John Sayles has long been one of America’s greatest film directors and screenwriters – we’ve believed this ever since he made the wonderful Baby, It’s You in the early ‘80s – and his latest, Honeydripper, which debuts this week at the Toronto Film Festival, has a small Detroit connection via one of its cast members. Set in 1950 rural Alabama, the new film celebrates the region’s juke joint culture (via the Honeydripper Lounge, natch) and the blues and r&b music that came out of that culture and led to the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. The film stars Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton and Mary Steenburgen, among others – but of special note is the appearance of Dr. Mable John, the sister of legendary Detroit r&b man Little Willie John and the first female single artist ever signed to Motown on the Tamla label (she was a longtime friend of Berry Gordy’s mother, which led her to the label in the first place). The Detroit-born Mable was also the leader of Ray Charles’ Raelettes, meaning she spent years recording and touring with “The Genius” himself. Little Willie’s son (and Mable's nephew) Keith appeared in town last week at Meadow Brook as a member of Stevie Wonder’s team of backup vocalists
so you could say that it’s been a very good week for the relatives of the late singer who gave the world the original version of Otis Blackwell’s “Fever.”
Mable John in her heyday.