Shooting the blues

Jan 2, 2002 at 12:00 am
Reflecting at year's end 2001 in this time of peace and religious traditions as publisher and editor of Big City Blues, my thoughts and passions focus on New York City. Trying to keep the blues alive, the road led to New York four times this year. It began New Year's Eve 2000 with a feature cover shoot of Shemekia Copeland at B.B. King's in Times Square. In spite of 16 inches of snow we got the shot and it was special. As the year progressed and I kept running into my New York friends the Holmes Brothers, we kept talking about doing an issue on New York City. In August when Chicago B.L.U.E.S. in New York closed it was brought to my attention that there were no places for the blues in New York. I contemplated doing a story on no blues in New York.

On the morning of Sept. 11 that thought was gone — New York City had the blues. The New York City issue now became clear to me. I contacted Wendell Holmes and we set up the cover shot for Monday, Oct. 8, at the Fulton Street Pier in Brooklyn Heights so the background would be the dramatic backdrop of Lower Manhattan without the World Trade Center towers. The shoot went off without a hitch.

To complete the New York issue we found ourselves in New York again in November for a group shot with the great skyline behind them like the cover shot with the Holmes Brothers. We got 120 e-mail replies from musicians who would be there on Nov. 12. At 9 a.m. that day, an airplane crashed in Rockaway Beach and New York was shut down, closing all bridges and tunnels. The photo was taken with only the 31 people who were able to get there.

Back home in the Motor City I was besieged by New York musicians who couldn't make the shoot and asked if we could reshoot the photo. They felt and I agreed that New York had more to show than 31 musicians. On Dec. 16, I made my fourth and final 2001 trip to New York; this time the magic happened. Seventy-one people and one dog made the photo, and with the breathtaking skyline behind them my New York story was done.

To see these photos of New York visit or pick up

a Dec./Jan '02 copy of Big City Blues Magazine or at the Tangent Gallery in Detroit until Jan. 20 (313-875-7302). Robert Jr. Whitall is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Big City Blues