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Barrelhouse Bonni: Bio

Barrelhouse Bonni - Piano Vocal

bonnibeltstheblues-cropped-two.jpg  "Barrelhouse Bonni" McKeown is a journalist, blues piano player, teaching artist, and citizen activist who presents and supports heritage musicians upholding the blues and soul tradition. Her motto: PRAY FOR PEACE; WORK FOR JUSTICE; BOOGIE FOR SURVIVAL.

 Bonni's blues piano, singing and songwriting style echoes back to the upright pianos in the juke joints and barrelhouses of the South, and the Bessie Smith era of vintage 1930s blues. From Chicago to her home state of West Virginia and beyond, she takes the blues to concerts, classes, parties, senior homes, and festivals. True to the tradition of this community music, Bonni involves the audience. For seniors, she leads a campfire-style sing-along of early 20th century favorites.

Bonni has performed in a series of duos with distinguished senior blues musicians including Chicago singers Gloria Shannon and Larry Taylor, guitarist Eddie Taylor Jr. and sax player Abb Locke, and fine West Virginia horn players like Bob Redd, Marshall Petty and Dugan Carter. From tastefully naughty ragtime era tunes to goodtime dances and beautiful ballads, fans learn that good music never fades away!  www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyFwIvUMrkk 

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Bonni’s music sounds best on a traditional acoustic stringed piano, as in this VIDEO:www.youtube.com/watch?v=0D5bLzeR_qY

But she also has piano, will travel: a sound system, microphones and an electric keyboard if needed. Financial arrangements for concerts, classroom workshops, and book talks are negotiated depending on time, effort, travel, and causes. An advocate of sustainable transportation, she often carpools or takes trains and public transportation to her gigs.

On Bonni's own 2003 CD, Barbershop Blues, three of Washington DC’s finest acoustic bluesmen—Jay Summerour, Mike Baytop and NJ Warren—play as guests, recording several songs at the landmark Archie Edwards barbershop.

Bonni co-produced and played on Chicago West Side singer and bandleader Larry Taylor’s debut CD in 2004, They Were in This House, which the Chicago Sun-Times called “one of the year’s best blues albums.”  Wolf Records in Austria reissued Taylor's album in 2011. In 2017 they produced an EP of four of Larry's original tunes: "New Chicago Sounds of Larry Taylor." www.larrytaylorchicagoblues.com

Chicago School of Blues - Educational blues workshops

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 During the early 2000s, Bonni taught blues history and music with elementary students at Austin Town Hall, Donoghue Elementary in Chicago; Piedmont School in Charleston WV; with seniors at Charleston’s FestivALL Elderhostel; and on the road in Morgan County, WV with West Virginia singer-songwriter “Lady D,” Doris Fields.

Since 2009, she has helped reconnect generations through a traveling educational workshop called Chicago School of Blues.  Students learn to compose their own blues tunes, and a band of South and West Side musicians introduces them to musical instruments.  Through blues, students discover the history of African Americans and America's popular music. Blues is at the root of rock, hiphop, R&B jazz, and even country.   http://chicagoschoolofblues.org

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Blues on Film - Producer

Working with videographer Chris Wilkinson in July of 2013, Bonni produced a concert video of bluesmen in action at BBF, a West Side social service agency. You can hear up close and personal blues and soul performed by singers Willie D and Larry Taylor.  Working with Wilkinson using footage shot by Darryl Pitts, she produced videos of Larry Taylor "On Drums"  and "On the Blues."

In 2015, Bonni's company Stepson of the Blues LLC, began producing her own feature film about a family of Chicago blues musicians in the 1960s-70s, based on part of Larry Taylor's life story. The Rhythm and the Blues . Features the actor Leon as Larry's stepfather Eddie Taylor and bluesman/actor/storyteller Guy Davis as Eddie's road partner Jimmy Reed. With producing partner Darryl Pitts, the company filmed several scenes in 2015 and are currently raising money to complete the movie.

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Larry Taylor: Production, Communications - Soul Blues Healers

Bonni has served as publicity and promoter, and occasional keyboard player for Chicago West Side blues and soul singer/drummer Larry Taylor--oldest in the talented musical family of the late Eddie Taylor Sr. and Vera Taylor.  Bonni co-wrote and published Larry's limited-edition autobiography Stepson of the Blues, and co-produced his album They Were in This House.  Larry is a leader in the blues and soul tradition of Chicago. He and Bonni use the blues--the root of all American popular music--to bring people together.  He calls his band the Soul Blues Healers. www.larrytaylorchicagoblues.com  He and Bonni occasionally present blues history talks and demonstrations. 

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Bonni's keyboard work with Larry is on this video of the Howlin Wolf-style "Tell Me Baby" at the April 2018 memorial jam for West Side bass player Sleepy Riley at the Water Hole

Peaceful Patriot Press - Publishing, writing, organizing history

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Bonni's writings and presentations convey a lifetime of grassroots citizenship and a respectful, constantly growing knowledge of African American culture.

 She organized the archives of Capon Springs and Farms, a historic spa with 200 year old buildings in eastern W.Va., and wrote the book on these buidlngs.  She helps people declutter and sort through their history.

Her blog "West Side Blues" plus freelance articles on neighborhood business and culture, appears in the Austin Weekly News, based in Chicago's farthest-west West Side neighborhood. In 2018 she serves as a documenter for the citizen news service City Bureau.

In 2006-07 she helped organize the Charleston WV Blues Society and arranged for a Humanities lecture by WVU jazz professor Dr. Christopher Wilkinson about the history of African-American swing bands traveling through West Virginia. Bonni was a contributing writer to West Virginia Encyclopedia. She wrote the cover story on Chicago West Side musicians for Big City Rhythm and Blues magazine in August 2006.

Bonni is the author of two books. Peaceful Patriot: The Story of Tom Bennett, is the 1980 biography of a West Virginia conscientious objector and Army medic killed in Vietnam.  In 2010 she co-wrote the autobiography of West Side Chicago blues singer/drummer Larry Hill Taylor, Stepson of the Blues,  currently out of print. She and Larry give talks for libraries, schools and community groups about blues history and heritage.

Books are listed on Bonni's own Peaceful Patriot Press. http://peacefulpatriotpress.blogspot.com/

Organize Your History