Melissa Walsh

Sarah Streeter

Gale Group | 2004 | Sarah Streeter

Streeter, Sarah 1953— Contemporary Black Biography Sarah Streeter 1953— Blues singer

Blues singer Sarah Streeter gained her nickname, “Big Time” Sarah, from a wish she had early in her career. When she began touring in the mid-1970s, Streeter was convinced she would make the “big time,” becoming a blues sensation by delivering a million-selling album and then a film star. After hearing Streeter voice her earnest, hopeful convictions about where her career was headed, the band she was performing with at the time began teasing her with the moniker “Big Time.” “I still believe I am going to make it,” Streeter told Rich Berry of the Grand Rapids Press in 1995, long after launching her career as a blues singer. “I won’t hang it up until I get a million-dollar hit. If B.B. King and Bobby Bland can do it, then so can I.” Though she has not yet made a million-dollar hit, blues fans might find “Big Time” Sarah performing at a North Side Chicago club or at a blues festival in the United States or Europe.

“Big Time” Sarah was born on January 31, 1953, in Coldwater, Mississippi. When Streeter was seven, she moved north with her family, landing in Chicago’s South Side. A daughter of alcoholic parents, Streeter sought community in a local church and developed her musical talent in its gospel choir. At age 14, Streeter’s aunt snuck her under-age niece into Morgan’s Lounge, on 61st Street, where Streeter made her secular debut singing the only blues song she knew at the time, “Stormy Monday.”

Famed jazz and blues pianist Sunnyland Slim took Streeter under his wing after hearing her sing at the Wise Fools Pub in 1976. She immediately embarked on a six-week California tour with Slim, and later joined him and John Lee Hooker on a European tour. After touring with Slim for about four years, Streeter had grown the confidence and gained enough of a following to headline in clubs with her own band. She became a favorite in Chicago blues clubs such as Kingston Mines, Biddy Mulligan’s, and B.L.U.E.S., on par with other well-known blues artists, including Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Johnny Bernard, Jimmy Johnson, Magic Slim, Albert King, and Willie Dixon.

Streeter soon earned herself a place in the North Side Chicago blues landscape as an artist who could shock while remaining true to classic blues conventions. She was one of a select few women accepted in that performing circuit in the late 1970s. “The only singers

At a Glance… Born on January 31, 1953 in Coldwater, MS.

Career; Blues singer, 1976-, Stage debut at Morgan’s Lounge, 1967; toured with Sunnyland Slim, 1976-1980; signed with the independent Denmark label, 1982-,”

Awards; W.C. Handy Award nomination, for traditional blues female artist of the year, 2003.

Address; Record label –c/o Delmark, 4121 N. Rockwell, Chicago, IL 60618.

up north were Koko Taylor and Lavelle White,” Streeter told Blues Revue’s Christine Kreiser. “After I got in on the scene, it was three up there. I was the one that made it really comfortable for the other lady singers to come up there.”

Dubbed “The Shaker” for her trademark moving and shaking as she struts across the stage, Streeter became renowned for giving audiences a performance ranging from the sentimental to the sexy. Blues Web Chicago described Streeter as a performer who “transforms your evening into a blues tapestry of experiences–from the raunchy to the sublime…. [Her performance] tells a story, it laments, and it entertains with superb showmanship.” Part of Streeter’s act is to pluck mild-mannered men from the audience, urging them to sing with her or rubbing her full figure against them. Blues Web Chicago reported that Streeter, who served as a bouncer in her younger years, “knows how to throw her weight around when wielding a mic to the delight of those who enjoy her charged, raunchy shows.”

