WashU Expert: Remembering Kim Massie

Legendary St. Louis blues singer ‘refused to be pigeonholed’

Kim Massie (Photo: KimMassie.com)

“Every Tuesday and Thursday night, hundreds gather at Beale on Broadway, a blues bar and music venue located in the shadow of Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis,” wrote Paige McGinley in her 2014 book “Staging the Blues: From Tent Shows to Tourism.” “The crowd — an unusually heterogeneous group in this strikingly segregated city — has come to see Kim Massie.”

Massie, who died Oct. 12, was a beloved figure across the Midwest — a grandmother of six who shared stages with Chuck Berry, Cyndi Lauper, Nelly and the St. Louis Black Rep, among many others. Her repertoire ranged from original songs to covers by Etta James, Dinah Washington and Led Zeppelin to shouted requests she’d look up on the fly. “Don’t worry,” she’d tease the crowd. “I got my iPad!”

McGinley

“Massie was a performer in the tradition of the great Black women blues singers of the early 20th century,” said McGinley, associate professor in the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. “Like them, she — and her marvelous band, the Solid Senders — refused to be pigeonholed into a particular style. She relished singing songs from every genre, from blues to rock to pop to country to children’s music — often times improvising brilliantly on a suggestion from her audience.

“But to remember Massie only as a singer, though, is to miss a huge part of what made attending her shows such a special occasion. Like her forebearers but in a way all her own, she established a playful rapport with her audience in her first moments on the stage, inviting us to be her collaborators. Later in the set, she would occasionally enlist a good-humored audience member in her raunchy choreography, much to everyone’s delight.

“It was impossible to leave her shows without feeling the zest for life that she brought to the stage.”

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