Past Event

Sandra Reeves-Phillips, Vocalist

Songstress and dramatic actress Sandra Reaves-Phillips is a modern day griot, a keeper of the musical traditions of her artistic ancestors. Her show, Great Ladies of Blues and Jazz, brings to life the flair and sass of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters; captures the introspective subtlety of Billie Holiday and the extroverted grandeur of Dinah Washington; and tops it off with the sublime earthiness of gospel queen Mahalia Jackson. By integrating blues, gospel and jazz into one production, Ms. Reaves-Phillips secures the continuity of the founding musical styles of black American culture. Her upbringing in Mullins, South Carolina gave Sandra a particular affinity to the blues. “I realize that most of my life was bordered, surrounded by blues. First of all, I was born to a 14-year old mom, who went north and left me with my grandmother. So I stayed with her as a farm and migrant worker until I was almost 15.” She sang in church on Sundays and in the fields during the week. “When we worked in the fields, people would sing all day long. You would hear ‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen’ and ‘Breakin’ Rocks Out Here on the Chain Gang.’ We would sing it all, from blues to spirituals to gospel.” She also saw the good times roll in juke joints. “I came from juke joints, somethin’ they called a piccolo. I remember hearing Big Mama Thornton as a little girl when I’d put my grandmamma’s nickel in the piccolo when I was supposed to be going to the store.” So by the time Sandra came to Brooklyn to live with her mom, she was marinated in the vernacular musical culture of her people. Her mother took her to amateur shows, where Sandra excelled. Her singing led to a career in show business, where she has starred in numerous theatrical, television and feature film roles, for instance as the blues singer Buttercup in Round Midnight with Dexter Gordon, and as a music teacher in Lean On Me with Morgan Freeman. Ms. Reaves-Phillips has been in performing as a professional for almost fifty years and she counts her blessings with deep appreciation for her career. She also has developed insights into the truth of the blues: “The blues is a feeling so deep that you have to sing. You put whatever words, passion, feeling, pain, joy, sexual innuendos, whatever is deeply rooted in your soul. When you bring it out in a blues, people can feel it because you’re telling the truth.”