While Streeter’s fans consider her to be blues royalty, distinguishing her as “Queen of Chicago Blues,” other blues fans have bestowed the Chicago blues crown on Koko Taylor, Streeter’s contemporary in the Chicago blues scene. Music commentators rarely mention Streeter’s artistry without comparing it with Taylor’s. Down Beat music critic Frank-John Hadley wrote in 1994, “Big Time Sarah interprets songs with a burly tone and ardent confidence…. Obviously an admirer of Koko Taylor, this tough mama takes no back-talk from her man, although her contralto betrays hints of a soft spot.” Robert Santelli, reviewing Streeter’s second solo release, Blues in the Year One-D-One, wrote in Down Beat: “Big Time Sarah can also strut her stuff in front of a microphone. It’s mostly grit and growl when Sarah is in full stride, not unlike fellow Chicago blues diva Koko Taylor.” And Ron Weinstock of DC Blues called Streeter “a shouter who strongly suggests Koko Taylor, although not quite on the level of Chicago’s blues Queen.” Yet Streeter is confident that her blues skills are superior to Taylor’s. “I don’t like to brag on myself,” she confessed to Berry, “but people who have seen me say I’m better than Koko Taylor and better than Lonnie Brooks. I just don’t get paid as much as them.”

Not only does Streeter capture the spirit of American blues, she also models the independent, industrious American woman. While she has attached herself to her audiences, she has remained unattached, or uncommitted, romantically. “I don’t need no man tellin’ me this and that,” she sings in “I Don’t Want No Man,” from her 1996 release, Blues in the Year One-D-One. “Go drink your whiskey, I’ll drink my wine; tend to your business, I’ll tend to mine.” All Music Guide’s Ron Wynn wrote that Streeter “is among the more enterprising contemporary blues performers.” In another article Wynn commented that Streeter’s “power, struttin’ tone and booming voice” is “ideal for stomping, sassy numbers.” These numbers “explore the familiar battle between the sexes, with Streeter sometimes angry, sometimes confused and often controversial in the ’classic’ blues style.”

Streeter admitted in a Nothing’ But Da Blues article to living two distinct lives: one on stage, the other off. Her on-stage persona is husky and edgy. The Streeter off-stage is gentle, singing in her church choir and volunteering hours and energy to charity. Streeter’s 2001 release, A Million of You, reveals this softer side to fans. “People are used to me being all hard,” she remarked to Nothin’ But Da Blues, “a tough-born woman who doesn’t take any mess. But sometimes things can break you down. So sometimes that roughness you see on stage is a way to make sure no one can get over on me like they used to.”

Close to Streeter’s heart are the cries of disadvantaged children. She has regularly organized benefit concerts for charities assisting inner-city youth. “I grew up around gangs and stuff,” Streeter told Berry, “so I’ve had some experience with that. We’re trying to stop some of that stuff before it starts.” Keeping a home in South Side Chicago, Streeter continues pressing on in delivering her art and realizing her goal of “stardom.” “I have to pace myself,” Streeter remarked to Berry. “Sometimes it gets rough, very rough. It’s not easy, believe me, to be working on the road. But it’s all going to be worth it. I’m going to make it, you know.”

Selected discography Albums Blues with the Girls, EPM Musique, 1982.

Lay It on ’Em Girls, Delmark, 1993.

Blues in the Year One-D-One, Delmark, 1996.

A Million of You, Delmark, 2001.

Other Streeter’s songs have appeared in a number of compilations, including Welcome to the Blues, Vol. 1, 1971; Fortieth Anniversary Blues, Delmark, 1993; Women of Blue Chicago, Delmark, 1996; House of Blues: Essential Women in Blues, House of Blues, 1997; Mojo Mamas, Blue Chicago, 2000; Jazz Divas Collection, Vol. 1, Dressed to Kill, 2001; The Legends Collection: The Jazz Divas, Legends Collection, 2001; and Fifty Years of Jazz and Blues, Delmark, 2003.

Sources Periodicals Down Beat, January 1994, p. 46; November 1996, p. 60.

Grand Rapids Press, November 10, 1995, p. Bl.

Journal Star (Peoria, IL), September 3, 1993, p. B.I.

On-line “Album Reviews–October 1996,” DC Blues, www.dcblues.org/reviews/pastrevs/cdoct96.html (May 10, 2004).

“Big Time Sarah,” Blues Web Chicago, www.wineandleisure.com/blueswebchicago/bigtimesarah.Html (May 10, 2004).

Nothin but da Blues, http://nothinbutdablues.bizland.com (May 10, 2004).

“Sweet Home Chicago: Women on the Scene,” Blues Revue, www.bluesrevue.com/chicago2.html (May 10, 2004).

–Melissa Walsh