Jazz fans at Chris Barber’s concerts in 1955 were surprised when a tiny, slim girl stepped up to the mic, but when she let loose with her big, soulful Blues voice, they knew they were in the presence of a unique talent. A few years later, patrons of some Chicago South-side Blues clubs had the same experience, and one called out “Hey Lady, how come you sing like one of us?” If they meant ‘how come you pour your heart out?’, it is because the Blues is universal: if they meant ‘how come a little Irish girl sounds like Memphis Minnie?’ the answer is more complex.
‘Weeping Willow Blues’, with some great photos;
Chris was an ardent Blues fan and brought many American stars to tour Britain with the band in the late 50s, including Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, and Ottilie duetted with many of them, She learned a lot from working with these larger-than-life characters, and the band always played a Blues set in all their shows, featuring guitarist Alexis Korner and harp player Cyril Davies before they left to form Blues Incorporated and establish The Ealing Blues Club. Chris’s band toured America, and Ottilie said the night she sang with Muddy Waters’ band at Smitty’s Corner club, to great acclaim, was her proudest moment.
Ottilie began to suffer throat problems in the mid-60s, and she performed less and less over the next decade until she retired. In 1984, she and Chris gave a series of London shows which resulted in the live album ‘Madame Blues & Doctor Jazz’ which was the last of 20 albums they did together, in addition to Ottilie’s 20 solo singles and several Eps. Sadly, Ottilie passed away in 2011.