Grammy Award-winning harmonica virtuoso Sugar Blue is not your typical bluesman...
Born James Whiting - he was raised in Harlem, New York, where his mother was a singer and dancer at the fabled Apollo Theatre. He spent his childhood among musicians and show people who knew his mother, including the great Billie Holiday, and decided that he wanted to be a performer.
Blue received his first harmonica from his aunt, and proceeded to hone his chops by wailing along with Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder songs on the radio, he was soon to be influenced by the jazz greats such as Dexter Gordon and Lester Young.
Sugar Blue has used this background to his advantage, creating an ultra-modern blues style and sound that is instantly recognizable as his own.
Blue began his career as a street musician and made his first recordings in 1975 with legendary blues figures Brownie McGhee and Roosevelt Sykes. The following year, he contributed to recordings by Victoria Spivey and Johnny Shines before pulling up stakes and moving to Paris on the advice of pioneer blues pianist Memphis Slim .
While in France, Blue hooked up with members of the Rolling Stones , who instantly fell in love with his sound. The Stones invited Blue to join them in the studio: he can be heard on the group's LPs Emotional Rescue, Tattoo You and blasted the harmonica solo of their mega hit “Miss You” on the platinum selling album Some Girls.
He appeared live with the group on numerous occasions and was offered the session spot indefinitely, but he turned it down, opting instead to return to the States and put his own band together rather than became a full-time sideman. Before returning to the U.S. in 1982, Blue cut a pair of albums, Crossroads and From Paris to Chicago.
Blue's decision to return home, despite his growing renown as a session player, was spurred by his desire to work with and learn from the masters of blues harmonica. Thus he came to Chicago and proceeded to sit in with the likes of Big Walter Horton, Carey Bell, James Cotton and Junior Wells. Blue went on to spend two years touring with his friend and mentor Willie Dixon as part of the Chicago Blues All Stars before putting his own band together in 1983. With his own band, Blue's star continued to rise. He received the 1985 Grammy Award for his work on the Atlantic album, Blues Explosion, recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival.
He recorded on Dixon's Grammy-winning Hidden Charms album in 1989, has performed on festival stages with classic artists like Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Art Blakey, Lionel Hampton and has also set his sights on television and the big screen. He sat in with Fats Domino, Ray Charles, and Jerry Lee Lewis for the Cinemax special, Fats Domino and Friends, and has appeared on screen and in the musical score of Alan Parker's acclaimed 1987 thriller Angel Heart, starring Robert De Niro as part of the band led by Brownie McGhee.
Blue has played and recorded with musicians ranging from Willie Dixon to Stan Getz to Frank Zappa to Johnny Shines to Bob Dylan, he is perhaps best known for his signature riff and solo on the Rolling Stones' hit Miss You from their Some Girls album.
Blue performs his own version of the song on his 1993 Alligator debut Blue Blazes. With his second release In Your Eyes, Sugar Blue emerges as a singularly profound songwriter as well as a harmonica wizard.
He has appeared across America, Europe and Africa at many prestigious venues and festivals - Chicago, New York, Montreux Jazz, Antibes, Nice, Cannes, Montreal Jazz, Pistoia Blues, Bern Jazz, Rapperswil, Blue Note, Lincoln Jazz Center...
Blue took a long hiatus from the recording studio but he came back strong with his next album, 2007's Code Blue followed by Threshold two years later
2012 starts strong with the release of the powerful live album Raw Sugar Live.
The intense schedule of Blue's live activity throughout North America and Europe peaks with a performance at the Apollo Theater in the Robert Johnson 100th Bday tribute with Taj Mahal, Elvis Costello, Keb Mo, Macy Gray, Sam Moore, Steve Jordan, Chuck D,…and at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland as part of an All-Star band to honor the Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary.
While busy producing his next album Voyage, the unstoppable veteran bluesman and his eclectic band take their act at sea: Sugar Blue is a featured performer on Norwegian Cruise Lines’ flagship liner as part of the Grammy Experience at Sea.
The world tour continues and the band debuts in China welcomed by enthusiastic crowds and sold-out shows at world-renowned Blue Note in Beijing, World Music Asia Festival, the Grand Theater in Shanghai and new adventures in Asia.
His next studio album Colors (Beeble Music, 2019) has been written and recorded on four continents, the U.S. (Chicago), China (Shanghai), Europe (Italy) and Africa (South Africa)... and has evolved in a new concept for his live shows with the addition of African percussion... going back to the roots while looking at the future! The Colors of Blues is now on tour.
Sugar Blue continues his artistic journey, pushing boundaries, exploring sounds and transcending genres.
A soulful singer, prolific lyricist, and dazzling Harmonicist: his performances are a true testament to his powerful musical language, strongly rooted in the Blues and devoted to Sugar Blue’s unique visionary style and creative force!
“Sugar Blue incorporates what he has learned into his visionary and singular style, technically dazzling yet wholly soulful. He bends, shakes, spills flurries of notes with simultaneous precision and abandon, combining dazzling technique with smoldering expressiveness and gives off enough energy to light up several city square blocks... And sings too! he's got a rich, sensual voice with a whisper of huskiness which by itself would be something out of the ordinary. But oh, there's that harmonica again... !! ”
— CHICAGO TRIBUNE
★ Harmonica virtuoso started as a street musician on the streets of the Greenwich Village… won a Grammy for his performance at Montreux Jazz Festival in 1985
★ Blasted the harmonica solo of “Miss you” on the platinum selling album Some Girls by the Rolling Stones
★Performed in 30+ countries worldwide and counting… with numerous collaborations with US Embassies.
★ Sugar Blue memorabilia is part of the Exhibits at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale and at the Rock’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland
★Has performed on stage and recorded with music icons such as Willie Dixon, Rolling Stones, Prince, Stan Getz, Bob Dylan, Buddy Guy and many others
★2012 performed at the Apollo Theater in the Robert Johnson 100th Bday tribute with Taj Mahal, Keb Mo, Macy Gray, Sam Moore, Steve Jordan, ChuckD,...
★ Appeared and performed in the Cinemax Special “Fats & Friends” alongside Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Ron Wood, Jerry Lee Lewis...
★ Screen Actors Guild member, appeared in several feature movies and documentaries including Angel Heart, Rolling Stones Under review, The Perfect Age Of Rock’n’Roll,…
★2011 Featured on the cover of Living Blues Magazine with a ten-page cover story
★ 2014 Featured performer on Norwegian Cruise Lines’ flagship liner as part of the Grammy Experience
★ 2013 Performed at the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland as part of an All-Star band to honor the Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary
★ Chicago Music Award Winner for Best Performer in 2012, 2013 & 2014
★ Featured performer on Norwegian Cruise Lines’ flagship liner as part of the Grammy Experience
★2017 Sugar Blue 's debut in China was welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd at a sold-out show at world-renowned Blue Note in Beijing
★ 2019 the latest album COLORS, written and recorded on four continents,reflects the constant research of sounds and emotions that drives Sugar Blue’s creative force.