Blues legend Buddy Guy doesn’t remember where he was playing when Vanessa Collier came on stage with him, but he remembers her very well. “There’s a young lady (Collier)came on stage with me,” he said. “I forget where I was, but she’s playing an alto saxophone, and man, she was amazing.”
Collier has been collecting accolades and awards for years. She first picked up the saxophone at 9. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, she earned dual degrees in Performance and in Music Production and Engineering, and while still completing her degree, she landed a position touring with Joe Louis Walker. At the commencement concert in 2013, Collier was invited to play alongside Annie Lennox and Willie Nelson. Her debut solo album came in 2014 and resulted in a national tour. It was not only her performing that was winning acclaim. In 2016, she was a top-three finalist in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition and reached the semi-finals of the 2016 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. She is an eight-time Blues Music Awards nominee and in 2019 and 2020 was named “Horn Player of the Year.” In 2022, BMA named her “Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year.” The Blues Foundation said, “she blew the doors off the Blues Music Awards!”
The reason for Collier’s respect among her peers is easy to understand when you hear her. A multi-instrumentalist, she weaves funk, soul, rock and blues into every performance. With soulful vocals, searing saxophone and witty songwriting, she is blazing a trail, racking up an impressive arsenal of awards and letting the world know she is a force to be reckoned with. Midwest Record said that “this bluesy singing sax player knows how to bring the slinking funk to her captivating, award-winning sound that has echoes in young Bonnie Raitt/Maria Muldaur vocal sounds…it’s killer stuff on every level; this sounds like one of the reasons you first became a music fan.”
These days, Collier spends much of her time on the road, performing at some of the most prestigious music festivals in the world. She has performed with Tommy Castor’s Blues Review, the Briggs Farm Festival, where she was the “most popular Briggs Farm Act” in 2017 and she was a featured artist on three major tours across Europe as part of Ruf’s 2017 Blues Caravan.
Collier loves performing on stages around the world, hoping that she makes a difference with fans along the way. “I am driven to do this because I find it a total form of expression and connection,” she said. “I love connecting with the audience and feeling their energy and I hope to inspire people to follow their dreams and passions, to find what brings them joy, and then to pursue it doggedly.”
It’s not only her adult audiences she hopes to motivate. She takes her message to young people as she holds clinics across the country and is active with the Blues in the Schools program. At one, she invited a stage full of elementary and middle -schoolers up to dance around her while she performed a blues shuffle. For those watching the joy on Collier’s face and the faces of the kids and the audience, it’s clear why she is becoming, as Blues Blast Magazine said, “an important part of the future of the blues.”
If the future of the blues rests with the multi-talented Vanessa Collier, that future is looking bright.