blues/jazz | KCUR


Kansas City trumpeter and tap dancer Lonnie McFadden has been performing since he was in grade school.

He's known as half of the act called The McFadden Brothers; Lonnie and his brother Ronald play music, sing and tap dance — carrying on a family tradition started by their father, dancer and performer Smilin' Jimmy McFadden.  

J.E. Milles Studio, LaBudde Special Collections, Miller Nichols Library / UMKC

Kansas City blues and jazz lover Dawayne Gilley, who calls himself a "music activist," has some business he's needed to finish for almost a decade.

On Monday, when he gives away hundreds of posters at a free jam session, he hopes it’ll be the end of a long and tortured project that started with the best of intentions.

Shawn CMH / Wikimedia Commons

At the turn of the 20th century, two sisters who were determined to provide medical care to Kansas City's underserved kids founded what became a local institution. Today, we learn about the women behind Children's Mercy Hospital. Then, jazz vocalist Deborah Brown reflects on her Kansas City roots and a music career that's led her around the world.

Kansas City's music scene has a long tradition of hardworking artists who turn out great, original songs. Last year was no different. Today, co-creater Savanna Howland, Judy Mills of Mills Record Company, and KCUR contributor Bill Brownlee offer a sampling of their favorite 2017 releases from Kansas City and around the world.

Aleksey Kaznadey /

Kevin Mahogany, the versatile and velvet-voiced vocalist who became one of the Kansas City jazz scene's more well-known exports, died Sunday. He was 59.

Mahogany had been living in Miami, but moved back to Kansas City in August after the sudden death of his wife, Allene Matthews Mahogany, over the summer, says Mahogany's sister, Carmen Julious.

The two had been married for 25 years, and Julious says Mahogany's grief had aggravated longer-term health issues.

Courtesy Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear

Madisen Ward and his mother Ruth Ward of Independence went from complete obscurity to a modicum of international celebrity in 2015. Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear were playing at open-mic nights in area coffeehouses when they signed with Glassnote Records, home of superstar acts including Mumford & Sons.


Son of the blues legend Johnnie Taylor, the Kansas City-based T.J. Hooker-Taylor performs at the annual Thanksgiving breakfast dance at the National Guard Armory in Kansas City, Kansas.

Organizers claim this year's party is the 68th annual Thanksgiving blues dance in Kansas City. Many of the revelers wear their holiday finest and sip on premium liquor (libations are B.Y.O.B.; a breakfast buffet is included with the price of admission).

Courtesy Katy Giullen and The Girls / Facebook

By adding a contemporary twist to the straightforward blues-rock that’s long resonated among area audiences, guitarist Katy Guillen, bassist Claire Adams and drummer Stephanie Williams have become one of the most reliably entertaining groups in Kansas City.

On Saturday, Katy Guillen & The Girls celebrate the release of their third album, "Remember What You Knew Before." It's not simply more barroom boogie.

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City is among more than 60 cities around the world that earned "Creative City" distinction from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on October 31. Along with cities in Cabo Verde, Chile, Czechia, India, Kazakhstan, Portugal, Sweden, Kansas City was recognized as a music city. 

Brandon Cale / Courtesy The MGDs

The sharp-dressed MGDs are one of Kansas City’s most accomplished party bands, strongly influenced by New Orleans groups such as the Radiators, the Iguanas and the Neville Brothers.

Much of the MGDs repertoire features vocals, but soulful grooves and joyous instrumental solos are the group’s strength.

Keyboardist and vocalist Damon Parker fronts the band, which also includes guitarist Scott Middleton, trumpeter Teddy Krulewich, saxophonist Rudy Vasquez, bassist Greg Bush and drummer Matt Davis.

Paul Andrews /

Kansas-based singer Vanessa Thomas, who tours the country sharing a bill with Grammy Award-winning tumpeter Doc Severinson, doesn't know why she's wearing a cast in her baby pictures.

"It was a foot cast that went all the way up above my knee," she says.

The rest is lost in what she calls a no-man's land of forgotten memories. A story she knows is hers, but almost can't believe is true, except that paper files full of documentation insist that it is.

Vanessa Thomas

Sep 22, 2017
Paul Andrews /

Vanessa Thomas is a singer who is living her dream life in Lawrence. She's a vocal coach, a church music director and a mom of four. Oh, and she also tours the country to perform with the legendary Doc Severinsen. Hear her story: how she overcame the trauma of abuse through music, and how her hometown of Clay Center, Kansas, played a big part in connecting her to the world.


Courtesy Mark Montgomery

For three decades, Kansas City singer/songwriter Mark Montgomery has played guitar, bass, and harmonica in blues and jazz bands — and he's also a beekeeper

Montgomery spoke with Fish Fry host Chuck Haddix about his latest album, the first on his own Love Honey label, called "Difficult Man."

