NELLIE "TIGER" TRAVIS
NELLIE "TIGER" TRAVIS was born into poverty in the early 1960s, Nellie was one of 14 children being raised by her strict grandmother, who was an evangelist. Surrounded by music at a very young age, several members of her family were gospel singers and musicians. But even though she was brought up in the birthplace of the blues, she was not exposed to the secular sounds of Robert Johnson and Charley Patton. Instead, young Nellieís first taste of music came in the form of gospel when she began singing in church at age five.
She explains. We grew up very poor. I had to pick and chop cotton to get school clothes every summer. Added to that, I didn't get to know my father until after I graduated high school. So I guess some of that sadness early in my life comes through in some of my music now.
When I left, I told my grandmother I was going to California to become a star even if I had to sleep on Quincy Jonesís doorstep, she recalls.
There in sunny California, Nellie sang with Top 40 groups but grew disheartened with music industry politics. So in 1992, she left Los Angeles for Chicago to care for her sick mother. She only had planned to stay in Chicago temporarily, but some friends convinced her to check out well-known Windy City blues venue Kingston Mines for gigs.
After checking out the scene, she returned home and learned the lyrics to Creedence Clearwater Revivalís ìProud Maryî and Robert Johnsonís ìSweet Home Chicago.î She returned to the club the following Thursday night dressed to kill in a white patent leather jump suit with matching hat and boots.
She got on stage and sent the crowd into a frenzy with her powerful vocals and irresistible stage charisma. ìThe management hired me to sing that next Tuesday, and I didnít know any blues songs.í
She laughs, ìI learned four songs real quick. Those four songs earned me fame there, and I played there for the next six years nonstop. ìThey loved meî
She also found love from a mentor in Chicago blues queen Koko Taylor, who took Nellie under her wing. Taylor stepped in as Nellieís surrogate mother figure, and they remained close friends until Taylorís passing in 2009.
Over the many moons performing, Nellie became a regular attraction on the Chicago blues circuit, sharing stages with some of the most notable artists on the scene, including Buddy Guy, Bobby Rush, Otis Clay, and Little Milton. Her citywide fame earned her the title of ìEntertainer of the Yearî in a readerís poll by the Chicago weekly newspaper called New City.
It was also in Chicago that she earned the nickname ìTiger.î Her cousin came up with the name which aptly describes her intense, feline vocal style as well as her feisty, independent personality.
After a decade of trotting the globe on tour, Nellie decided to release her own original music in 2000 with debut album I Got It Like That through her Tiger Belle label; the same year, she recorded collaborative album Heart and Soul with Japanese guitarist Shun Kikuta.
As she continued to record, Southern soul became a larger part of Travisí catalogue. In 2005, she released Wanna Be with You, infusing Chicago blues with contemporary soul. Her 2008 album Iím Woman featured radio hit ìSlap Yoí Weave Off,î introducing her to a loyal following in the South and the rest of the nation, performing the song on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Then in 2013, Travis hit pay dirt with Southern soul hit with Mr. Sexy Man, which inspired a line dance popular in Southern soul venues. To date, the music video for Mr. Sexy Manî has reached well over 12 million hits on YouTube.
And she means many things to many different people. In her music, she caters to women while simultaneously making every man feel like the object of admiration.
In 2018, she received nine awards, including a Key to the City of her Mound Bayou hometown, a Resolution from the city of Jackson, Miss., Chicago Music Award for Blues Entertainer of the Year and the Koko Taylor Queen of the Blues Award from the Just Blues Awards. The following year, she won the International Artist of the Year from Zydeco Blues and Trailriders Awards in Houston.
In November 2009 Nellie was crowned the New Queen Of The Blues for Chicago by Bluesman and WVON radio personality Purvis Spann, who previously had bestowed that honor on Ms. KoKo Taylor.
She has shared the stage with such legendary greats as Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Koko Taylor, Gladys Knight, and Ronnie Baker Brooks just to name a few. Her influences are powerful performers like Big Mama Thornton, KoKo Taylor (of course) and Etta James. The nickname Tiger was born after Nellie came to Chicago. Her cousin came up with the name which aptly describes her intense, feline vocal style as well as her feisty, independent personality.