Pamela Rose gives women blues greats their due

Pamela Rose sings the blues – and much more.

The Bay Area band leader and vocalist is the creator of “Blues Is A Woman,” a multimedia show detailing the history of American women blues artists, opening Aug. 3 at Custom Made Theatre in The City.

Rose calls it a “theatrical concert” with film, video, photos, costumes, conversations and her crack five-member band: pianist Tammy Hall, drummer Daria Johnson, bassist Ruth Davies, saxophonist Kristen Strom and guitarist Shaunna Hall, who recently replaced an ailing Pat Wilder.

“It’s been two and a half years of research and development to get here. It’s what we we’ve all been galloping toward,” says Rose, adding that the upcoming San Francisco production is a recently refined version of the show that’s been well received in the East Bay.

For Rose, telling the stories of instrumental women blues musicians was a natural follow up to “Wild Women of Jazz,” her show about Tin Pan Alley composers.

“I loved doing it,” she says, “but I knew that my next experience couldn’t be just me singing. I knew it would be an ensemble.”

It’s also the result of her own experience coming up during the roots revival, discovering artists such as Sippie Wallace and Bessie Smith.

“It wasn’t this quaint music, the message was so powerful and independent and strong. It inspired me and a lot of women, and gave voice to what we were feeling: ‘I don’t want to be Doris Day, I want to be Aretha Franklin.’”

With help from dramaturg Jayne Wenger and band leader Hall (whom she calls “the professor”), Rose developed a show with a dramatic arc, beginning with Ma Rainey and continuing through Bonnie Raitt.

Not every important artist gets a song in the show, Rose admits: “Sometimes we just mentioned their names.”

The production’s visual component is orchestrated as carefully as the music.

Sometimes it serves as scenery (“You feel like you’re in the South in 1910”) and sometimes archival images are the main focus: “I wanted people to see Sister Rosetta (Thorpe) playing the guitar, and some film has emerged, so we were able to do that.”

Yet the collaboration is what Rose treasures most: “My greatest joy is working with these gals; the beauty was allowing our process to go on in an organic way.”

Folks who want a sneak peek can get a little taste of it this weekend when Rose and her band play the PAL Blues, Music, Arts & BBQ Festival in Redwood City at 3:45 p.m. Saturday.

This year, the event celebrates women blues performers, thanks in part, to one of the festival’s organizers. George Schoenstein, who saw the “Blues Is A Woman” band at a house concert fundraiser for the show.

Rose says guitarist Nancy Wenstrom will join the group on Saturday; the day’s excellent lineup also includes Sugar Pie DeSanto; Lady Bianca; Henry Oden’s Rhythm and Blues Revue with Fillmore Slim, Craig Horton, and Margie Turner; Walter Jebe and the Lost Roots Band; and Stan Erhart with Nancy Wright.


PAL Blues, Music, Arts & BBQ Festival
Where: Courthouse Square, 2200 Broadway, Redwood City
When: 5 to 9 p.m. July 21, noon to 8 p.m. July 22
Tickets: Free
Note: “Blues Is A Woman” opens Aug. 3 and runs Thursdays-Sundays through Aug. 27 at Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter St., S.F.; tickets are $30-$45. Visit

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