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

The American Jazz Museum still has about $150,000 in outstanding vendor bills. That’s despite catching up on payments to the musicians who played at the Kansas City Jazz and Heritage Festival over Memorial Day weekend.

John Abbott / Smoke Sessions Records

For jazz saxophonist Bobby Watson, writing songs is easier than it used to be. 

"Because I know who I am, and I accept who I am," Watson told Up to Date host Steve Kraske. "So when I'm writing a song, I'm not really trying to get outside of who I am."

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

Financial woes at the American Jazz Museum aren't sitting well with city and state officials. 

"I'm concerned, like a lot of other people, about what's going on," says Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. "I don't think we ought to ignore this, ignore the problems, or dismiss them lightly."

Jena Janovy / KCUR 89.3

It's been twenty years since Brody Buster's first round of glory days — when he was a 10-year-old blues harmonica phenomenon, fronting his own band, appearing on "The Tonight Show" and at the Montreux Jazz Festival with Quincy Jones.

Buster couldn't have remained a child prodigy forever, of course. So his journey back into the national spotlight is both "surreal" (that's his word) and an all-too ordinary coming-of-age story.

Fantasy Records / Heinrich Klaffs / Creative Commons

Songs like Proud Mary and Midnight Train to Georgia are well-known and much-loved, but the versions that got radio play went through multiple iterations on the part of numerous song writers, musicians, and producers, whose names you may not find in the liner notes. Today, we hear the evolution stories of iconic American pop, rock, and R&B anthems with music writer and critic Marc Myers.  Then sports reporter Greg Echlin updates us on Missouri and Kansas Olympians.

CJ Janovy / KCUR 89.3

Update: This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. to include a city funding update. 

After experiencing "a cash flow issue" following the inaugural Kansas City Jazz and Heritage Festival over Memorial Day weekend, officials with the American Jazz Museum say all performers have been paid — after some musicians complained on social media earlier this week.

A. Hagerman Photography

Blues musician Patrick Recob has played with lots of touring bands, and recorded with some of them, over the last 25 years. And, for nearly a decade, he was the bassist for Lee McBee and The Confessors. 

Last month marked the release of Recob's debut solo album. Fish Fry host Chuck Haddix talked to Recob about the new release called Perpetual Luau

CHUCK HADDIX: "Well, how did the luau theme come in?"

Courtesy Nick Schnebelen

Nick Schnebelen, a member of the powerhouse Kansas City blues-rock band Trampled Under Foot, is a flashy guitarist. In 2008, the same year Trampled Under Foot was named the top band at the International Blues Challenge, he claimed the Albert King Award as the top guitarist.

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

It was the usual 4 a.m. scene at the Mutual Musicians Foundation: a rotating combination of jazz musicians on the crowded stage; fans of all ages, races and preferred libations sitting in metal chairs around mismatched formica tables tapping their feet and yelling encouragement to the players; long-dead jazz legends surveying the raucous scene from black-and-white photographs on red walls. Except this time, sun was beaming in the windows.

Courtesy Oleta Adams

A popular lounge singer in Kansas City in the 1980s, Oleta Adams had a massive pop hit in 1991 with the heartfelt ballad “Get Here.” She's back in town on Sunday for a main-stage performance at the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Brian Rozman Photography

It’s easy to imagine a teenage Samantha Fish standing in the mulch at Crossroads KC, dreaming about playing up on the stage.

“I’ve been going to that venue since I was a teenager,” Fish, a Kansas City native, confirms. “That and Knuckleheads were my two favorite places to go see live music.”

It's tradition that every year Up To Date brings you, the best music from the Kansas City area and around the world. But unlike holiday sweaters and fruitcake, our music experts have something everyone can enjoy.

This year's panelists are:

Like a good story, a song changes over time as it passes through different voices. We explore the Anatomy of a Song with writer and Wall Street Journal contributor Marc Myers, who recollects the oral histories behind some of the greatest classics in the past fifty years.

Courtesy Mudstomp Records

As a child prodigy on harmonica back in the 1990s, Brody Buster was once one of Kansas City’s most notable musical exports. He appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and on an episode of the sitcom “Full House.”

But Buster's fame was as fleeting as his youth. The disturbing 90-minute documentary "How Did This Happen" documents Buster’s decline from child star to relatively obscure bar band musician.

3 reasons we're listening to Brody Buster this week:

You know Chuck Haddix as host of KCUR's Fish Fry, but his day job is director of UMKC's Marr Sound Archives. He finds truly surprising audio clips while working there, and he shares some with us in this edition of Up to Date. "It's like Christmas everyday," he says.

Gavin Peters

Moreland & Arbuckle
Promised Land or Bust

It’s not easy to surprise with a blues record.