For Joanna Connor, a life in music was inevitable. “Music chose me,” she said. “I vividly recall trying to sing like Louis Armstrong’s ‘Hello Dolly’ in our Brooklyn apartment. It came on the radio often. I knew I was small, but when I researched what year this version was on the charts, I was floored with the realization that I was two years old!”
This was the beginning of Connor’s musical odyssey. The soundtrack of her childhood in her adopted town of Worcester, Massachusetts was diverse and abundant and the blues was part of the lexicon. Her favorite record as a child was Taj Mahal’s Take a Giant Step/The Old Folks at Home. When she was 10, she saw Buddy Guy perform at a local university, an event that made a profound impression. Playing saxophone, guitar, and singing through her school years were her passions and she began to perform professionally when she was 17.
Propelled by a desire to play the guitar and immerse herself in the blues, she moved to Chicago in 1984. “It was my university,” she said. “I went out every night of the week. Within a month, I had my first gig with the legendary John Littlejohn. A few weeks later, I became a part of Dion Payton and the 43 rd St. Blues Band. We were the house band at the Checkerboard Lounge on the south side of Chicago. It was owned by Buddy Guy, and that’s when my schooling kicked into overdrive. I played with Buddy, Junior Wells, Otis Rush, Sammy Lawhorn, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, and more. I was blessed.”
Connor formed her own band in 1988 with weekly appearances at the Kingston Mines in Chicago. Her formidable guitar playing and distinctive soul-churning voice caught the attention of Blind Pig Records, who released her debut album, Believe It, in 1990. The result was a decade of world tours, a dozen recordings, a documentary on Germany’s WDR Television, and numerous television appearances and radio features. She and her band shared the stage with blues, rock, and jazz greats like Luther Allison, BB King, Robert Cray, ZZ Top, Joe Cocker, Etta James, and others. In 2005, Connor took a hiatus from touring to spend time at home, raising her young daughter. Two 15-plus-year residencies at the House of Blues and the Kingston Mines honed her guitar skills and vocal chops even further. While working in Chicago, a handful of her incendiary slide guitar solos went viral and garnered attention from the media and established musicians. Joe Bonamassa sought her out and offered to produce the kind of record he felt she had in her. The result was 4801 South Indiana, a blues record with all the raw emotion, passion, and fire that makes the blues so compelling. The album was released in 2021 and hit Number One on the Billboard charts in the blues category.
With a current band of young virtuoso musicians she dubbed the Wrecking Crew ’23, fires were started on stages worldwide. Connor reached out to Mike Zito and Gulf Coast Records in the hopes that the music they were making could become a record. From her new musical home, the album Best of Me, a collection of all original music, was released in 2023. Of the album, a reviewer for Blues Blast magazine said: “Joanna Connor is a force of nature as both a guitarist and vocalist who’s deserved far more attention than she has received in her career. One listen to this CD should have the spotlight shining on her brightly for years to come.”
The spotlight is on. Come see, hear, and revel in the Best of Her.