Roosevelt Sykes

A romping pianist specializing in a joyous brand of blues (although he could get lowdown when in the mood), Roosevelt Sykes (1906-1983) was one of the great blues pianists in addition to being a personable singer.

Nicknamed “The Honeydripper” early on due to his reputation as a ladies’ man, Sykes was born and raised in Arkansas before his family moved to St. Louis in the early 1920s. After developing his style on piano, at 15 he started playing professionally. Sykes made his recording debut in 1929 and through the years occasionally used such pseudonyms as Dobby Bragg, Willie Kelly, and Easy Papa Johnson. Among his more notable recordings were “44 Blues,” “Night Time Is the Right Time,” and “The Honeydripper.”

Sykes was based in Chicago for decades, working and recording regularly while evolving with the times, from classic urban blues to jump. After things slowed down a bit in 1954, he moved to New Orleans and mostly worked outside of music for a few years. The folk and blues revival of the late 1950s resulted in Sykes becoming much more active again. In 1960 he recorded two superior albums for Bluesville.

The Return of Roosevelt Sykes has the pianist-singer leading a quartet through such songs as “Runnin’ the Boogie,” “Hangover,” a remake of “Night Time Is the Right Time,” and “Hey Big Momma.” The Honeydripper features Sykes teamed up with tenor saxophonist King Curtis for a soulful set that falls between the blues and r&b.

Keeping a very busy schedule full of club dates, recordings, and festival appearances, Roosevelt Sykes never lacked for work during his final 20 years as a living legend.