Blueswoman Mary Washington-Brooks talks about Koko Taylor, Mavis Staples, and the Sunshine State's blues

"The blues is really a statement about real life. When I write songs they are mostly about my experiences or someone I know experiences. I sing and write from my SOUL."

Mary Washington - Brooks: Sunny Blues

Fort Lauderdale singer Mary Washington Brooks, was a nurse for more than two decades. Washington-Brooks is no ordinary singer, she is in total control of every note, or breath needed to get across the passion that she radiates to the audience when she performs. In a recent performance at Cheers, a local nightspot near Fort Lauderdale, she performed with six other singers in a show hosted by the South Florida Blues Society, she was clearly a standout in the group but not just for her vocal talent, in fact she seems to have everyone mesmerized with her sexy appearance on stage and personality. Watching her perform, it becomes increasingly apparent that her command of lyrics and the stage is not accidental.
Mary planted the seed for her career in singing more than forty years ago when she was a little girl in Sarasota, Fl. She states that she lived next to a Juke Joint and would mimic all the blues songs she heard day and night. She states that her mother who is very religious, tried to push her toward more religious music but the blues had already drawn her in. More than twenty five years ago Mary met Cliff Ayers the president of Emerald Records in Nashville, Tennessee. Mr. Ayers convinced her that she should be on records with her voice and talent. Emerald released the album Best Seller which was her first major attempt at recording that brought some local and national acclaim with it. The Album Wild Women don’t get the Blues was released in the early nineties, which keep her busy for quite a while performing in local clubs and festivals.
Mary made her presence known as a model for Florida girls modeling agency by doing several commercials, she then made an impact performing by doing such shows as; The Riverwalk Blues Festival; The Coral Springs Ourtown Festival; The Delray Beach Roots Festival; The City of Fort Lauderdale Noontime Concerts series, The Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art’s show.


Interview by Michael Limnios


When was your first desire to become involved in the music & what characterize the sound of Mary Washington Brooks?
I gained my interest in music from when I was around six years old. My family live next to a Blues Juke Joint in Sarasota Florida. I use sit outside along the hedges and listen to the blues anytime I could get a chance too and I also would watch all the people go in and out of the bar, many would end there night when they came out of the bar in a great mood and dancing in the street. I also remember my oldest sister asking me to pretend to be a singer as entertainment for her and her boyfriend when he came to our house to see her, One of her favorite songs for me to sing was by Bobby Lewis,” Couldn’t Sleep at All last Night”. I was also raised in the church and sang a many Sundays in church as my mother through the blues was a “Tool of the devil”


What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had?
I did opening for Koko Taylor, and it was very exciting when Mavis Staples open the show for me at the Sun Festival in West Palm Beach, FL in 2008. It was such an honor to meet these Great legends. And watch what they did once they took to the Stage, truly amazing to watch the masters at work.


Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst? Are there any memories from your band, which you’d like to share with us?
I’ve had a lot of great moments in my long career but one on the worst moments that still haunt me today is that at the end of the show, I want get paid. That happened to me at a running gig that the owner as me to put wait for a second week to get paid, I agreed because he had been paying me without a problem - My band and I worked three night a week for him. At the end of the second week when I went to pick up my check on Monday, a large chain was around the gate and large Notice that said” Closed by order of IRS.
Of course I paid the band out of my personal funds, but I never got paid for that gig. The lessons learned in always get your money at the end of the show.


What does the blues mean to you & what does offer you?
The blues is really a statement about real life. When I write songs they are mostly about my experiences or someone I know experiences. I sing and write from my “SOUL”.
The Blues has gained me really longtime friendships and friends, my family says because to the music, this once very shy girl is no longer around


Which is the most interesting period in your life and why? How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?
One of the most entering periods of my life is trying to work in music with a very jealous husband at my heals.
Someone who had no interest in the music so he decided I shouldn’t be in music; of course that was a very short marriage. The music business for me started out as a struggle, it still a struggle as the playing field for women is not the same and the playing field for men. A higher standard is asked of women who do the exact same things as men. They still get more respect, more money and more gigs.


What is the current state of the live music scene in Fort Lauderdal, FL, where you live?
The scene in Fort Lauderdale is coming back to where lots of venues are offering live music. The Key to getting these gigs seem to be who you know, not how good you are.


I've heard two sayings about the blues, which are a little bit confusing. One is "Blues is a healer". Another one "You have to feel blue to play Blues". If it's supposed to be a healer, why should it make one feel sad?
The two saying you heard I think are true, Talking or singing about the problems of society has to be helpful to some, it’s a healing experience or you would not have some people playing the recording over and over again and learning all the words. The person delivering the message has to be a great interpreter in order to be believable and get the meaning and the message across to the listeners.


What are the things you’re most passionate about in life?
I’m most passionate about children, family, husband, society, and music. My life encompasses all these things daily. I would not be the person I am without these components. My mother who is now deceased Instill in me that I was wonderful, and told me don’t stop sharing that god given voice of yours for no one


Any of blues standards have any real personal feelings for you & what are some of your favorite?
I have so many personal blues favorites, Ball and Chain - Big Mama Thornton, Baby what you want me to do - Jimmy Reed, I’ve been loving you to long, I can’t stop now - Otis Redding, Let the Good times Roll - BB King, Hoochie Coochie Man by Muddy Waters, I’d rather go Blind by Koko Taylor, I have so many blues favorites really to list them all. I especially like songs with a woman’s point of view, then inject a little sassy attitude and you got me hook line and sinker. These are the components that I try to incorporate in my songs when I’m writing my own lyrics. If you take a look and some of my songs such as “Man Drawing Power” or Rock Your World” and dissect them you will see the attitude and sassiness.



Do you think that your music comes from the heart, the brain or the soul?
My music comes from the heart, brain and Soul. If you look and my songs you would know I have to have those three components in order to be successful songwriters with passion and compassion. My Song “Kick the King off the Throne” is true to the belief that you have to have a combination of things to write successful songs with real meaning.


What do you think of SOUL & JAZZ music & how close are to the BLUES?
AS you have head many times “Blues is the Originator of Jazz and Soul, I believe you really couldn’t have jazz and Soul without the Blues, they truly are kissing cousins and I like to incorporate all of them into my show. I LOVE MUSIC.


What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
I tell many expiring musicians, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t succeed, you along will determine how for you take your music, you alone will determine your true destination in this musical arena called “World”.


Happiness is……
Happiness to me is being known for my great song writing ability and singing those songs to the masses, plus earning a great a living at it, Traveling the world to show my fans that I am a live and still kicking.


From the musical point of view is there any difference and similarities between: bluesman & blueswoman?
The playing field is still not near level for women in blues and has a long way to go. The pay is not equal and most of all the respect is not near where it should be. I think men in the field have to reach back and help make us (women) equal in the playing field by demanding it.


How you would spend a day with Etta James? What would you say to Koko Taylor?
If I would spend a day with Etta James, it would be to pick her brain on how she succeeds in blues back in the day when it was always the men who were the headlining Act... AS I was once in the company of KOKO Taylor and was Ah of her then, I probable still be in Ah of that Great voice I’d give one of my songs to sing to me.


Mary Washington - Brooks website

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