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Give It Up for Miss Lavelle White, Blues Singer and All-Around Bold Icon

Austin’s amazing “First Lady of Blues” turns 90 this summer. Can we get a round of applause?

You don’t meet Miss Lavelle White: You “feel” her. Her face exemplifies the essence of a blues singer.  It shows pain, suffering, hardship—all those things that make the blues the blues—and gives her songs their gritty honesty. Put that together with a risqué sense of humor that twinkles in her eyes, and you have a woman who, on the cusp of turning 90, is totally about aging boldly and blazingly.

Lavelle’s talent was evident early. Born in Louisiana to a single mom, Lillia (as she was known then) started singing spirituals in church as well as soul, funk, and blues with her powerful, emotion-rich voice. She also began writing poetry and songs at a young age. She landed in Houston at age 15 and performed in the clubs while having a day job, until the age of 22, when she went full time, then known as Miss La-Vell.

I sing to lighten the trouble off of [people’s] lives.

For decades, her talent and drive were only heard live. She shared a stage with the likes of Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding, and she performed at the San Francisco Blues Festival, Houston International Festival, and Austin City Limits. Finally, her first album came out in 1994, when she was 65, followed by two more, capturing her memorable music. In recognition of her amazing work, she was inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2006.

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Telling It Like It Is

Miss Lavelle White, Austin's 'First Lady of Blues,' Turns 90 | NextTribe

True to the blues tradition, Lavelle’s songs are infused with life’s hard truths. Consider the titles of some of her compositions: It Haven’t Been Easy; Those Lonely, Lonely Nights; Stop These Teardrops; I’ve Never Found a Man to Love.

But she’s certainly not wallowing in sadness. As Lavelle has said, “I sing to lighten the trouble off of [people’s] lives. I sing for life to be a better thing, and make people happy.”

Her performances are also tempered with humor. “Of course she’s a wonderful blues singer,” her saxophonist Kaz Kazanoff has said, “but what makes me laugh almost every night is her spontaneous ‘raps.’ She will carry on about ‘big titties’ or her childhood in Mississippi, or how she is going to ‘funk you up.’ Amazing!”

Yes, give it up indeed for Miss Lavelle White!

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By Jennifer Rodrigo


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