The Queen of Blues

Story by Caitlyn Daniels

"A Great Night in Harlem" fundraising concert for the Jazz Foundation of America at the Apollo Theater (May 2008) - Photo by ENID FARBER

"A Great Night in Harlem" fundraising concert for the Jazz Foundation of America at the Apollo Theater (May 2008) - Photo by ENID FARBER

In the wake of loss we tend to seek something, or someone, to fill the void. And though there can be no true replacement for the late B.B. King, we may have found someone to help you ease the pain: Miss Beverly “Guitar” Watkins. Shredding since 1947 when she got her first guitar, Watkins began by imitating her grandfather’s banjo playing during Friday barn dances and by listening to her mother’s gramophone in her hometown of Conyers, Ga. If being self-taught isn’t impressive enough, playing the trumpet, bass and piano should qualify Watkins as a force to be reckoned with.  

Watkins has opened for artists like James Brown and Ray Charles, and, yes, she has even played alongside Mr. King himself. She made a name for herself in her twenties, playing with Piano Red, an Atlanta-based band leader, a gig that morphed into the band Dr. Feelgood and the Interns (long before Motley Crue was even a thing). The themed group dressed in the medical attire of the ‘60s, and playing the part of “nurse” — the only woman in the band — was Beverly Watkins, who refused to sacrifice fashion in order to play her part. Instead of wearing the traditional dowdy nurse’s shoes, Watkins played in white heels instead. After Red came Eddie Tigner, the Ink Spots, and Leroy Redding & the Houserockers.

However, playing the blues — as the name suggests—isn’t always easy. Watkins has supported herself between touring lulls by playing in Underground Atlanta (smaller shows, generally), and when things get really slow she picks up the occasional part-time job: car washing, cleaning services, etc. Recently, she has been playing with the King Bees, a blues band led by Penny Zamagni.

Though Beverly Watkins has never broken into the ranks of famed Blues stars like King, she has never slowed down. At 62 she released her debut album “Back in Business”; followed by “The Spiritual Expressions of Beverly ‘Guitar’ Watkins” and “The Feelings of Beverly ‘Guitar’ Watkins” in 2005; and “Don’t Mess With Miss Watkins” in 2010. She continues touring both across the U.S. and internationally. Singing, playing behind her head, and looking as cool as ever, Watkins continues to do what she was born to, even at 76.