Betty Pride grew up in the blues: A relative of Hayti bluesman Blind Boy Fuller and the daughter of a blues guitarist, Pride was always around music. She started to sing in her aunt's gospel group when she was a Charlotte teenager, though it would be years before she acquired an interest in her ancestral blues. By then, she was a mother of four, a flight attendant and a moonlighting historian interested in the Antebellum and Reconstruction South. Finally, 10 years ago, Pride started singing again and formed her first blues band. She's been at it ever since.
You learned about the blues from your family, correct?
I started out singing when I was about 19, but I was doing a lot of R&B and jazz. I still had not grasped the importance of Piedmont blues, but my father was always busy in the den or in the kitchen playing guitar. He was always playing this particular sound, and I would say, "Why is Daddy always playing that?" versus some of the blues that was more prominent, like the Delta blues. And, as I learned more about different types of blues, I realized he was playing Piedmont blues. I also realized that the Piedmont blues, like the blues and gospel and jazz, are sort of intertwined. Some of that Piedmont blues singing I could hear a lot of when I used to go, what we call, to the country.
Popular tastes now are certainly removed from the blues, as they were for you. How did you come back around to it?
Early on, about 19, I was always interested in jazz. Some of my biggest influences were singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson. The blues, though, sometimes I think that at that age and maybe even now ... I'll use this analogy of the prodigal son. Sometimes people try to take themselves away from something that they felt bereaved them. At one time, probably during the '50s and through the '60s and up to the '70s, a lot of blacks took themselves away from the blues because they felt like it was somewhat demeaning or brought those memories back of being in a cotton field or being a sharecropper. A lot of times, people pull themselves away from a particular heritage but at some point realize, "That is my heritage. That is my history. This is something we gave to this country, and now we will try and embrace it again because it's not anything to be ashamed of."
Is that why you returned to the blues, or was it the music, or both?
I think it was really both. I was a historian and then for my love of singing. I stopped singing for quite some time, but I started back 10 years ago ... I decided I was going to start back doing what I really loved doing. Then I started doing a lot of research on blues, just because I have an inquisitive mind on history and stuff.