Melvia "Chick" Rodgers-Williams Credit: Paul Natkin

Melvia “Chick” Rodgers-Williams is a dynamic, versatile blues and soul vocalist with a pretty sparse recorded legacy (mostly under her maiden name, Melvia “Chick” Rodgers). She’s deft and audacious enough to take on warhorses such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Aretha Franklin’s “Dr. Feelgood,” retaining the power and feel of the originals while making them her own. Her backstory is almost as impressive as her singing: In 1988, when she was still an aspiring artist in her native Memphis, she attended a Patti LaBelle show. When Patti decided to spice things up by asking if anyone in the audience wanted to sing, a friend literally picked up Rodgers-Williams and thrust her onto the stage. She grabbed the mike and tore into a version of LaBelle’s classic “Lady Marmalade” that wrecked the house and left Patti wide-eyed in amazement. The next day, photos of the unknown young singer and the astounded-looking superstar were all over Memphis media, and soon she was working regular gigs around town. Rodgers-Williams relocated to Chicago a few years later, quickly establishing herself as a club mainstay. In the 90s she made appearances at the Chicago Blues Festival, where she reached a wider audience with performances that showcased her roots in blues, deep soul, and gospel with equal fervor and aplomb. She’s since moved back to Memphis, where she’s expanded her territory further to become a leading light on the thriving southern soul-blues circuit. 

Rodgers-Williams’s debut recording under her own name is 2009’s An Evening With Southside Blues Revue, a Dutch release where she’s billed alongside guitarist-harpist-vocalist Robbert Fossen. Recorded live, it delivers a bracing dose of her in-person charisma and powerfully churchy voice, but for a more varied and challenging Rodgers-Williams experience, I’d recommend 2014’s This Kind of Love, a five-song EP where she remakes herself into a full-fledged art-song chanteuse. Backed by a variety of musicians, including a string quartet (from Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues) and a saxophonist (the masterful Ernest Khabeer Dawkins), Rodgers-Williams’s voice sounds world-tested and scarred yet infused with light; she fearlessly plumbs despair and hope in songs whose lyrical eloquence approaches the depth and vision of legendary chanson singer Jacques Brel. Originally scheduled for March 13, 2020, this show was rescheduled for March 27, 2021, then postponed again. Tickets purchased for both earlier dates will be honored at this event.

Melvia “Chick” Rodgers-Williams Part of the 15th annual Chi-town Blues Festival, which also features Pokey Bear, Theodis Ealey, Nellie “Tiger” Travis, Lenny Williams, and Sir Charles Jones. Sat 9/18, 9 PM, the Venue at Horseshoe Casino, 777 Casino Center Dr., Hammond, Indiana, $64-$130, 21+