Chris Whiteley and Diana Braithwaite. Dive into Blues

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Highly acclaimed and multiple award winning musicians Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whiteley are on a northern Ontario tour, and Sault Ste. Marie is one of the tour stop locations.

Chris and Diana have been making music together for over ten years, but their individual journeys in music started well before they became a married couple. They are talented performers in their own right, and are well known in the Canadian (and international) music scene. Especially, in the Blues music scene. A northern Ontario tour which began on September 21st, 2016, is a route that continues to be mapped, as Chris and Diana explore new venues and communities, with which, to share their music.

On Saturday, September 24th, 2016, the Sault Blues Society  will bring this talented duo to Sault Ste. Marie’s Rock Star Bar in the Algonquin Hotel. With local musicians Lindsay Pugh and Mark Gough collaborating,  blues fan can dive deep into the Blues.

Diana is a celebrated singer, songwriter and interpreter of ‘the blues’, and is a descendant of the Wellington County pioneers in Canada. With roots in Florida, Diana’s ancestors escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad and lived for four generations in Wellington County, the first African-Canadian pioneer settlement in Ontario. She began performing professionally as a singer-songwriter in her teenage years, and opened for John Lee Hooker in Toronto, before touring as Albert Collins’s opening act. In 1999, Braithwaite performed at Lilith Fair. In the same year, she released her debut album, ‘In This Time’. She is a multiple Maple Blues Award winner.

Chris is a guitar player, songwriter and cornet player.  He won Canada’s Maple Blues Award in 2014 (for the 7th time) for top blues horn player. Born in Kansas, Whiteley moved to Toronto, where as a teenager, he met the legendary Blues artist Lonnie Johnson, whose unique guitar style greatly influenced him.

He formed a group with his brother Ken, and soon they were performing on the Festival circuit, meeting and playing with such artists as Roosevelt Sykes, Taj Mahal, Sam Chatmon of the Mississippi Sheiks, Bukka White  and John Hammond. About this time, he served in the house band at Toronto’s then Rock and Roll  concert venue “The Rockpile”, where the band provided back up for many visiting artists, including Chuck Berry and John Lee Hooker. Another important mentor for Whiteley was the great Chicago piano player Blind John Davis, who had been the house piano player for Bluebird Records. He had the opportunity to perform many shows and also record an album with Blind John.

Whitely also toured  with Leon Redbone, playing cornet and harmonica. He recorded an album with Redbone, and also appeared with him on Saturday Night Live (NBC) in New York. In Canada, Whiteley received the ‘Blues with a Feeling Award’, for lifetime achievement in the blues.

Braithwaite and Whiteley were named “Songwriter of the Year” at the 13th Maple Blues Awards.

‘The Maple Blues Awards’ is Canada’s national blues awards program. Its goal is to promote blues music across Canada, and to recognize outstanding achievement in the field. Winners in all categories (excluding the instrumental categories) are decided by blues fans across Canada. Voting occurs online each November.’ (torontobluessociety.com)

Whitely and Braithwaite have continued to tour across Europe and North America, appearing at festivals and concerts, as well as numerous radio and television appearances.

“Last year we went to Western Canada, The U.K. and southern Ontario.” shared Chris Whitely in a recent interview with saultonline. “We recently started doing northern Ontario venues as well, and we took a trip up to Mattawa and Sudbury, and really enjoyed that trip. This year we’re going a little further, and we’re really looking forward to it . The people and scenery are fantastic.” shared Whitely

chriswhitelyblues_country_cover“We love what we do and we’re grateful for the opportunities that we have. For our northern Ontario tour, we’re working with bands and local musicians from northern communities. It gives us a chance to collaborate with excellent musicians. You get to know the people, and their style.”

“We’ve won awards for our ability to recreate the authentic blues style.” shared Diana Braithwaite.  “I’m one of only a few singers in Canada with African- American roots that is keeping the tradition of blues alive in Canada.”

Whitely toured with  Stuart McLean‘s Vinyl Cafe CBC radio programme. “Chris was in the band for ten years, and was quite often the featured guest soloist with Vinyl Cafe.” said Diana

“I was with Stuart (McLean) in the early days; The mid 1990’s to mid 2000’s.” said Chris.  “In 2007, or so, I began doing occasional spots, including a Christmas show in Massey Hall in Toronto and in London, Ontario. I did a Vinyl Cafe show a few years ago in Parry Sound as well.”

Reflecting on his life and music partner, Whitely said, “We met through music. ” We worked together on and off in the blues scene over the years. Diana and I always admired each other’s music and enjoyed working together. In 2006, we recorded an album together, ‘Morning Sun’.  It ended up doing very well, and garnered some blues award nominations.  We won the Maple Blues Award. After that, we began touring and doing more CD’s together. It’s been a great thing to work together. Our relationship developed naturally from the music.”

Their first CD collaboration in 2005, ‘Morning Sun’, garnered many rave reviews, extensive air play, and led to multiple Canadian Maple Blues Award nominations, including Album of the year, and Acoustic Act of the year. Their second albums, also recorded for the Electro-Fi label, ‘Night Bird Blues’ was extremely well received, with great reviews and airplay internationally. It led to them being awarded 3 Maple Blues Awards in January 2010, including being recognized as Songwriters of the Year. Their third Electro-Fi release, DeltaPhonic, led to more Maple Blues Awards, and reached number 1 on B.B. Kings Bluesville XM Sirius satellite radio network. Collectively they have been awarded 9 Maple Blues Awards and 6 JUNO Nominations.

In 2014, the CD ‘Blues Stories’ was released, and according to a 2015 review in Living Blues Magazine, the CD offers ‘a harmonious assortment of originals and covers that sounds both timely and timeless at once. On Blues Stories, every song has a tale to tell, and Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whiteley convey each one in their elegant, eloquent fashion.’

Diana’s vocal styling’s combine elements from Nina Simone, Esther Phillips, Lil Green and others to create her own unique authentic blues style. A forceful presence recognized on the Canadian and American blues scene as an artist with a unique sound who is keeping the authentic traditional blues sound alive in the contemporary blues scene today.

sault-blues-societySaturday night’s show at The Rock Star Bar will be Braithwaite’s first stop in the Sault.

“I was in the Sault a number of years ago, many, many moons ago, with my brother Ken.” said Chris.

“The shows that we do are full of heart and soul.” said Diana.  “Our audiences can feel connected to the blues. We bring history, humour and music together. If you’re curious about the blues, or love the blues, you’ll enjoy the show.”

The Sault Blues Society invites you to dive into blues on Saturday, September 24th.  Algonquin Hotel, The Rock Star Bar.

Doors open at 8:30. Show starts at 9:30

To learn more about Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whitely, visit: www.braithwaiteandwhiteley.com

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Lynne Brown
Algoma writer and reporter. Has written for special editions Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal. In the 80’s, Lynne worked for AutoTrader Magazine in rural Southwestern Ont. Trudging through farmers’ fields for a picture of a 56 Dodge Custom Royale was considered a very good day. Special interests include issues relating to rural life, seniors, travel, history, community development and indigenous peoples. email to lynne@superiormedia.ca Twitter: @dlynnebrown.