Marion James came to Music City fame in the blues clubs of Jefferson Street in the early 1960s, even performing alongside Jimi Hendrix. She later scored a top 10 hit with That’s My Man and continued performing for decades.
James passed away after a stroke Thursday. She was 81. “Marion James had a strong, demanding voice,” said longtime friend Lorenzo Washington. “When she sang, you listened to her. Oh, she was the Queen of the Blues. Music was her life.”
“Life experience goes into every note that she ever sings,” said David Flynn, president of the Marion James Musician Aids Society.
James recorded a song called Back in the Day at Washington’s Jefferson Street Sound studio. It tells a story of a time when Jefferson Street was lined with smokey clubs playing host to Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix and James herself.
“Marion was a part and one of the only women that was really part of that whole scene from Jefferson Street,” Washington said.
One of the clubs was then called Club Baron, now the Elks Lodge. Behind the doors, crowds came to hear a voice that’d prove unstoppable for decades.
“They say, ‘Here’s Marion James, Queen of the Blues!’ Here she comes with this cape and tiara. She whips the cape off and starts belting out the songs,” said Flynn, remembering the first time he saw James perform. “I think it was unthinkable to her not to have music in her life, not to be performing, not to be writing new songs. That was her life.”
She sometimes signed her name with “The Blues Queen” and often sported a tiara at performances.
“When it came to Nashville, Tennessee, Music City, Marion James was the Queen of the Blues, and she made sure everybody knew that,” laughed Washington. “She was bluesy, and she had some sexy songs back in the day.”
“Instead of going national, she was focused on Jefferson Street,” added Flynn. “It’s because she loved it. She loved the people that were involved in it.”
“I was at the hospital when the tubes were taken out of her,” Washington continued. “She was not able to breathe on her own for almost a day. It’s hard to lose that kind of friendship.”
Washington and Flynn said the influence runs deep in Nashville of that Jefferson Street music and of James, Queen of Blues.
“The blues brings people together,” said Flynn. “At a time where there’s so much division, when there’s so much strife, there’s the blues. I think that’s what Marion really wanted to do. She always said she had a huge heart, and she always liked to bring people together.”
A celebration of life for James is still being scheduled. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help her family with funeral expenses.
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