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal and hard rock group Living Colour. Producer-composer Steve Jordan will serve as musical director and actor Jeffrey Wright will co-host the affair.
The concert is being produced by Steve Berkowitz, Michael Dorf, Joe Morton and Patricia Watt in association with the Memphis-based Blues Foundation and Legacy Recordings, the label that marked Johnson’s 100th birthday with a massive box set last May. Dorf, founder of the City Winery and Knitting Factory, is known for producing a series of big-name tribute concerts at Carnegie Hall to benefit music education programs.
Director and co-producer Morton made Tuesday’s event sound like more than just a concert. “Steeped in the tradition of a barrelhouse,” said Morton, the concert promises to weave “Johnson’s genius as a musician with bits and pieces of his bedeviled life into a multifaceted fabric laid out by a diverse group of impassioned artists.”
Johnson’s grandson, the Rev. Steven Johnson, is also set to make a special appearance at the Apollo event. Johnson works with the Robert Johnson Blues Foundation, a group that seeks to preserve his late grandfather’s legacy through the provision of art education, competitions and scholarships. The reverend is considered one of the leading Robert Johnson historians.
Proceeds from the concert will benefit the Blues Foundation and the Robert Johnson Foundation and provide funding for the building of the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis. More info on the Hall of Fame can be found at www.blues.org.
Tickets for “Robert Johnson at 100” are available via Ticketmaster by calling (800) 745-3000 or visiting the Apollo Theater box office or www.apollotheater.org.