Best Blues Act: Theo Huff

The Reader’s Choice: Theo Huff

In a city like Chicago the best blues acts are practically a matter of historical record—the more pressing question, in light of the periodic hand-wringing from critics and fans about the future of the genre, is who the best blues acts will be in 30 years. My hands-down pick for most promising newcomer on the local scene is 20-year-old soul-blues vocalist Theo Huff. He’s a member of the Black Ensemble Theater, whose musical director, Jimmy Tillman, has taken Huff under his wing, and in 2008 he made a brief cameo on the Petrillo stage at the Blues Festival, but he’s only recently begun to hone a proper nightclub act. He has a resonant voice reminiscent of Johnnie Taylor in his prime, remarkably sure and textured for one so young, and his stage presence combines sexy sensitivity and cocksure flamboyance. When Huff opened for Bobby Rush at Mr. G’s Supper Club in January, his set was virtually flawless—he kicked it off doing the electric slide on the dance floor with his female backup singers, then hit the stage with a medley of Johnnie Taylor and Tyrone Davis tunes. His unforced phrasing, sassy churchiness, and confident command of the room had the seasoned showgoers at Mr. G’s on their feet—among them Ann Davis, Tyrone’s widow. That’s not the only sign that a torch is being passed—he says Otis Clay is mentoring him as well. Some old-schoolers may be put off by Huff’s hip-hop-influenced body language, but I’m encouraged to see a young artist blend the traditional and the contemporary as effortlessly as he does. With original material and a little more seasoning, he could be a star. —David Whiteis

&Our readers’ choice: Buddy Guy