Fans who attend Sunday’s final day of the 2014 Hilton HHonors Skate America are in for a special treat before the event even begins.
Billy Branch, one of Chicago’s great blues stars, will be playing the harmonica near the main entrance of the Sears Centre, alongside one of his renowned guitar players from his five-piece Sons of Blues Band.
Branch attended his first figure skating event on Friday night, along with wife Rosa. They were there to watch U.S. silver medalist Jason Brown perform his short program to the song “Juke” by the late Chicago blues legend Little Walter.
“Juke is the quintessential blues harmonica piece of all time,” said Branch, who will play from noon to around 1 p.m. on Sunday at the concourse entrance. “It’s maybe the first blues song I completely learned almost note for note. It’s still a challenge today, even after about 40 years, I hear something different in that song.
“Juke was really a milestone in blues recording history. There had never been a blues harmonica instrumental of that caliber before Juke.”
Joining Branch and his wife for the Friday night performance were Little Walter’s daughter, Marion Diaz Reacco, and the director of the Little Walter Foundation, Phil Moy. Diaz Reacco, along with Brown’s choreographer Rohene Ward, were interviewed on the AT&T Ice Desk on Friday night by Tanith Belbin.
Branch, a three-time Grammy nominee, sees his performance on Sunday as a great opportunity to tie in the Chicago blues scene with ice skating.
Branch’s Sons of Blues Band, which features Branch playing the harmonica, a bass guitarist, an electric guitarist, a drummer and a pianist, regularly plays at Chicago’s famed blues clubs Kingston Mines, Buddy Guy’s Legends Club and Rosa’s Lounge.
“We are one of the staples here in Chicago,” Branch said. “We also travel internationally. I just got back from Finland and the week before that we were in Italy. This is what we do and we are serious about it.
“We did a wonderful tour of six weeks in Turkey about two years ago. It was one of the most eye-opening tours we could have ever gone on. It was really amazing.”
To hear music from Branch and the Sons of Blues Band, go to Billybranch.com or go on YouTube. He will have CDs available for purchase at the Sears Centre.