Bobby Rush | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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BOBBY RUSH

Lately rap and shock-rock acts have been monopolizing the attention of America's public moralists so expertly that you wouldn't expect a blues artist to draw their fire, but this year Kentucky officials cut singer and harpist Bobby Rush from the lineup of the state's Hot August Blues Festival. They were apparently afraid his stage act would be too risque for families with children; the ACLU is looking into the matter. Though he's no Marilyn Manson, Rush's tales of sexual misadventure and backdoor seduction are hardly G-rated stuff: beside him a pair of scantily clad dancers gyrates to his band's synth-blues grooves, and his props include an enormous pair of panties that he wields with delight during songs like "Big Fat Woman" (from his latest Waldoxy CD, Lovin' a Big Fat Woman). But Rush's routines aren't just celebrations of carnality for its own sake. He calls what he does "funk folklore," and his blues fables are rooted in a profoundly moral African-American cultural tradition: his trickster heroes and their oppressors alike find themselves punished severely if they stretch the bonds of community too far. He may leer at a dancer's wiggling rump or praise the pleasures of illicit love, but he's only playing a character--a character who usually gets his comeuppance at the end of the bit. Rush's offstage activities include teaching schoolchildren about blues heritage and working with a Christian prison ministry, and he's unrepentant about his act: "I'm one of the few guys left doing pure black entertainment," he told Living Blues magazine this spring, after the Kentucky decision. "I won't sell out. I won't sing 'Sweet Home Chicago.' I don't do what white people want black people to do. Maybe some of them are afraid they might like me." Saturday, 10 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. DAVID WHITEIS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.

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