Diunna Greenleaf to show Tucson how a Houston lady sings the blues

Diunna Greenleaf to show Tucson how a Houston lady sings the blues

Diunna Greenleaf will show Tucson how Houston does the blues when the singer performs at Plaza Palomino with her band Blue Mercy on Friday.

Greenleaf is a Texas girl born and raised who grew up with music all around her.

Her father led the Spiritual Gospel Singers of Houston and was also a male-vocal coach. Cecil Shaw of the Cecil Shaw Singers, Johnnie Taylor and Sam Cooke were among his most notable students.

The Greenleaf home also served as a go-to boarding house for black musicians who came to Texas for shows.

"That was a time when black people couldn't stay in regular hotels," said Greenleaf, who chose not to share her age. "There were black hotels in Houston, but they were usually full."

Greenleaf remembers playing host to Sister Rosetta Tharpe and gospel icon Mahalia Jackson.

"The piano seat never cooled off in our home," Greenleaf said.

Those early influences, combined with a natural ability to belt out powerful blues lyrics on cue, has led to a successful career for Greenleaf, as well as a long list of blues mentors and friends, some of whom are featured on her latest release, "Trying to Hold On."

The 14-track album showcases Greenleaf's abilities as a songwriter and vocalist and teams her up with some popular contemporary names, including "Steady Rollin' " Bob Margolin, Smokin' Joe Kubek, Anson Funderburgh, Billy Branch and Phoenix blues harp player Bob Corritore, who will join her at Plaza Palomino on Friday.

Greenleaf said an album like this was a long time coming.

"These are all friends of mine," she said. "They knew I could write. It was time for us to play something together."

Ten of the 14 tracks on the album, recorded in Houston, Dallas, Chicago and Phoenix, are original works that directly relate to events in Greenleaf's own life.

The opening song "Be Foe Me" is Greenleaf's retelling of the day her father proposed to her mother.

Greenleaf said her parents used to tell the story when she was a kid and it always stuck with her.

"When my dad asked if they should get married, my mom said, 'If you promise to be for me like I'm for you, then we'll give this a go, because there is nothing we can't get through,' " Greenleaf recalled.

The singer closes the album with "Cause I'm a Soldier," a patriotic tune with a military drumline beat, that pays homage to her brother's life in the service.

She wrote the track in the back of a limousine at his funeral.

"He joined the army back when it was still segregated," said Greenleaf, who also served in the army. "I wanted this song to be a tribute to him and my fellow veterans."

The title track, "Trying to Hold On" is a full-on blues romp that Greenleaf wrote in part to remember blues legends who have been lost in recent years, people she has toured and performed with such as Koko Taylor, Pinetop Perkins and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith.

"We are all trying to hold on," she said. "People have got to know that they have got to keep holding on."

If you go

• What: Diunna Greenleaf.

• When: 8 p.m. Friday.

• Where: Plaza Palomino Suite 147, 2970 N. Swan Road.

• Tickets: $18 in advance through rhythmandroots.org; $20 at the door.

• Info: 319-9966.

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