2008-09 Folklife Apprenticeship Award recipient
A child of a Foreign Service officer, boogie-woogie pianist Daryl Davis was born in Chicago but spent much his childhood bouncing around the globe with his parents. Chicago did leave an impression though; it was here that Davis absorbed the sounds of African American musicians from the Deep South who had traveled North to Chicago during the Great Migration. He also began to dream of performing with Chuck Berry.
Davis eventually came to the Washington, D.C., region to earn a degree in music from Howard University. By then, he was an avid fan of piano styles invented far before he was born; his piano chops came naturally, but the training to learn the musical nuance was not easy. Davis sought out his musical heroes whenever and wherever he could. “I learned a lot from listening to recordings,” he says, “but I learned many hands-on things from visiting and making friends.” In 1985, 72-year-old Pinetop Perkins, considered one of the great blues and boogie-woogie pianists, selected 27-year-old Davis to succeed him in the Muddy Waters-influenced Legendary Blues Band. Johnnie Johnson, Chuck Berry’s renowned original pianist, has been equally unstinting in his praise of Davis’s mastery of the boogie-woogie style. Even Chuck Berry saluted him with his best recommendation: “You really ought to hear him!”
The who’s who list of artists Davis has performed with also includes Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley’s Jordanaires, and the great Piedmont blues duo Cephas & Wiggins. Davis has also released three solo albums. And, yes, he did fulfill his dream of playing with the legendary Chuck Berry.