It's music that's uniquely American and, according to Dr. Angelou, beloved by people of all races and both genders. From B.B. King to Bonnie Raitt and Shemekia Copeland, Dr. Angelou talks with living legends of blues music about their craft.
B.B. may be one of the best-known blues musicians alive, but growing up in the South, he says he wanted to sing gospel. "When I got to be a teenager, I used to sit on the street corners and play mostly gospel songs, but then people would ask me to sing other types of music, and when I would do that, they would tip me and put money in my hat," he says. "The people asking me to sing gospel songs never [tipped me] … so now you can see why I'm a blues singer." After a career in music spanning nearly 60 years, B.B. now has a museum named after him and legions of fans of every age and race. "I wanted to be a person for people," he says. "My wish was for people to like me—not one color, not one kind—but people, and I think I have received that wish."
Bonnie, a redhead born in California, started playing the guitar as a girl, and by the time she was in her early 20s, she was staying up all night, jamming with some of the best blues musicians in the country. While her soprano voice was hardly typical of the blues, she says her soulful singing was nothing but. "I'm so glad my fellow musicians and fans have always appreciated that I can sing with my own style," she says. "For me, it's better to just open my mouth and let it come from my heart." Now, with nine Grammys to her name, Bonnie continues to find success as a musician, and she hopes to use her music to bring people of all backgrounds together. "My mission for the rest of my life is to make sure people keep celebrating and keep cross-pollinating and do these outdoor events that have every kind of music presented at once," she says. "And [then] people[will] just fall back in love with the way we are the same and love the ways we are different."
Shemekia Copeland is not yet 30, but she's already a superstar with a career that's more than a decade old. Shemekia says she started singing the blues as a teenager despite the popularity of hip-hop and pop music in her circle of friends. "I was always such a leader in my youth; I always did what I wanted to do," she says. "When I ended up singing the blues, no one was surprised because it was so like my character to do something different." By the time she turned 18, Shemekia was touring the country with a critically acclaimed CD and a huge fan following. She says young people often attend her shows, but few are blues musicians themselves—something she would like to change. "My goal is, I want to see more young black children get involved in this music. I'm probably the only young black female doing this right now. I don't know anybody else, and I just turned 29," she says. "This is classical music for America."