Lady Bianca it is so good to sit down and finally talk to you! I know you are going to share all that insight and wisdom with us now girlfriend (both laughing). Where are you from?
I was born in Kansas City, Missouri. I am the oldest of two sisters and a brother.
Are they musically inclined?
No. Not at all.
When did you leave Kansas City?
When I was about four years old I moved to San Francisco.
Oh, you have been in California quite a while...
Yeah, most of my life.
Where did you first get exposed to "the music"?
I heard it in my mother's church at first. It was just me and her. We would go to church all the time. Then I got one of those little tiny piano's. You know them real small things (laughs). When I was in Iowa, I found one recently and I bought it. When I was little, I use to play that little tiny piano and my mom said I use to go home and try to repeat the words I heard at church. She said I had them all wrong (laughs) Girl, I was saying any old thing. I still have that problem today! (laughs)
Tell me about your father. He was involved in music?
Yeah, he is my step-dad, but he was like my real dad. I have known him since I was 4 years old, so he is my dad. We grew up in a household that was basically church abiding, but we didn't go to church. We would have church in our house! My dad would lead it and I would be playing the piano, not knowing what I was playing. I mean I was playing "whatever", you know what I mean? He would be playing the guitar and he would be playing "whatever" also. It was more like a Delta, Texas style blues thing. [My dad] was from Houston, Texas.
So you grew up hearing the blues?
Yeah. He has that Houston, Texas style blues, although he was doing what he was doing to gospel lyrics He was playing Ray Charles, Memphis Slim and some of them kind of people. He was playing that kind of rural blues, but he was telling us it was gospel. We were real religious at that time. We could not go out in "the world." We couldn't go outside, watch television, cut on our hair, you didn't wear short dresses. We prayed on Friday till sundown Saturday. We studied the Bible all the time.
Is your father still alive?
No. He died.
Girl, what do you think your daddy would say about that tight red tutu of yours?!
Ooooh, Girl (laughing), he would love that red tutu! In reality, he probably wouldn't, he would be telling my mama "you go and get that girl! " I was always running some place I shouldn't have been.
I have very vivid memories of the first time I heard the blues. Did your dad introduce you to the blues?
I think I did hear it from my father first. When I think back on it that is what he was playing, but he wasn't telling me it was blues. See the fabric was all there. The fabric said all blues, but he was telling me it was gospel, therefore, in my now music most of my tones are gospel. I grew up going to all of the gospel shows. The Mighty Clouds of Joy, The Staple Singers, Dorothy Love Coates, The Gospel Hartmonettes, and on and on.
Oh, that brings back so many memories...
I know chile! And we saw Sam Cooke and The Soul Stirrers, The Five Blind Boys. We saw all of the beginning pioneers. People that made the music what it is today. I didn't get to go to a James Brown concert until I snuck off and I think I only saw one of those.
Have you noticed that with gospel, blues and R&B, that sometimes the only difference is the changing of the lyrics?
Right! It's the words. It's the changing of the words. To me the same thing was happening. Both were wearing the suits and those high hairdos. Clara Ward (legendary gospel singer) was a big diva. She had diamonds in her teeth and her hair waived up. You know she was something. She had her "showtime" all together.
Yeah, those gospel performances were definitely shows in the truest sense. I remember going as a little girl and seeing those women singing their hearts out in big wigs and beaded gowns...
Yes, it was a show. The people that went to see those shows went there to "see God" at least that was my father's point of view. But you know, I didn't really get the message till I grew up that they went there for "showtime" also. It's just like Kirk Franklin today. If you go to see one of his shows, that is what you see an entire show. Now, don't you try to change over from gospel to rhythm and blues 'cause then you'll be talked about. But I love both. The gospel music is in my blues an the blues is in my gospel.
I grew up in the church also and you can't get away from it.
