Bobby Rush was born Emmett Ellis, Jr. outside Homer, Louisiana, in 1933. He twanged a diddley bow before picking up a guitar around age 11, and his preacher father knew enough about a harmonica to pass along a few riffs to his progeny. The family relocated to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in 1948.
While still a teenager, Rush became a professional blues musician, adopting his stage name so as not to disrespect his devout dad. To sneak into clubs and juke-joints, the underage Rush fashioned a moustache out of matchstick ash. In Pine Bluff, the young bluesman befriended legendary slide guitarist Elmore James and played around the Deep South with him, and harmonica ace Little Walter, among others. Their travels introduced Rush to other blues greats of the era, including Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.
Inspired by their tales of the booming Chicago blues scene, in 1951 Rush headed north to the Windy City. There he assembled a band with a young Freddie King on guitar. (Luther Allison would join the group later.) For years, Rush gigged steadily around the West Side and in the southern suburbs of Chicago, but it wasn’t until 1964 that he made his recording debut with the tough downbeat blues “Someday,” on the small Jerry-O label.
Now a 2-time GRAMMY winning legend, Blues Hall of Famer, six-time Grammy nominee, and 14-time Blues Music Award winner, Bobby Rush has been making records for nearly 70 years and has more than 400 recordings, 75 career releases, and 27 studio albums to his name. 2021 marked the 50th Anniversary of Rush’s Billboard R&B charting hit, “Chicken Heads”. To commemorate the occasion Bobby Rush recorded four new versions in distinctly different styles with an array of prolific collaborators including Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Buddy Guy, Allman Brothers alum Warren Haynes’ jam-rock band Gov’t Mule, and from the new generation of blues stars and current GRAMMY nominee Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, plus Bobby Rush with his band showcasing the Southern Soul style they’ve performed it in their live shows for decades.
Centrum is honored to have Bobby Rush join the 2023 Acoustic Blues artist faculty on Tuesday August 1st to teach a harmonica clinic and tell stories to participants registered for the workshop. On the evening of Wednesday August 2, Rush will perform a public concert in the McCurdy Pavilion.
Registration is still open for the Acoustic Blues workshop and tickets available online for the concert.