At Work: Christone “Kingfish” Ingram
The power of place can be a huge factor in the development of a musical genre, and few locations carry that weight more than the Mississippi Delta, which has been a blues haven since the early 20th century. And though the Delta blues is still associated with early pioneers like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Charlie Patton, the spirit and sound of the subgenre live on to this day, thanks to musicians like Christone “Kingfish” Ingram.
The 20-year-old guitarist and singer was born in Clarksdale, Miss., the home of the Delta Blues Museum, and has been surrounded by music ever since. His mother—a cousin of country singer-songwriter Charley Pride—introduced him to gospel, while his father taught him about the blues and R&B.
“Growing up in the Mississippi Delta, I was in the Mecca of the blues,” Ingram says. “I was exposed to that all my life.”
Three years after first playing around with the drums at the age of 6, Ingram switched to the bass and enrolled in a music program at the Delta Blues Museum. Around the same time, he also started jamming with some local groups and, eventually, swapped instruments once again—this time to the guitar—gleaning some knowledge from neighboring bluesmen who would invite him to their gigs around town, including Terry “Big T” Williams and late local icons Michael “Dr. Mike” James and Wesley “Junebug” Jefferson. He earned the nickname Kingfish after one of his first live performances with Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry.
Ingram’s fiery mastery of the blues has provided the young musician with an array of opportunities, such as sharing the stage with the likes of Tedeschi Trucks Band and Robert Randolph, a performance for First Lady Michelle Obama in 2014 and even a few television appearances (including a cameo on Netflix’s Luke Cage).
The guitarist dropped his debut album, Kingfish, featuring guest spots from blues stalwarts Buddy Guy and Keb’ Mo’, in May and recently clocked in some dates with Vampire Weekend. It’s safe to say that the legacy of the Delta blues is in good hands with Ingram, but he’s not resting on his laurels and aims to add some more modern flavors— specifically hip-hop influences— to his music going forward, with an eye on bringing a younger audience to the blues. “That’s one way we can get young kids into the genre,” he explains. “Then, when we get them in, we can sit them down and talk about the history of the real thing.”