Yeah sister , than you know that if you grew up in it you can't get away from it. There is nothing wrong with that because that is a part of our fabric and I love the combination of the two. The tones are healing to me. I hear the African roots. You know we sing in masses and in choirs. We also sing in 'masses' by ourselves. We hear the voices inside of us when we sing. We hear all of the rest of us chiming in with us. Me and Stanley ( Bianca’s husband and band member) have written over 400 songs about different kind of modes of things. They are all combined with our gospel roots and our blues roots.
It must be very special to write songs with your husband.
Yes, very special. We have a whole catalogue of songs.
When did you start performing professionally?
I have been involved since high school. I was like the school diva. I did all the shows. I remember the first time I did my first show. I was so nervous. I was singing Barbara Streisand's "People." I wasn't really into the gospel and blues at that time. I wanted to be doing "savoir faire" like stuff (laughs). You know, being the torch singer. But, in the 70’s when I met my son's father, he was into those places like "Mary's Place" and "The Delux Inn" you know those places way way down there where the chicken is frying (laughs).
You mean those "Juke Joint" Places?
Yeah girl, the juke joint places. Over there in Richmond, California. You know my daddy was saying "Go get her! Where she at...What's she doing over there in them places?" You know, he knew where I was going, but I didn't know where I was going.
What did it feel like when you got to those places?
It was interesting. I felt kind of at home there. Because I was with my man.
Did you ever get up and sing?
No way! I was too 'proper' to do that. (laughs) I had just got out of college and I just thought I was the eloquent one. I was singing those arias. I wasn't thinking about singing that "Oh yeah..." stuff. Girl, I wasn't doing that. But at this time also, I started working with Sly Stone, Frank Zappa and people like that. I did background singing.
Did you tour ?
Yeah, I toured a lot.
What was that like?
It was very nice. It was just like a job, you know. Employer and employee. We got along fine and kept it going like that.
Now we have heard so much about the “wild times” on tours. You don't have any of those exciting touring stories?
No crazy stories. I always tried to make sure that my job was done with the performers. Just like when you go to any job. You make sure that you do your best. You don't get into their business and they don't get into yours. I didn't even see lots of groupies on the road. I was too tired. When I got done with the show. I just went to my room because we had to be up early the next day and on that plane. I didn't have time for all of that craziness.
Now, you sang with Van Morrison for a while. What was that like?
I really really enjoyed working with Van. He is a very nice and talented guy. I loved singing and arranging the backgrounds for him.
You've also worked with Bobby "Blue" Bland and Etta James...
Yes, as the opening act for them. Also Bonnie Raitt.
Did you ever feel intimidated by all that "star power?"
No. I always felt I had my own energy. And I never tried to compete with them. I just did my show and if my show came out good that is all I worried about. I didn't try to out do them, because you can't out do the greats. That's like me trying to go up against Ray Charles or something - me trying to out sing him! Honey, I wouldn't even try to do that because he is gonna get me! (laughs) I just do the best that I can and hope that it was good enough.
After all of this experience you have had with different genres of music, when did you decide that blues is what you really wanted to sing?
I think I always knew. I just went off the track for a minute. Like I said, my dad was already showing me those chords. They were already there with me and I identified with them. But I was trying to dislodge them when I was into the college thing. I went to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for one year. You know what happened? This is very interesting. As I stayed there, I noticed that they had only one singer that they paid attention to. Anyone else coming along they didn't see you. And at that time, I think they just wasn't interested in my type of voice. This is the 70's. I didn't want to think it was because she (the singer) was white and I was black, but I did get that feeling. I don't think they were prejudiced. I just don't think they were looking for someone like me.
You are one piano playin’ sistah! You are known for that...
I am? Whew...that's alright!
