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Rush performing in Chicago in 2010
|Emmett Ellis Jr.|
November 10, 1933|
Homer, Louisiana, United States
|Origin||Pine Bluff, Arkansas, United States|
|Genres||Blues, electric blues, soul, R&B, funk, disco, acoustic blues, soul-blues|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, harmonica|
Born Emmett Ellis, Jr. in Homer, Louisiana, Rush was the son of Emmett and Mattie Ellis. His father was a pastor whose guitar and harmonica playing provided early musical influences. As a young child he began experimenting with music using a sugarcane syrup bucket and a broom-wire diddley bow. Around 1947, he and the family moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where his father took on the pastorate of a church. It was here that Rush would become friends with Elmore James, the slide player Boyd Gilmore (James's cousin), and the piano player Johnny "Big Moose" Walker; eventually forming a band to support his singing and harmonica and guitar playing.
Still a teen, Rush donned a fake moustache to play in local juke joints with the band, fascinated by enthusiasm of the crowds. His family relocated to Chicago in 1953, where he became part of the local blues scene in the following decade. In Chicago he met and befriended his neighbor, Muddy Waters, and began working for Jimmy Reed. Through these connections he began performing on a circuit with Etta James, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Jimmy Reed.
In the early 1970s a song he wrote, "Chicken Heads", released by Galaxy, reached the Billboard R&B chart, after being picked up from a small label started by the former Vee Jay Records producer Calvin Carter (number 34, 1971). Rush later recorded with a leading label for black music, Philadelphia International, releasing his first album, Rush Hour, produced by Leon Huff, with one track, I Wanna Do the Do, also charting in 1979 (number 75). Chicken Heads would become Rush's first certified gold certified record in 1971, and would later re-enter the Billboard chart 30 years after its release as a result of its feature in the film Black Snake Moan. His next album to become gold certified would be "Sue" in 1981, and "Ain't Studdin' Ya" in 1991.
In the early 1980s, he moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where he recorded a series of records for the LaJam label, Malaco's Waldoxy imprint, and in 2003, his own Deep Rush label with partner Greg Preston, a former Malaco Records executive. One of the artists on the label is Crystal Springs, Mississippi native and former bandmate Dexter Allen. 2004's FolkFunk was a return to a more rootsier sound, featuring guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart. He appeared in the film, The Road to Memphis which is part of the series The Blues, produced by Martin Scorsese. As a result of the Scorsese film, Rolling Stone magazine named him "'King of the Chitlin' Circuit' because of his 50 years of relentless touring and colorful live show." Rush was also a judge for the second annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers. He also performed at the White House along with James Brown when Bill Clinton went into office. In 2014 he again performed for Bill and Hillary Clinton for a state event in Arkansas.
In 2007, he became the first blues artist to perform in China, earning him the title "International Dean of the Blues." He was later named Friendship Ambassador to the Great Wall of China after performing the largest concert ever held at that site. In addition, Rush has toured in most major markets around the world, including Sydney, Australia; Paris, France; Tokyo, Japan; Shanghai, China; Johannesburg, South Africa; Berlin, Germany; Rome, Italy; Barcelona, Spain; Lucerne, Switzerland; New York, New York; Chicago, Illinois; Memphis, Tennessee; Los Angeles, California; to Jackson, Mississippi.
Rush received recognition for his music after the release of his 22nd album, Rush, when he was awarded "Best Male Soul Blues Artist" at the Blues Music Awards. He also received "best acoustic artist" and "best acoustic album" for his album Raw. His album Hoochie Mama was nominated for a Grammy award in the blues music category in 2000. Rush has been awarded 17 blues music awards in his lifetime, and in 2006 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. In May 2015, Rush cut the ribbon for the Blues Hall of Fame, with an introduction by the Memphis Head of Tourism and aired live on local news.
In 2013, Rush was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the 'Soul Blues Male Artist' category. In 2014, Rush's album Down in Louisiana, was Grammy-nominated for "Best Blues Album", and won a Blues Music Award in the 'Soul Blues Album of the Year' category, whilst Rush was also nominated in two other categories. Following 2014's Grammy nomination, Rush was nominated again for "Best Blues Album" in 2015 for Decisions, with Blinddog Smokin' and featuring Rock n' Roll Hall of Famer Dr. John.
In 2015, Rush won two Blues Music Awards in the 'Soul Blues Male Artist' and 'B.B. King Entertainer of the Year' categories. On June 6, 2015 Rush was inducted into the Official Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame in Clarksdale, MS.
On May 11, 2017 Rush won Blues Music Awards for Album of the Year for "Porcupine Meat" and for Historical Album of the Year for "Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History of Bobby Rush." These were the eleventh and twelfth Blues Music Awards Rush has been awarded by the Blues Foundation during his career.