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Nora Jean (Wallace) was born to sing the blues. Like so many blues greats she hails from the Delta of Mississippi, and was born and raised in Greenwood, a town in the heart of this blues rich region. From birth her father, Bobby Lee Wallace, a professional blues singer and sharecropper, and her Uncle, Henry "Son" Wallace, a blues singer and guitar player, infused the blues in her soul. Contributing to her musical education as well was her mother, Ida Lee Wallace, a gospel singer, and her grandmother, Mary, who ran a juke house. As a child Nora would sneak down to her grandmother's place on Friday and Saturday nights and listen to her relatives sing blues classics. It was during these years that Nora developed a love for the music of Howlin' Wolf that has continued to the present day.
It came as no surprise that Nora began singing early. Her first paid performance occurred when she was just six years old. One of her brothers (she has eleven brothers and four sisters) bragged to two of his friends that his sister could really sing. To prove his point, he brought them into her room for an impromptu jam. Nora lit into some Howlin' Wolf she heard her father sing and each of the boys gave her a nickel. Still, Nora did not aspire to become a professional singer. Winning a high school talent competition convinced her that she had the requisite talent to sing professionally. However, like so many other blues musicians, Nora's professional career did not begin in the south, but in Chicago, the blues capitol of the world.
Nora's singing career in Chicago began in 1976 when her Aunt Rose heard Nora sing at home and brought her to several clubs she was promoting. It was at the Majestic on the West Side of Chicago that Nora sat in with Scottie and the Oasis. She was invited to join the band and spent several years with them before Scottie's unfortunate passing. During this time many local Chicago musicians, most notably Mary Lane and Joe Barr, encouraged Nora and taught her the fine points of her craft.
Nora's big break came in 1985 when Jimmy Dawkins saw Nora perform at a local Chicago club; for the next seven years Nora toured and recorded with Jimmy and his band. During this time Nora appeared on two of Jimmy's CDs, "Feel the Blues," (JSP, 1985 & 2002 with a bonus NJB track) and "Can't Shake These Blues," (Earwig, 1991). She also released a single, "Untrue Lover," (Leric, 1982) which she recently recut on her own CD. In addition she became a BMI affiliated songwriter and copyrighted many songs.
While touring Europe, Canada, and the United States, Nora refined her performing skills and developed an international fan base. She appeared on many major festivals including the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas, and was featured on the Front Page of the Chicago Tribune following her 1989 performance at the Chicago Blues Festival. During these years Nora also sang occasionally with other major blues acts and remembers with special fondness her shows with Willie Kent and his band.
By 1991 the demands of performing were becoming too great for Nora's two sons. She left the road and the blues world to raise her boys. Although away from blues, Nora was not away from music. She sang gospel, her other musical love, in church. She also kept her friends in the blues community, remaining especially close to her former band mates. Nora's closest friend, Billy Flynn, produced her CD. Two other old friends, Willie Kent and Eddie Shaw, also joined Nora on her debut CD.
After five years Nora felt ready to perform locally again, her love of the blues never having lost its call. She sang occasionally with Johnny Drummer at Lee's Unleaded Blues, and then formed her own band, Nora Jean and the Fellas. For a few years they performed in local Chicago clubs, but Nora remained ambivalent about returning to a life in the blues fast lane. More than once she retreated from the music scene in frustration at having to begin her career again.
In 2001 a phone call from Billy Flynn brought Nora back to the blues for good. Billy asked Nora to sing lead and background vocals on four tracks for his new CD, "Blues and Love," (Easy Baby, 2002). So moving was the experience of recording again that Nora realized this was her destiny, a destiny she is determined to embrace. Come fame or obscurity, wealth or poverty, Nora was born to be a blues singer. It is her gift, her calling, her passion.
In 2002 Nora moved to La Porte, Indiana, to start a new life. As soon as she arrived, she found the town's most famous resident to be none other than legendary blues piano player Pinetop Perkins (a member of the great Muddy Waters band.) Pinetop now performs regularly with Nora in her shows at La Porte's blues club, 'Bucks Workingman's Pub'.
To restart her career Nora turned to her past. In the spring of 2002 she called her mentor and friend Jimmy Dawkins for help. Jimmy immediately invited Nora to appear with him at the 2002 Chicago Blues Festival. Although Nora only sang two songs, the Chicago Sun Times called the songs "show-stopping," and proclaimed Nora "up-and-coming" in the blues world. Nora also received a "Keeping the Blues Alive" award from the Black History Association for her comeback to the blues. After eleven years out of the spotlight Nora was ready once again to take her place center stage in the blues world.
In October 2002 Nora entered the recording studio of her old friend Jerry Soto in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago with the same band that backed her just four months earlier at the Chicago Blues Festival. Only three changes were made to the lineup; Nora added her old friend the legendary Willie Kent on bass, Brian Lupo, a regular member of her band on guitar, and when Jimmy Dawkins had emergency arm surgery, James Wheeler, also on guitar. The resulting CD, "Nora Jean Bruso Sings the Blues," was awarded Big City Blues' prestigious and rare five star rating, and has reached number 4 on XM radio's blues charts. The CD has been called "great" in many quarters.
In a short time Nora has hit her stride. Her voice is stronger, deeper, and richer than in her youth without losing its incredible range. The magazine Blues in Britain has written: "With a voice as big as hers, Nora Jean Bruso is definitely a strong contender to inherit the title of Queen of the Blues." Once again Nora is touring the United States and has returned to Europe where a Swiss newspaper called her the "great lady of the blues."
Nora has also written fourteen songs for her follow-up CD tentatively entitled, "That's What I'm Talking About."
Nora knows that now is her time. It is true that life imitates art. She has lived a life full of passion and pain, triumph and despair, and with it has come a wisdom out of which is born art. Living involves pain but offers redemption as well. That is what the blues is all about.
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