You know what is so strange about that? Is that when I went to college, I couldn't play like that at all. I could not play the classical music and it really bothered me, but because of the teaching of my father I could play by ear. Actually I stopped playing because my mom use to always tell me "you better practice, you better practice!" When she said that, that is when I said that I am not touching that piano. You know how kids are. She gave me the piano that I practiced on and it is in my house right now and that is the piano I still play - a baby grand. I wouldn't play for years. Then about six years ago, I decided that it was time that I played so that I could control my music. You know when you just stand up and sing it is a whole different thing. Now when you sit down and say "play these chords, this is how I want it to sound when I sing..." I get a different reaction. I notice that a lot of musicians West Coast musicians have told me that I don't belong behind of the piano, that I am a stand up singer and that is where I should be and let the men play behind you.
I understand that! I seem to get much more "respect" from our fellow musicians when they find out I am a piano player. But honey, I am not in your league at all! Now...speaking of men (both laughing) . As a strong woman musician and performer, what do you think about women blues singers at this time in our history?
I think that men blues singers need to give us a "hand up" in the blues scene now. Don't ignore us. We just need their support.
California seems to be producing some very talented women blues singers. What is relationship with the other sister singers on the "left coast."?
We are supportive of each other. I think the West Coast needs to have our own scene. We are on the right track to doing that now. We are into women supporting each other. There is heavy competition out here, but we try to be there for each other.
Do you think there is an "image" of the female blues singer that modern women may not fit into?
Let me see. Now, there is an image, but I am not sure what the image is. I know there was a time when people like Sarah Vaughn and Dinah Washington...
I love Dinah Washington...
That's my girl! These women wore the finest of gowns and clothes. Even Bessie Smith had glamour. I think the look has changed. They seem to want a big lady with no teeth and none of that elegance of the past gone singers. It seems like glamour does not have a place anymore. I know that there is a look out there that we have to change.
I am a large woman also. How did you in a society that "celebrates" our physical opposite, gain so much self confidence and self-assurance?
I use to be like a size six and always liked to go with the trend in fashion. Then the bigger I got, the more fashionable I wanted to be. They give you tents to where when you get bigger and bigger. I don't like that ugly stuff (laughs). I learned how to sew from my mom, so I make all of my clothes. I didn't make that red tutu though and I am not going to tell where I got it from, because folks will be running over there to get it! I have always felt confident. I hung out with people (performers) who were very confident of their bodies and they showed me how to be confident of mine. At one time, I did go "inside myself." I gained a lot of weight and I just thought I wasn't beautiful. But my husband Stanley really helped me. he tells me "You look good. Go out there and shake all you got! Move it around because men really like that..." (laughs). I don't notice the reaction because I am too shy to look.
I have heard you speak in the past about the current images that are being portrayed in the media of African-American blues women. I know that you have very passionate feelings about this....
It is a sad thing to be perceived as “just a black woman" not a beautiful subject of color, talent, and brains. If a picture is taken of the black woman blues singer she is portrayed with the photo shot of the double chin, un-combed hair, bugged out eyes and missing teeth, sweat pouring from her face and forehead, mouth wide open, face contorted in frowns. This is their impression of the Black female blues singer. You will find this image in the Blues Rags. It suggests that all black blues women, no matter how beautiful they are, look this way. I see no need for these harsh un-feminine pictures. I don't see anything wrong with being large, good looking and dressing nice. Be me fat, thin short or tall.
On the other hand our white sisters are portrayed differently. Even if she is [a large woman], she is still portrayed as a sexy , enticing, voluptuous, good looking blues mama.
In your opinion, the blues magazines portray women blues artists vastly different?
The blues rags have been doing this for years. They are insensitive to the feelings of our own Black blueswomen. We look in these mags and come away very upset and hurt by what we see. I myself have called up my blues women friends and said "did you see that picture of so and so in so and so magazine?" and we all say "aint that a bitch”! Why do they do that to us!?" We are portrayed in the worse light possible. They call that look the "blues look" ...
I know for a fact that most Black blues divas that I know spend quite a bit of time to get their look just right. We have to make some changes because we are walking toward the new Millennium. We blues divas all are beautiful in our own way. We should not be subjected to this kind of cruelty. Now as like always, the black woman has played a very important part in Blues music. From Bessie Smith to Etta James, to KoKo Taylor we have done our part to keep the blues alive.
