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'Old soul' Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram brings modern blues to the Peoria Blues and Heritage Festival

Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, wearing his "Straight Outo Clarksdale" shirt in the style of Black Lives Matter, straining as he hits a note on his white blues guitar while playing at a festival
Laura Carbone
Alligator Records recording artist Christone "Kingfish" Ingram plays the Peoria Blues and Heritage Festival this weekend

Christone "Kingfish" Ingram is often hailed as the future of blues music.

The 24-year old Alligator Records recording artist grew up in the mythical birthplace of the blues – Clarksdale, Mississippi. He says despite its history, it's unusual even in his hometown that he glommed onto the music at such a young age.

Ingram says he fell in love with the blues after his father showed him a PBS documentary about legendary bluesman Muddy Waters -- and saw a cameo by B.B. King on the TV show Sanford & Son.

“I was also around my family and different gospel groups. So just to go to the secular side and see the parallels and everything I kind of really wasn't leaving. I was going to the secular side of things,” said Ingram.

Though Clarksdale is known for it’s blues heritage as so many blues legends were from that area, it’s also a deep well for other kinds of music’s, as gospel legends including Sam Cooke are also among those from that area.

“Oh, yeah. Most definitely,” said Ingram. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. The legendary Soul Stirrers (The group Cooke fronted) I was heavily influenced by them. And they were one of the quartet pioneers. So, all of that ties together.”

Like most towns in America, Clarksdale has it’s share of poverty and crime. Ingram said he could have easily fallen into that. He addresses that in the song “Not Gonna Lie” from his most recent album “662.”

“Yeah, man growing up in Clarksdale, there's no secret, we have our fair share of crime. And it's very easy for the youngest in the area to get tossed into that. So, I saw that, and I saw music and I chose to path I wanted to go on.

Music was my way out
From poverty and crime
I didn't want to be like that
There's more I had to find
Showing my frustration
I let my fingers fly
My guitar is what saved me
And I'm not gonna lie

- “Not Gonna Lie” by Christone “Kingfish” Ingram

As he was making a name for himself as a young blues prodigy, Ingram eventually found his way to songwriting. He said it started in earnest around the age of 14.

“I guess you could say, I'm a late bloomer, “ said Ingram. “I would write songs, but I really wasn't telling my truth. I was singing about other things I didn't know about. So that was natural. So coming into songwriting as my own and speaking about my life that kind of came back a little later.”

“Been Here Before” is a great example of that. The acoustic ballad explains how his grandmother and others would tell him “Child you’ve been here before” as a reaction to being perceived as an old soul.

Some days I feel so different
It's like I don't fit in
Some kids like the greatest hits
But I dig Guitar Slim
Some days I wake up grateful
Some days I'm not so sure
I can still hear grandma saying
Child, you've been here before

- “Been Here Before” by Christone “Kingfish” Ingram

“When I was younger and first started getting into music, I would go around my family and sing and dance and put on a show for people for whoever came to the house. And I was singing songs that kids my age probably didn't know. So, to them, it was kind of like an old soul thing. So, they will say things like, ‘oh, man, he's been here before.’ He’s an old soul.”

Does he feel that way?

“I realize my way of thinking is not like a normal 24-year-old simply because I was always around older people in my life. So yeah, you know, I guess you can say I’m an old soul (laughs).”

He may be an old soul, but he’s still in the relative infancy of what is promising to be a long career in music. Despite his age, he’s had many accolades already come his way. He’s been nominated twice for a Grammy and won one for the album “662.” He’s been on the cover of multiple magazines and been a guest on Elton John's podcast. Navigating that notoriety at such a young age can be be difficult. But he says he’s had help along the way.

“ One being my manager, Rick, who's been with me since the beginning of the end of my mom's life. She kind of gave him his blessing before she passed. He's he's kind of like the main one. But I do have other people that I look up to and helped me navigate and keep me sane and keep me grounded and whatnot, including my family, my dad,” said Ingram.

He added that his mother was his manager until her death near the end of 2019, and she was his biggest supporter.

“She was pretty much the reason why I started playing music, because she would take me around her side of the family. My mom was a singer. All my uncles on that side of family played in church, singing, playing bass, guitar, and drums. So, she was kind of like my first influence along with that side of the family, to do music,” said Ingram.

A lot of life already lived, but there are bucket-list items he’d like to tick off in the next few years, including collaborating with artists in other music genres.

“I feel like one of the ways you could get blues to a younger crowd is that we just speak their language a little bit,” he explained. “For me, that strategy has worked very well. I want to songs with artists like Snoop and a host of other rappers and even put my own spin on modern blues, you know, adding a little R&B to it. Just doing music that challenges my voice rather than my guitar playing.”

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram plays the Peoria Heritage and Blues Festival Saturday. His music can also be heard on WCBU’s eclectic music format Highway 309.

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Jon is the Program Director at WCBU and WGLT. Contact Jon at lhjelle@ilstu.edu.