Bernie Pearl Sings The Blues

Feature by Willard Manus

LOS ANGELES -- The Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center has become a popular hangout for local blues fans, thanks to Bernie Pearl's weekly gig at the Leimert Park Village venue.

Pearl, a venerable bluesman who has been plying his trade in L.A. for four decades, can be heard at the Center every Monday night from 8-11pm. On the night I caught him he was backed up by his four-piece band, all of them top bluesmen in their own right. Pearl, who played both acoustic and electric guitars, handled most of the vocals, belting out such classic songs as Dust My Broom, I'm Lookin' for My Tool (the old Harmonica Fats number) and Got My Mojo Workin'.

Pearl was joined for a couple of numbers by famed singer Barbara Morrison herself. The two of them have been friends and collaborators for thirty years, having first met in 1981 while taking part in the production of an all-black version of Garcia Lorca's Yerma. Pearl wrote all of the show's original songs; cast member Morrison sang them. They reunited in 2009 when the production was revived at the Gene Autry Theatre.

Pearl recently released a remarkable CD, Old School Blues, on which he pays tribute to some of his favorite bluesmen (such as Mance Lipscomb, Muddy Waters, Blind Willie Johnson, Lightnin' Sam and Brownie McGhee). What makes the CD special is not just Pearl's artistry, but his uncanny ability to put himself in the shoes of his idols, managing somehow to sound like them--and himself--at the same time.

"In no case do I try to exactly replicate anything," he explained. "The blues is, in fact, about feeling, and everything I do is to the end of bringing that feeling to the audience."

As for Morrison, she is delighted to be running her own club. "After a lifetime of having problems with clubowners--and making money for them, not myself--I decided it was time to find a way to stay at home. Having my own place means I don't have to go running from pillar to post to make a living. Also, I can book musicians and singers I love, rent to theatre companies and private parties, use my space for concerts, seminars and music education. On that score, I'm hoping to nail down non-profit status soon, so that I can go after charitable donations."

The Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center is located at 4305 Degnan Blvd, LA, CA 90008 (corner of Crenshaw and 43rd St, in Leimert Park Village). For information call 310-330-0178 or visit