rockford illinois entertainment guide
Date: 07/09/2004
The Girl's Gone Wild - Odessa Barmore
by Lisa Palmeno
Martina McBride's hit tune "When God-Fearin' Women Get The Blues" stands as a tribute to all those country gals who are "frying their last batch of gravy." It wasn't too long ago that mild-mannered library clerk Odessa Barmore also "got the blues." Although she hasn't sworn off cooking, working as a precinct committeeman, or her job at Rockford Public Library, this sweet petite has definitely gone a bit wild. When not tending to her duties as mother of two children or working in the circulation services department, she is Diamond, a blues singing mama who is on the scene and all over the place about it.

Diamond's musical journey began in January 2003 with the formation of her band Freestyle, a rhythm and blues group that debuted at the Midway Theatre, a venue they continue to use for weekly rehearsals. Odessa's brother Paul Barmore was working on putting the band together, and his girlfriend suggested using Odessa on vocals. "He didn't know I sang vocals," explains Odessa, " and after he heard me sing Earth, Wind & Fire, he gave me my first microphone. He said, 'I didn't know you could sing like that.' Whenever I'm at venues, I take that microphone with me. I never leave home without it." Later, Odessa's daughter Dree named the band "Freestyle." Freestyle already has a CD in the works and has a RAMI to their credit in the "Funk/Rhythm and Blues" category. Always a youth advocate looking for ways to improve her community, Diamond booked Freestyle for a performance at the Library's Summer Reading Club Kick-Off Party that was held June 5 at Memorial Hall.

Working with Freestyle led the amateur blues singer to seek out the pros. So far she has sat in with Joanna Connor Band, Quintus McCormick, Brother K, and with various musicians at House of Blues and Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago. She has provided vocals for The Tata Blues Band, Higher Ground, Pistol Pete, Boulas, and Harlan Jefferson & Beth Ann Beal with the So So Tight Band. She also has plans to start working with Ernie and the Po' Boys and Fruteland Jackson and to sing at two of Chicago's world-famous blues clubs Kingston Mines and B.L.U.E.S.

Diamond says she was never nervous about singing in a band because she has always sang gospel in church since she was a child, including work she did with a well-known gospel professional Ann Nesby, who is also her god sister. As for performing with the blues world pros, she tells, "It made me feel good. It's a lot of fun. It kind of conquers your fears when you are doing something you want to do that makes you happy." She adds that she has "met so many people" who have treated her well.

She says the songs that feel most natural for her to sing are "old school" tunes that she grew up listening to in the '60s and '70s , such as "Tell Me Something Good" by Rufus and Chaka Khan, "Smiling Faces", selections from War, "Wang Dang Doodle", and "I Cry Like A Baby". She admits she likes a lot of Muddy Waters, too. When she is at Big Cities, she makes it a point to sing "I Cry Like A Baby" by Koko Taylor for Nino, which is his favorite. She loves the blues because, "Blues is something that you feel from way deep down in your gut, from within your soul, and it's something that you live. Blues comes from things that you live," says Odessa.

Diamond makes regular appearances at Big Cities Lounge on Wednesdays and Thursdays, depending on who's playing that night (she often sings with Boulas), and every Monday night at Kryptonite for Harlan Jefferson's Soul Night. Here is a list of upcoming show dates:

July 11 - Showcase 2004, Levings Lake, 3-4 p.m. & 6-7 p.m.
August 14 - Bookerfest, Booker Washington Center, 1 p.m.
August 21- Black Family Reunion, Levings Lake, 4 p.m.

Keep checking beetcafe for more information about September shows, which will include 3rd Annual Studio Zoom Music Festival at Abilities Center, Talent Night at Midway Theatre, and Full Moon Night at Minglewood (acoustic night). For bookings, contact Odessa Barmore at or Odessa Barmore C/O Freestyle, P.O. Box 3417, Rockford, IL 61106-3417 or call 815/965-0842.
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