Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009


This weekend: Carly Harvey, DC’s Queen of the Blues, Hits Oregon / Profile + Audio interview

By ART LEVINE, OMN's National Editor // A middle of the night interview with Carly Harvey who will sing at Newberg ’s Meraviglioso Winery at 4 p.m, Saturday October 22 show, followed by a 10:30 p.m Tuesday show at Garages Music in Lake Oswego and an appearance next Friday in Camano, Washington.

Art's full, uncut interview with Carly follows below the story.. --- Ed.

A prize-winning, DC-based powerhouse singer, Carly Harvey, a 37-year-old  master of blues, jazz, soul and Americana music, is coming to Oregon this weekend – and you shouldn’t miss her shows. On Friday night, after singing “Paint it Black” at a sold-out tribute show to the Rolling Stones at a waterside club, Pearl Street Warehouse, she came to the airport in the wee dark hours at   4:30 a.m. She was flying to Oregon to go to Newberg’s Meraviglioso winery for today’s 4 p.m. Saturday show, followed by a 10:30 p.m Tuesday show at Garages Music in Lake Oswego and an appearance next Friday in Camano, Washington.  “I basically want to reach as many people as I can and build up my name,” she says. She is willing to take gigs at smaller venues, while also drawing larger audiences at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage earlier this year and garnering blues radio station airplay with her recent single “She Ain’t Me.”  

Her early-morning flight represents the sort of work ethic combined with her eclectic talent that has catapulted Carly Harvey to her position as DC’s Queen of the Blues – while earning her the Washington Area Music Association’s “Wammie” award as Best Blues Artist. 

 Along the way, she’s shared the stage with artists ranging from saxophonist Ron Holloway to Susan Tedeschi, earning a loyal following among fellow musicians in states as far-flung as Vermont and Oregon, including Oregon City’s Rae Gordon. That’s enabled her to build a national touring schedule through grass-roots musicians and fans who come back for more. She is her own manager and agent, booking all her own shows.

Her command of an audience, combined with a genuine warmth and remarkable showmanship, was ably demonstrated when she recently took the stage before the toughest crowd in the world: the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night show, singing James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World.”  (She won strong applause, although not the first prize.) She and her band advanced to the semi-finals of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2019 where Gordon had notched a third-place prize in 2017; that’s when Gordon first met Harvey –and told her about the burgeoning, supportive  blues scene in the Northwest. At Gordon’s invitation, she played in Oregon City a few years ago. She also played an after-hours show at Jack London Revue for the Waterfront Blues Festival in July of 2022. This time around, she’s appearing with the blues guitarist Ben Rice’s band as her back-up musicians in Oregon.

In an interview while waiting to board her 6:30 am flight  – you can hear the full interview below – she explains how her family background and early music exposure set her on her path to performing her wide range of genres. With ethnic roots ranging from Native-American to black, with traces of Mexican, Chinese and Scottish, both of her parents were skilled musicians – her father Daryl was a noted local funk bassist – but they abandoned that low-paying avocation to support their growing family. “I’m like a sponge,” she says, soaking up influences from Spanish pop to 70s singer-songwriters and Fleetwood Mac, along with the blues her parents played in their home.

But she steered away from the blues, until she went to St. Mary’s College in Maryland to study voice as part of her classical training – and a friend kept urging her to sing the blues that she felt growing up veered too often into minstrelsy. “I never sang the blues,” she says. “That’s my parents’ old-time music.” But she got introduced to the singing of the young, hip and attractive Susan Tedeschi, and learned from interviews with the star how much she was influenced by such black artists as Etta James, Koko Taylor and Mahalia Jackson. “I really respected her and she inspired me,” she observes. (Her color-blind appreciation of great singers in the R&B tradition extends to her periodic tribute concerts to Adele and Amy Winehouse, which blew me away when I saw her perform it at DC's Pearl Street Warehouse.) In some ways, her immersion in the blues through Tedeschi is an ironic twist on white baby boomers in the 1960s being introduced to black blues artists through the proselytizing of English musicians like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones.

Her challenge to traditional myths and narratives surrounding black blues musicians goes beyond coming from a well-educated family and avoiding playing the blues when young.  She also critiques the role of white festival  producers in seeking to pander to the mostly white blues audience with blues- rock and largely white stars. “The people with money in their hands curating blues festivals say that black people have abandoned the blues, but that’s not the case. You’re just not paying attention to people like me. There’s thousands of Carleys doing the blues,” she says.

But there’s relatively few younger African-American blues musicians who have  her talent or scope of musical expression. It’s small wonder, then, that the national Big City Blues magazine singled her out a while ago as one of the “Youngest Blues Artists to Watch,” along with Victoria Collier and guitar wizard Christone “Kingfish” Ingram.

Yet another unexpected sign of her talent emerged from her in recent years in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. She wrote what is arguably the best protest song emerging from those upheavals and the growing struggle to recognize minority rights. Called “Human Too,” it is a stirring folk anthem that earned her award nominations, but it didn’t get the wide public attention it deserves even as nostalgic 60s -era boomers complained that great protest songs are a disappearing art form.  

 Fortunately for Oregon and Washington State audiences, they’ll have a chance to experience the full range of Carly Harvey’s talent over the next week, starting today. They’ll doubtless join the growing ranks of converts and  devoted Carly fans.


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