Kansas City Blues Couple Will Be King And Queen When KCK Street Blues Festival Returns

Jun 22, 2016

Singer Linda Shell has long been described as the "Queen of Kansas City Blues." This weekend, Shell will be crowned Queen, and her husband, K.C. Kelsey Hill, will be King, when the Kansas City Kansas Street Blues Festival returns after a six-year hiatus

Credit Dawayne Gilley

From 1975 to 1984, Shell's mother, Delores Graham, owned a club at the corner of 39th and Jackson in Kansas City, Missouri, called Blues Alley. This is where the two musicians first got to know each other, as they told The Fish Fry's host Chuck Haddix: 

HADDIX: "You guys kind of go together like peanut butter and jelly, really (laughs). When I think of Linda Shell, invariably I think of K.C. Kelsey. How did you guys first meet?" 

HILL: "Oh man, she'd probably have to tell you. (laughs) It's been a long time." 

SHELL: "That's a guy answer, right? (laughs). Well, Chick Willis [Robert "Chick" Willis]. He was part of Chick Willis and the Stoop Down Band."

HILL: "Yeah, I had known her mother for a long time, and she's always been a friend of mine. And she and Chick were kind of talking. So me and Linda started talking."

SHELL: "And we've been together ever since."

HILL: "We've been together for a long while."

Credit Dawayne Gilley

HADDIX: "How did you get started playing the blues? When did you first pick up the guitar?" 

HILL: "I lived in Manhattan, Kansas. And one of my cousins one night took me to Junction City, Kansas, to see a man named Bobby "Blue" Bland, and he had a guitar player named Wayne Bennett with him. And I met Wayne and I got kind of interested listening to them play the guitar. And after that show I sought out guitar players in the area, so I kind of befriended them."

"I found out that girls like guitar players. That's all there was to it. Girls like guitar players. I wasn't very good in sports, but I figured I could play a guitar."

HADDIX: "Linda, how did you get started singing?" 

SHELL: "Well, being my mom's oldest daughter, she kind of told me that she was going to get a club ... And we were a young group called Three Sisters of Soul. And she said, 'Well, when I get the club, you'll have to open up for the acts we're having.' So that was it.

"First we did background for Chick Willis on 'Stop Doggin' Me Around.' And he thought we sounded pretty good, so he took us on the road for the Chitlin' Circuit there for a couple of years. And then there was the club, so I was married to Delores's Blues Alley until the Grand Emporium came along. That's where I cut my teeth." 

The Kansas City Kansas Street Blues Festival, 3-8 p.m. on Friday, June 24, and noon-8 p.m. on Saturday, June 25, at Lavender's Circle L Ranch, 3924 N 49th Drive, Kansas City, Kansas, 66104. Scheduled acts include K.C. Kelsey Hill and Linda Shell, Diane "Mama" Ray, John Paul Drum, Millage Gilbert, Danny Cox, Bob & Diana Suckiel, D.C. Bellamy, Ida McBeth, Bill Carter and more.

Listen to Chuck Haddix's extended interview with K.C. Kelsey Hill and Linda Shell, and hear more of their music, on the June 17, 2016 episode of the Fish Fry.

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.