Ethel Barnett-Johnson, "Lady E," 58 

Who I am

I started singing the blues after my son died in the military in 1993. He was in the National Guard and a tick bit him. One of those Lime-disease ticks.

Nothing was making me feel good, you know? Nothing. One day around the house I just started humming a song and once I finished humming I said, "Hmm, I'm not crying!" So then I tried singing it out and I said, "Hey, I feel a lot better!"

One night I went to Park Place — now it's Crossroads — and they had open-mike night. It was jam-packed. Somebody said, "Get up and sing!" and I said no, and they said, "Come on, try!" So I sang "Stormy Monday," and people came to their feet! And they were screaming and yelling, and I said, "My goodness! Did I really get into it that much?" I really lose myself when I'm singing. … I just feel it all over.

There's a great euphoric feeling I go through after I sing. … It's like I'm so filled up that once it's aired out, I feel good because it's like I've touched so many people, you know, and they come up and tell me, "Oh the hair has just stood up on my arms!" They feel what I'm singing.

My blues is what really relieves me, because I can really belt it out, honey! I always tell people, "I don't talk the blues — I sing it." I used to not be able to talk about my son, but now I can hold a conversation, and I don't get all tearful afterwards. It is really therapeutic for me.

Lady E performs at Richie's Pacific Grill Friday and Saturday nights.


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