Sharon Lewis sang in church growing up in Fort Worth, and as a teenager in the late 60s she idolized Tina Turner. But she didn't consider a music career until 1992, when she performed in a faculty and staff revue at Northwestern University. Inspired by the praise she received, Lewis auditioned with local bands; her first club gig was in '93 at Buddy Guy's Legends, fronting a blues aggregation called Under the Gun. Since then she's worked with some of Chicago's leading blues lights, including Johnny B. Moore, Michael Coleman, and Dave Spector; for the last six years, she's headlined her own shows. Though Lewis now writes her own material (she claims that the last time she sang "Sweet Home Chicago" in a club she did so only because a well-lubricated patron tipped her $500), she redefines even familiar standards. Where Albert King crooned "I'll Play the Blues for You" as a gritty seduction, Lewis attacks it, demanding fealty from her listeners ("You got to open your hearts and let me in") while boasting of her ability to deliver the goods. She transforms the hipster bounce of Rosco Gordon's "Just a Little Bit" into a howl of erotic affirmation. On "I Get Evil," another King warhorse, Lewis rasps with street-tough aggression even as her supple vibrato exposes her tender side. But the centerpiece of Lewis's live show is Son Seals's "Mother Blues": modulating from a choked whisper into a gospel shout, she sounds like a woman who has survived adversity by embracing, rather than fighting, emotional vulnerability. Friday, September 27, 9:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452. Saturday, October 5, 8:30 PM, Pops Highwood, 214 Green Bay, Highwood; 847-266-1313.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc Pokempner.