Singer Blue Lu Barker was born, raised, and buried in New Orleans; her funeral even turned into a popular video broadcast spotlighting the town's jazz funeral traditions. Like many early Louisiana performing artists, claims to her paralyzing influence over the entire country's jazz and blues scenes tend to be made with great regularity. Thus the tale of Blue Lu Barker is one in which jazz critics on one side of the fence comment on her limited vocal range, while others come up with quotes such as this one, attributed to legendary jazz vocalist Billie Holiday: "Blue Lu Barker was my biggest influence." In both the '30s and '40s she was one of the more popular blues performers, often appearing alongside artists such as Cab Calloway and Jelly Roll Morton. Sometimes it was her husband, musician Danny Barker, who opened the doors to musical groups such as Sidney Bechet's, but no bandleader ever tossed her offstage when she clambered up for a vocal, especially once she started cutting hit records. Barker's most famous recordings were done in 1938. "Don't You Feel My Leg" was a well-crafted song that seemed to encourage promiscuity and restraint simultaneously, always a good thing for the music business. The song got a second round of popularity in the '80s courtesy of Maria Muldaur. The early Barker material features her husband on banjo and guitar and the couple would continue performing together until his death. Her career continued after that, all the way up to a last recording taped live in 1998 at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. That's unless the video of her funeral is counted, as her presence is majestic enough to almost be considered a performance. Players who are still alive and jamming at this event include the majestic Big Al Carson on tuba.
Barker was born Louisa Dupont Barker and her father ran a grocery store and pool hall, cashing in big time during prohibition with a stock of bootleg liquor. At 13, she left school and married Barker. In 1930 the couple moved to New York, hooking up a variety of performing situations including the contact with Morton. At the 1938 Vocalion session during which she cut her first vocals, the producer checked her out and came up with the Blue Lu Barker stage name. The couple were contracted to Decca in the '30s and the Apollo label the following decade, joining a roster at the latter label that included rhythm & blues and jazz greats such as Wynonie Harris, Dinah Washington, and Luis Russell. One of the couple's Apollo sessions even featured a jam with the mighty Charlie Parker. Blue Lu Barker was inducted into the Louisiana Blues Hall of Fame in 1997, one year before she died. ~ Eugene Chadbourne