In a sense, singer Lauren Mitchell has always had the Blues in her blood. That’s hardly a matter of conjecture. A current resident of New Orleans, she’s traveled the world while sharing stages with any number of other acclaimed artists, such as Buddy Guy, Lurrie Bell, Jason Ricci, and Danielle Nicole. Nevertheless, it’s the kudos she’s achieved all on her own — a pair of Blues Blast Award Nominations and Top Ten placement on the Roots Music Report for her last album Desire, recognition at the International Blues Challenge, and the praise from the pundits that’s accompanied all three of her albums thus far.
Blues Music Magazine summed it all up succinctly when editor/publisher Jack Sullivan aptly described her as “A mesmerizing performer with a voice for the ages!”.
Most importantly however, Lauren’s efforts are driven by both passion and purpose.
“People ask me why I do what I do,” Lauren says. “Obviously, that’s a big question for any artist. But if I’m going to be completely transparent, then I have to say that the ‘why’ has changed for me over the years. It’s shifted from something I felt I had to do — especially in my youth when people told me I’d been given a gift and it would be a shame not to use it! Then, when I was in my 30’s, it seemed that singing and performing were things that I was simply compelled to do. I came to realize that working a routine day job wasn’t meant for me, so I threw caution to the wind and invested all my efforts into making music. That became a mission that I was somehow destined to fulfill.”
That she has, and in fact, if any further validation was needed, her current project provides continuing proof of her musical growth, and vocal prowess. Last August, she was asked to participate as a guest vocalist on the forthcoming album from The Count Basie Orchestra, Basie Swings the Blues, which is due to be released before the end of 2023. Backed by the legendary orchestra, she shares a duet with Keb ‘Mo on the song “Down Home Blues.” Other artists on the star-studded album include Buddy Guy, Charlie Musselwhite, George Benson, Shemekia Copeland, Bettye LaVette, and Bobby Rush, among others.
It is, she says, a tremendous honor. Her work on the album was recognized by the Director of The Count Basie Orchestra, Scotty Branhart, as he noted that “Lauren Mitchell is a wonderfully talented and deeply soulful blues vocalist. She sings with the necessary power, control, finesse, and fullness of sound found in all of the great blues vocalists from Ma Rainey to Bessie Smith to Koko Taylor and Etta James. Lauren’s exciting performances leave no doubt that she is a serious student of the history of the music and has secured her place as one of most important blues artists working today.”
Of course, like all things both personal and professional, the path hasn’t always been easy. Covid brought touring and recording to a halt, but Lauren used the time off to her absolute advantage. “It gave me some much needed downtime and some distance from the non-stop grind I’d been going through for nearly a decade,” she reflects. “I realized that what I needed and wanted to achieve had more to do with my own satisfaction rather than simply collecting some trophies and some kind words from my peers. I am now clearly able to see that I have more to share and more to give, not to mention, an obligation to use the gifts I’ve been given in hopes of bringing some inspiration to others.”
In many ways, music became a catharsis, and a means of overcoming the various obstacles that had been thrown in her way. Her parents separated when she was in middle school, but she was still determined to persevere. At the urging of a friend , she entered a karaoke contest while in college. She sang the song “Me and Bobby McGee” and ended up taking home the top prize, a tidy sum of $100.
Intent on pursuing her passion, she moved to Florida after college to join her dad, and that’s when she began diving deep into her father’s record collection and discovering the classic Blues of such singular staples as Leadbelly, Muddy Waters and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee. By now, the music was in her blood, and she began singing in local clubs, eventually putting a band together and making her mark in the local scene on Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast. In 2013, she and her band had an opportunity to record their first album, a varied set of Blues covers and originals titled Please Call Home.
Lauren’s sophomore set, released the following year, was dubbed Live! From the Bradford Blues Club, and it was, as the title implied, an album recorded live, in concert, at the legendary Tallahassee Florida juke joint known for hosting such singular stars as Bobby “Blue” Bland, Jimmy Rogers, Son Seals, and Bobby Rush.
Nevertheless, 2017’s critically acclaimed Desire provided the big breakthrough that finally brought her the wider recognition that was decidedly her due. With storied producer Tony Braunagel (Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal, Robert Cray) sitting behind the boards and a remarkable cast of studio pros that included Johnny Lee Schell and Josh Sklair on guitars, Jim Pugh on keys, bassist Reggie McBride, Darrel Leonard on trumpet, Joe Sublett on saxophone, Lenny Castro on percussion, and Braunagel doing double duty on drums and production, the album garnered her extensive praise, with Sklair himself comparing Lauren’s efforts to none other than Etta James.
He should know. A Grammy Award-winning musician, Sklair served as Etta’s producer, guitarist and music director during the final 25 year phase of her career.
He wasn’t alone in his praise, Larry Lisk of WMNF radio declared, “Lauren prowls the stage like a cat waiting to strike. Her powerful vocals and dynamic stage presence will captivate you.”
“It’s my duty to honor what I’ve been given, to use it wisely, and not take it for granted,” Lauren insists. “I’m here to hopefully help my audience find some light in the dark. I want to remind them that, at its essence, the Blues offers an avenue to victory. The music is all about overcoming adversity, and taking something that may be painful, even when it involves some suffering, and finding healing in the midst of hardship, and beauty through sharing the pain and discomfort with others. It’s in the sharing that we find our healing through something as simple as a song.”
- Lee Zimmerman, 2023