Q&A with Gina Coleman (Misty Blues), composing and performing original blues with hints of jazz, funk, soul and tent revival gospel

"Blues offers insight into the daily struggles and highlights of everyday hard-working people. It is raw and authentic at its essence. I want people to listen to our music and take a break, lose themselves, and find some momentary relief from the weight of their daily lives."

Gina Coleman: Blues Roots and Beyond

Misty Blues' founder and lead singer, Gina Coleman, is a graduate of Williams College. She began singing in 1990 on a dare by her co-workers and hasn’t turned back since. She began performing in a duet, The Siblings. Gina shortly started her own duet, Cole-Connection, which blossomed to a five-piece band that allowed her to showcase some of her original music. Gina has performed in the Williamstown Theater Festival as the lead gospel singer in “A Raisin in the Sun.” She also made several appearances at NYC’s famed Bitter End. Misty Blues was a featured group at Mass MoCa’s blues festival. Gina and the band have had the pleasure of performing with Charles Neville from the legendary Neville Brothers at several venues in Western, MA and opening for blues staples. Musical influences include Janis Joplin, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Tuck & Patti.                                (Gina Coleman / Photo © by Roger Stephenson)

Misty Blues celebrate 24 years of composing and performing original blues with hints of jazz, funk, soul and tent revival gospel. Misty Blues recorded and shared the stage with Charles Neville and opened for traditional & contemporary blues artists like Tab Benoit, John Primer, Albert Cummings and Michael Powers. In 2019 the band became a finalist in the International Blues Challenge and released a music video directed by acclaimed documentary filmmaker, Dave Simonds. In fact, their original recordings have hit the airwaves on blues radio stations across the globe. In 2020 album titled Weed 'Em & Reap. Misty Blues' released the 13th album, but first live album, first acoustic album, and first tribute album to the late great Odetta "Tell Me Who You Are: A Live Tribute To Odetta" (2023).

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues music (and culture of) influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I’m not sure that blues music has influenced my views of the world, but it has certainly been the soundtrack of my life. My struggles and my unwillingness to relent in the face of those struggles are the themes most prevalent in my music.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

I’ve never achieved anything in my life with ease. My creative outpourings come from my resilience; a thematic thread throughout the music I write. I would say that my music squarely falls in the contemporary blues sub-genre. Misty Blues' music is rooted in the blues, but heavily infused with jazz, funk, soul and tent revival gospel.

What moment changed your music life the most?

Misty Blues making it to the finals of the 2019 International Blues Challenge. Everything started to change for us in terms of our rapid expansion of followers outside of the Northeastern United States.

"The dichotomy of her (Odeta's) musical leanings is certainly enticing to this devoted follower. She sang from a place of great conviction, and irreverent humor. She also had an undeniably distinctive voice; she made folks truly listen to the lyrical content of her music." (Photo: Misty Blues' Gina Coleman)

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?

I am much more confident in my artistry, and I’ve grown to trust my instincts regarding the musicians I’ve surrounded myself with to create music. My writing process has and remains a non-process; songs just come to me, and I capture them and then send them on to the band for their personal contributions.

Currently you’ve one release (Live) tribute to Odetta. How did that idea come about?

I had the honor and privilege of spending an evening with Odetta in the mid-90’s at the Bottom Line club in NYC. Ever since that meeting, I’ve longed to pay her tribute. We had a unique opportunity to do a live recording at Studio 9 Porches in North Adams, MA this past May, so I used that fortune to finally pay my respects to the Queen Of Folk.

Why do you think that Odetta’s music and life continues to generate such a devoted following?

The dichotomy of her musical leanings is certainly enticing to this devoted follower. She sang from a place of great conviction, and irreverent humor. She also had an undeniably distinctive voice; she made folks truly listen to the lyrical content of her music.

Do you think there is an audience for Blues/Roots/Folk music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

Audiences will be drawn to Blues/Roots/Folk as long as there are foundations/organizations created to provide opportunities for young artists to greatly develop their musicianship. For example, The Blues Foundation hosts a youth showcase during their annual International Blues Challenge held in Memphis, Tennessee. Additionally, their Generation Blues scholarship provides young musicians with the funding to attend blues instructional camps across the country and Canada.

"I’ve never achieved anything in my life with ease. My creative outpourings come from my resilience; a thematic thread throughout the music I write. I would say that my music squarely falls in the contemporary blues sub-genre. Misty Blues' music is rooted in the blues, but heavily infused with jazz, funk, soul and tent revival gospel." (Gina Coleman / Photo © by Vinny Natale)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

During our last tour to AL and MS, I surprised the band with a late-night recording session at Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL. We recorded three tracks from our last album during that session and it was a magical experience to create music in a space that has produced some of the most iconic songs of our lifetime.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Blues was performed by lifelong blues musicians who spent their entire careers grinding out their music on the road; their struggles were audibly palpable and authentic. My fear for the blues of the future is that there is a trend where great musicians of yesteryears from other genres are finding their second wind creating blues music and taking up precious radio airplay and awards away from musicians who have dedicated their entire lives to creating and performing the blues.

What does to be a female artist in a Man’s World as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

Blues music was first brought to the masses by African American female artists. Mamie Smith was the first African American artist to make a vocal blues recording. The Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith, was the highest paid Black performer of the 20’s & 30’s. I think female blues artists are fairly represented on the blues airways of today, but I can’t quantitatively speak on the gender equity of their financial compensation.

What would you say characterizes Massachusetts blues scene in comparison to other US local scenes and circuits?

Where we call our home base in Berkshire County Massachusetts, has been historically aligned with folk music; being home of Arlo Guthrie. Outside of Albert Cummings, I’m hard pressed to name any other chart-topping blues artists from Massachusetts.

"I would love to see a landscape where being a non-labeled artist didn’t prevent the most prominent promotional outlets from widely sharing that music." (Photo: Misty Blues / Gina Coleman)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Not everyone will appreciate or find value in what you do, but it’s important to fuel what makes you whole. I know that I am a better people person to the people around me because of the centering afforded to me through my music.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would love to see a landscape where being a non-labeled artist didn’t prevent the most prominent promotional outlets from widely sharing that music.

What is the impact of Blues on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Blues offers insight into the daily struggles and highlights of everyday hard-working people. It is raw and authentic at its essence. I want people to listen to our music and take a break, lose themselves, and find some momentary relief from the weight of their daily lives.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

It would love to go to Merryville, Louisiana in 1935 to hear my grandmother sing. Family members often compared her to the legendary opera and spiritual singer, Marion Anderson. I was never fortunate enough to ever hear my grandmother sing, so it would be thrilling to hear where my voice was genetically derived.

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(Photo: Misty Blues)

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