Feelin’ the Blues with Chicago Legend Mary Lane: ‘Blues Is Life’

A local blues legend is receiving her flowers in a new documentary exploring her life.

Arts Correspondent Angel Idowu introduces us to Mary Lane, and shares how the Arkansas native has used the blues to make Chicago her home for the last 40 years.

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“Blues is life,” says Lane.

Now 86 years old, Lane says she’s loved singing since she was 12 years old.

“I lived on a farm and they picked cotton, and everybody be singing, it’s all they sung was the blues,” she said. “And I just got attached to it. But I was really brought up in church.”

From the church to her uncle’s nightclub, Lane would go on to meet and perform with blues legend Howlin’ Wolf. After moving to Chicago in the 1950s, she kept singing with him and his record label.

“I sang with different people, but I really sang with Wolf. My fondest memories of singing the blues in the club in Chicago was that there was so many people singing the blues from down South, all from Mississippi and Arkansas,” she said, “Like with Jimmy Reed and Elmore James, they made you want to sing the blues.”

But it wasn’t until 1997 that Lane released her first solo album, “Appointment with the Blues.” She didn’t release her second solo album, “Travelin’ Woman,” until she was 82.

Regardless of her limited record output, her impact within the genre has been present throughout her entire music career.

“I haven’t gotten a big break like some ladies,” Lane said.  

But she has been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, awarded the Koko Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award and was even granted her own day by the city of Chicago last June.

“I never thought I’d be able to sing what I’m singing now, but it makes me feel great,” Lane said. “It’s great for me. The blues has fed. It’s given me a place to stay.”

While she doesn’t perform live too often these days, Lane says her love for singing will always be rooted in the music and the emotion it evokes. 

“I stay with the blues. That’s what I feel,” Lane said.

A special screening of “I Can Only Be Mary Lane” is taking place Nov. 12 at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.

While her live performances these days are far and few between, you can always catch her and her band, the No Static Blues Band, at Buddy Guy’s Legends, 700 S. Wabash, every year for her birthday concert.

The next one is set for Friday, Nov. 18.

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Note: This story will be updated with video.

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.

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