We're familiar with the road that led from early blues to rock music, its way stations of '40s jump bands, R&B, Elvis and the rest, but why would a young singer who came up in the rock-strewn '60s today be singing the earthy songs of Bessie Smith and other blues women of the 1920s? Well, Stevi Banks seems to have made her way back along much the same route.
"I'd been a closet singer for a long, long time," Banks said with a laugh, "singing in the shower and in my bedroom. I'd started this whole fantasy in adolescence of being a star, and I was singing to Jefferson Airplane records and to Motown. I learned power singing because I had this silly notion that singers could sing as loud as the volume could go."
Then the Orange, N.J., native got a degree in electrical engineering and went to work for a rock radio station. Among their discards were some Billie Holiday albums, and Banks began to sing along with Lady Day. "I think my family--I was living at home--was a little relieved having something more subtle and toned down."
When she came to Washington several years ago she began singing with traditional-style jazz bands the members of which began directing her to early blues materials, "trying to match my abilities with what they know and I didn't know."
Banks' repertoire, which includes '30s and '40s swing numbers, will be showcased Saturday night at the Wax Museum night club at Gateway Center, 4th and E Streets SW, when she and Dave Littlefield's Sultans of Swing alternate with the Widespread Jazz Orchestra for dancing and listening.