There are some very beautiful black women in blues. They have fantastic talents and beautiful souls. We blues woman (black and white) are diamonds in the jewel studded bracelet of the Blues and should be cherished as such.
The media needs to open their eyes and see that they are hurting us women with these ugly photos. They need to change their perception of our image and start photographing us the right way. I am not saying that all photographers take bad pictures. But the ones that they pick for the magazines seems always the worst of the lot. Quite frankly, I am sick and tired of this shit.
There is definitely a lot of passion there. Thank you for digging so deep and sharing your views so honestly. Now, a while back you said you are "shy." You are too shy?! Now some of your performances are , let's see how I can put it, "out there!"
Yeah, they are raunchy! (laughs)
I wasn't gonna "go there"... (laughing)
I know they are raunchy, but it's just a show. I am not like that at all off stage. I am really very shy and I don't like to be around a lot of people. Something happens to me when I get on stage. 'Lady Bianca" is not Bianca - my boys’ mother. Lady Bianca comes out there she may do or say anything. My son Beethovan, who is 19, just did a paper on me. He said that he learned that "Lady Bianca is not my mom and my mom is not Lady Bianca...." I have a 20 year old song Oshmin. They work in music also, The oldest one is a bass player and Beethovan is going to be an actor and dancer.
What do you consider the Lady Bianca style?
We call it the "Mighty Oakland Sound." Stanley (Bianca’s husband) and I created it. My band is the "Magic O Rhythm Section." There are five of us with myself on the piano. My playing has improved greatly since I have been out on the road. I have developed a "New Orleans" feel and I have no idea where that came from.
Do you feel like you can be a mentor to younger singers? But you are still a “younger singer”...
Yeah. In the Oakland area, I teach voice and I have little singers , black and white, that are sounding like me (laughs). I have a lot of students. We need to pass this music on to our kids. Once we infect them with it, they will come out singing it! They won't know they are doing that, but you will turn around and hear them singing a blues line. We have to get the blues into our homes, schools, everywhere. We need to change the attitude towards blues at home too. You mention Elmore James you here, "No, I don't want to hear that stuff." But you know what? Elmore James is still playing at that Pentecostal church down the road. That's why the kids are flocking to the churches. It's that old timey music, but it ain't nothing but the blues.
Is 'Best Kept Secret" your first CD?
Yes. It was very exciting to produce. We knew what we wanted when we went into the studio. We were just a flower ready to bloom. We went into the studio and in two weeks we had what we wanted.
Are you working on a CD now?
Yes we are. It is a very very exciting project! It should be released [soon].
The blues is a product of the African-American experience in this country. We see that the audience for the blues has greatly diversified and it is no longer just a rural, southern black music. What do you think about the direction the blues has taken?
I think that blues has taken a more "Rock" oriented edge. Blues is "sweet and raw" and it has lost some of that. It seems that people that are playing it now and getting recognition use to be Rock performers. Also, a lot of blacks seem to be playing Rock type blues to get to a broader audience. I believe I am being honest with my music. If I was to describe the blues as a dress. I like the antique dress. I don't where the new clothes that well. I don't want polyester. I want the real cotton. It just doesn't fit me.
What are your plans for the future? Where do you see your music taking you?
I see my music as adding new energy in the blues market. I am straddling the line between rhythm and blues and blues. That's the way I write. Stanley likes Louis Jordan and I like the gospel and Motown flavor. We merge them and produce our sound. I want to do more festivals and travel to Europe. I really want to build myself in the states though. I want to spread like a big germ. Like a big epidemic of me! (laughs)
We are going to have the "Bianca Flu “!
Yeah, but it's a good infection!
How would you like to be remembered?
As a person who loved people and tried to share my innermost feelings. At some point, we have all experienced the same thing.
Click Here to visit Lady Bianca's website.