Performers for the 2018 National Folk Festival
photo credit: Skip Rowland
St. Louis, Missouri
If there is an artist who truly connects the past, present and future of the blues, it is 27-year-old bluesman Marquise Knox. Born and raised in St. Louis, Marquise burst onto the scene at age 16, astonishing veteran bluesmen and audiences alike with powerful performances displaying a musical spirit and depth of understanding far beyond his age. “The blues was passed to me through the blood,” he declares proudly. Marquise learned guitar from his grandmother, Lillie, a former sharecropper, and played with his Uncle Clifford, a major early influence. As a teenager, he was mentored by revered St. Louis bluesman Henry James Townsend, a National Heritage Fellow and foundational figure in St. Louis blues history. Marquise has also performed with B.B. King, Pinetop Perkins, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, and Hubert Sumlin. Having absorbed from the masters the essence of what made the blues one of America’s quintessential musical traditions, Marquise is carrying the torch into the 21st century.
Like many blues greats, Marquise has family ties to Mississippi—in his case, to the town of Grenada, where the Delta and the hill country meet. Marquise still regularly visits relatives there, where the family church and cemetery are located. Since the 1920s, many Grenada musicians have migrated to Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit. Musicians whose talents were nurtured in Grenada include St. Louis blues pianist Walter Davis (a musical partner of Henry Townsend’s), Chicago blues guitar legends Magic Sam (Maghett) and Magic Slim (Holt), and singer-harmonica player Big George Brock, a relation of Marquise’s who served as a mentor.
Marquise began to come into his own when he fell in with Henry Townsend. "It was a great experience for me to know Henry, and then people like Pinetop and Hubert. They told me a lot of personal stuff that was beyond music,” Marquise recalls. “I remember Hubert told me one time after hearing me play, ‘You’ve got tone, Marquise. Something that’s your own. Don't ever lose that.’”
An impressive 2007 performance in Clarksdale, Mississippi, a mecca of Delta blues, led to an appearance at the well-known “Blues Masters at the Crossroads” festival in Salina, Kansas. Crowds flocked to hear Marquise, while elder performers, such as blues harp great James Cotton, adopted him as one of their own, recognizing Knox’s talents and reverence for the tradition. Marquise now commands the stage with a presence befitting his mentors, adding harmonica to his imposing vocals and accomplished guitar playing—a star in the making who channels the spirit and soulfulness of old-school blues masters.