Singer-Guitarist Melody Angel Playing Chicago Blues Festival

The Chicago Blues Festival starts Thursday and runs through Sunday in Millennium Park and a few locations around town.

A local singer-songwriter has been going to the festival since her mother took her in a stroller. Now she’ll be onstage, and mom will be watching from the wings. Melody Angel – yes, that’s her real name – has blues in her DNA.

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Melody Angel, Recording Artist: If you really love music, you must also love the blues. It is the baseline for every form of music we have in this country, even hip-hop.

It’s fairly uncommon to see Black female guitar players.

I take that and understand what I’m fighting against, but also what I’m fighting for. I’m fighting for the young girl that comes up to me, the young Black girl that comes up to me, all the time, and says I want to play like you, I want to do this. I feel it’s my job to make that easier for her.

Marc Vitali: One person who made it easier for Melody Angel, was her mother -- who’s also her manager and sometime stylist.

Stephanie Crystal, Manager, Mom: It’s a bit overwhelming sometimes to see her and all that she can do, you know, seeing her as a little bitty baby and grow, but I saw this spark in her even at age seven or eight. It was kind of undeniable.

Vitali: Angel still plays the Fender Stratocaster her mother bought her at a pawnshop.

Crystal: I saw it, and I knew she’d flip out so I just went and got it.

Angel: Listen, I will never forget the day she came home from that pawnshop, okay? It changed my life. Of course, I cried like a baby.

Angel: I remember thinking, OK, one day I’m going to be onstage with this guitar playing for thousands of people, and that happened. When little kids say their dreams out loud, it’s not a small thing. It’s a big thing. It can actually come true. And I’ve played all over the world. It’s unreal, you know? Like, how did this happen? From a pawnshop?

Vitali: The lifelong South Sider has carried her guitar from Europe to Australia.

She has also acted onstage at Court Theatre and the Goodman.

And she just released her latest LP of original material.

Angel: I write all my own music and I produce it and then mix it and send it off. Put it out in the world.

One of the things I learned about writing was from the artists that I love, and when I listen to them in their interviews, they always talk about being true to themselves.

And that’s how I look at songwriting. It’s this peaceful release. Whatever’s on my heart, whether it’s good or bad, I can release it.

Vitali: She comes from a musical family – her mother’s cousin was Otis Rush, the late Chicago bluesman.

Crystal: Kids, you can see their gifts when they’re very small, however I do admit I didn’t want her to really go into it, because I know how difficult this industry is. But when you come here you have to do what you’re purposed to do, so there’s no way I’d come between that.

Angel: COVID taught us all a lot, but one thing it really blew up in my mind is how much I value an audience, how much that energy back and forth from the stage to the audience matters. The music needs it. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to perform in front of people again. That in itself is a triumph for me.

More on this story

Melody Angel just released her new record, “Foxy.” She plays at Reggie’s on Friday Night. And she plays two sets at the Chicago Blues Fest this weekend – on Saturday she’ll be at the Pritzker Pavilion. And on Sunday she’ll play a neighborhood stage in Bronzeville. Find out more on our website.

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