by Gus Marshall
A sign reading “standing room only” greeted people entering The Royal Room Aug. 11. That night, The Duffy Bishop Band, a tight-knit rhythm and blues band fronted by the vivacious vocalist, Duffy Bishop, headlined The 6th Annual Columbia City Blues Festival.
Bishop is a charismatic blues singer with a flare for the dramatic, known for her intense live performances and engaging the audience on stage or in the crowd.
Before her performance, she mingled with patrons and fans, saying hello to old friends and new acquaintances with a cordless microphone poking out of her turquoise cowgirl boot.
Bishop spoke with The South Seattle Emerald about the importance of connecting with the audience, and how embracing the natural effects of life has helped her discover her authentic voice.
Gus Marshall: How long have you been performing professionally?
Duffy Bishop: I started getting payed a bit for performing at age 15, had bands from 19 on, mixed in with theater. Fifty years, but 40-plus makes me sound younger.
GM: Who are some of your musical and non musical inspirations?
DB: Musical: so many. Bob Dylan, Odetta, Nina Simone, James Brown, Otis Redding, Édith Piaf, Judy Garland, David Bowie, Mahalia Jackson, Hank Williams, Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington, Ruth Brown, Etta James, Janis Joplin, Howlin’ Wolf, and on and on. Non musical JFK, RFK, MLK, Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Richard Pryor, Jimmy Carter, Betty Ford, Malala, Michelle and Barack Obama, and again all the many men and women who have pursued making the world a better place for all people. Persons who combine strength and intelligence with kindness, compassion, empathy and fairness.
GM: What elements of performance are most important to you?
DB: The most important thing for me is connecting with the audience and trying to include them and make what I’m doing theirs. I always hope that I can make people feel uplifted and happier. The audience has allowed me to continue doing what I love in life. I owe to them my
GM: How do you feel your theatrical background influences your music?
DB: I still get nervous every time I perform, so being able to connect in a crowd by clowning or theatrics helps me feel more comfortable. It helps me remain human and approachable, while hopefully still putting on a good show.
GM: What speaks to you about the blues?
DB: The blues touches me emotionally, giving a platform to allow laughter and tears, chills and hope, and a cathartic way to work through problems with the help music. The blues can lift your spirit, and it feels good.
GM: How did you develop your authentic voice?
DB: This is a wonderful question, and I think it shifts with age and where you are in life. I think vocalists always think they have found their authentic voice, but it certainly changes with age and experience. I don’t mean experience of knowing more about singing, rather I mean growing more comfortable with who you are and letting the effects of what has happened to you in life naturally affect your instrument that bares your soul.
GM: Can you tell me about what happens to you internally when you sing?
DB: I like songs with good stories and try to sing them with fresh spirit no matter how many times I’ve performed them, because there are always new listeners who haven’t heard the story, or longtime listeners who want to hear the story again. I try to remain spontaneous & playful for anything new that might happen. So I suppose internally I prepare for a little one act play or monologue set to music.
GM: Do you feel like you are channeling something else outside of you when you perform?
DB: I count very much on sharing the energy and emotion of the audience to help lift me up. It’s the closest one can get to physically flying, when you manage to harness community energy and lift off.
Featured Photo: Duffy Bishop sings during the 6th annual Blues Festival in Columbia City on Aug. 11. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)