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Jo Ann Kelly

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Biography

5 January 1944 — 21 October 1990
Kelly was born in Streatham, South London, and with her brother, Dave Kelly, and became blues fans in their teens.

Few women were singing or playing the blues during the ’60s, let alone with her skill or understanding of early blues styles. Jo Ann had a voice far bigger than her slight frame would suggest; with a rich, deep, tonal quality that could easily have come from Dinah Washington or Sister Rosetta Tharpe. After establishing a musical partnership with the British blues musician Tony McPhee, Kelly appeared on two McPhee compiled albums, ‘Me And The Devil’ (1968) and ‘I Asked for Water, She Gave Me Gasoline’ (1969). At the end of the ’60s, with an album on a major record label in the United States, it seemed that she might be spirited away there and moulded into another Janis Joplin. Both Johnny Winter and the seminal LA blues band Canned Heat tried to recruit Kelly into their ranks, but her allegiance was to England and the nightclub club scene, although, the ’70s and ’80s would fail to support her financially and so she took to the European circuit, latterly with the guitarist Pete Emery or in bands.

Indeed, in the early ’80s, she was a member of the Terry Smith Blues Band.

In 1988, Kelly began to suffer from headaches. In 1989 she had an operation to remove a malignant brain tumour. She died in October 1990, at the age of 46.

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