(Christone “Kingfish” Ingram)

By Jerome Langston


Thousands of fans of jazz and R&B are expected to flock to this year’s 54th annual Hampton Jazz & Music Festival, which will feature music stars like Boyz II Men, Kem, Coco Jones, Jon Batiste, and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, the heavily buzzed about 20-something blues singer and guitarist, who is earning comparisons to the late great B.B. King. Additionally, one of Hampton’s most popular and celebrated local music acts, The Fuzz Band, will serve as the opener for Sunday’s show. Held at Hampton Coliseum since the arena’s formal opening in 1970, the Hampton Jazz Festival is still one of the area’s biggest annual attractions to hear live music — attracting concert goers from around the country, due to the festival’s long and storied history, as well as its connection to our market’s elite HBCU, Hampton University, where it was first held in 1968. Legendary musical acts including Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Ramsey Lewis, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, and so many others — have graced the festival stage over some five plus decades.

Since that very first festival in 1968, American blues acts have been pretty well represented at the annual 3-day event. The iconic Muddy Waters and his Blues Band were one of the featured artists that year. And subsequent years have included blues greats like B.B. King and Bobby “Blue” Bland. This year, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, who is being heralded by major media outlets as America’s next great blues artist, is performing on the first night of the festival. Though still only 25 years of age, Ingram has been attracting national attention since his teen years — even performing for First Lady Michelle Obama at The White House, as part of the Delta Blues Museum Band when he was only 14.

I chatted by phone with the young man earlier this week, as he and his touring band were traveling to a gig in Wisconsin. He’d just come from a tour stop in Canada — he tells me early on in our conversation. I ask what initially drew him to the blues. “Around the time when I was younger, I was around blues like 24/7 — blues and gospel music,” Chris replies. He was born and raised in Clarksdale, Mississippi, which is widely regarded as the birthplace of the blues. It is a small city with a fascinating history steeped in the development of this uniquely American musical art-form, created by southern Black Americans.

Chris Ingram was born into a family of largely church musicians, and he even played drums in church, when he was a kid. However, it was a PBS documentary about Blues great Muddy Waters, as well as an episode of the classic American sitcom, Sanford and Son, which featured a cameo from B.B. King, that stirred up an early interest in learning about the blues. “From those little two things, pretty much sparked my interest in blues music,” he says. That interest led to him studying blues guitar at eight years of age — taking classes at the Delta Blues Museum. The moniker of “Kingfish” came from the late great Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry, one of his early blues music teachers. While still in high school, Chris played at several famous blues spots in Clarksdale, and later started touring nationwide. He even won the 2015 Rising Star Award, a prestigious award presented by The Rhythm and Blues Foundation.

Since those early successes, Chris has had quite a whirlwind of a career. He has released three acclaimed albums; 2019’s “Kingfish,” 2021’s “662,” and last year’s “Live in London.” All three albums earned Grammy nominations, with “662” winning the Grammy award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Chris has also been honored with a bunch of Blues Music Awards and has received critical praise from media outlets like NPR, The Washington Post, and CBS, amongst many others. The young blues singer and guitarist has opened for the Rolling Stones in London, and even toured with Vampire Weekend. Though he’s a committed blues artist, Chris says that he enjoys performing with bands and musicians who fall outside of his beloved genre, as it expands the audience for current day blues music. When not on the road, he’s in a Los Angeles studio, working with a few R&B and rap music producers, for a new album to be released in 2025. He mentions working with songwriter/producer Patrick Hayes, who is known for crafting hits with Trey Songz and Chris Brown — both of whom are Virginia native of course.

“I would say the most relatable one for me would probably be B.B. King,” says Chris, regarding music artists who have inspired his own development as an artist. “He came from the Mississippi Delta…” After pressing him to name some additional influences on guitar and/or vocals, he mentions Stevie Ray Vaughan and Prince. “Prince was definitely a big influence on my music for sure. “

And then there’s the remarkable blues legend, Buddy Guy, who has become a sort of mentor to the young artist. Chris opened for Mr. Guy in 2013, and later played with him in 2015. “From those two experiences, he kind of offered to take me under his wings… And he was the financial backer for my first record,” Chris says. “He’s been like an adopted grandfather — something like that,” adds Chris. He’s learned a lot about the music industry, and being an artist, from Buddy Guy.

“I would learn simply by him just doing his show every night. He would have the crowd in the palm in his hand… Just being a master and showman,” says Chris. I expect that we will see some of what Chris has learned from Buddy Guy and others, when he performs for fans at the Hampton Jazz festival later this month. He plans to deliver several songs that he’s known for; including “Empty Promises,” “Another Life Goes By,” and “Fresh Out.” He likes to play festivals, as “it’s a shorter time. And you get a chance to really stretch out a little more, than in a club.” He doesn’t get to VA much, but he’s looking forward to the Hampton show. “It’s gonna be a fun time.”


54th Annual Hampton Jazz & Music Festival

Featuring Kem, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Boyz II Men

Jon Batiste and others

June 28-30

Hampton Coliseum