Ladies sing the blues

Published 11:59 pm Saturday, June 6, 2009

The 2009 June Summer Blues-Out and Art Walk will feature two homegrown talents on the Picayune Main Street Stage, Melanie Wilkinson and Brenda Davenport Taylor. The women will kick-off the evening — set for 5-9 p.m., Friday, June 12 in the downtown Picayune area — by belting out the blues.

“I think it’s great that Picayune Main Street keeps creating venues for musicians and artists and others… they’ve helped me out tremendously,” said Wilkinson. The local singer said she owes a lot of her success to the people of Picayune and she is excited to perform for them again this year at the Blues-Out.

Wilkinson has been singing publicly for about 11 years. “I sang before that, but just in my house and I wouldn’t let anybody hear me,” she said. Wilkinson said that as a shy, soft singer in the beginning, she was compared frequently to Alison Krauss, but, after being the lead singer in two different bands and embarking on a solo career, she has gained confidence and learned to project. Now it’s nothing for her to belt out even an Aretha Franklin tune.

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As a Pearl River County Realtor by day, Wilkinson started the musical side of her career in the Picayune Memorial High School band playing trumpet — she was “darn tootin’ good,” even if she did say so herself.

Through the support of the local Lions Club, Wilkinson made the Mississippi Lions All-State Band two years running and, with the help of local business owners, her trumpet even took her to New York, London and Paris — giving her the opportunity to play in Carnegie Hall and the Notre Dame Cathedral. She said she is extremely grateful for the Lions and the local business owners that helped her with these past achievements. “I couldn’t have done it without them,” she said.

So, for them and for everyone who attends the Blues-Out, Wilkinson plans to dust off her trumpet and play a few songs in addition to her singing. She will perform on and off throughout the evening on the main stage at the intersection of North Main and West Canal streets, starting at 5:35 p.m. She also will run the sound system for the other main stage musicians.

The evening’s featured entertainer, Brenda Davenport Taylor, will not only be bringing her talent to the main stage but also her family’s legacy.

Taylor, who currently resides in both Picayune and New Orleans, comes from a long line of musicians including her father, the late Wallace Davenport — a world-renowned jazz trumpeter who played with the likes of Count Basie, Ray Charles, Lloyd Price, Roy Brown and Lionel Hampton, just to name a few.

While Taylor did not grow up with her father who was busy touring the globe, she was still entrenched in music through her mother, a local church musician till her death two years ago, and her grandmother and aunts all of whom played the piano. Taylor said her grandmother coached her in her church performances and, by the age of six, Taylor sang her first church solo.

As an adult, Taylor sang with her father at a Jazz Festival in Switzerland, where she said she was treated like a celebrity, even signing autographs. She also joined him for several years at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and accompanied him on vocals a couple of times at the Maison Bourbon Jazz Club in New Orleans. “(My father) wanted all of us to be musicians and singers,” Taylor said, so he really enjoyed it when she would sing a few songs with him.

As a physical therapist in Slidell, La., for the past 13 years, Taylor, often uses her voice to help soothe her patients and bring them out of their shells. “Sometimes I sing one of their favorite hymns and I can get them to do things,” she said. “It brings them out if they’re kinda shy and reluctant to do therapy… they enjoy it!”

Over the past year, she has shared her gift with Pearl River County by singing most Saturdays at Joyce and Darnell’s, a restaurant in Carriere.

Taylor joined the Blues-Out line-up immediately after being asked. “I’ve always enjoyed singing and this is kinda like a great opportunity for me … sorta like a dream come true,” said Taylor. “I sang at the Jazz Fest with my dad for like two or three years, but singing in Picayune around family, friends and neighbors, I think this is going to be a much greater enjoyment for me than even singing at the Jazz Fest — ’cause it’s like I’m home.”

Taylor will sing the blues, on and off throughout the evening, starting at 6 p.m. A recording of her father’s music will precede her 7 p.m. performance set.

Other blues artists that will play the main stage include the Wardell Williams Band, John Wilkinson Jr., “204” and Rick Schroeder. Gracing the streets, corners and shops of Main Street and Canal are blues musicians Charles Badon, Jimmy B and Becky Eymard, along with some of the main stage performers.

Blues-Out attendees also will get their crack at the limelight. Crescent Café on West Canal is hosting a Karaoke night and special guest artist Richelle Putnam — singer, songwriter, poet and author — will be at PJ’s Coffee of New Orleans leading an Open Mike/Live Entertainment opportunity.

The evening also will feature an Art Walk, sponsored by the Greater Picayune Arts Council, with local artists exhibiting and demonstrating their pottery, paintings and metal art work.

Grab the whole family and the lawn chairs and get set to “blues-out” in downtown Picayune. Debbie Galiano of Main Street said, “It’s show time — come one, come all. It’s going to be a great night.” For more information, visit