Bessie Smith in Stereo said jazz critic Leonard Feather in Playboy magazine when Barbara Dane burst onto the scene in the late '50s. Time magazine said of her: The voice is pure, rich...rare as a 20 karat diamond. To Ebony magazine, she seemed startlingly blonde, especially when that powerful dusky alto voice begins to moan of trouble, two-timing men and freedom... with stubborn determination, enthusiasm and a basic love for the underdog (she is) making a name for herself...aided and abetted by some of the oldest names in jazz who helped give birth to the blues... The seven-page Ebony article—their first feature story about a white woman (Nov., l959)— was filled with photos of Dane working with Memphis Slim, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Clara Ward, Mama Yancey, Little Brother Montgomery and others.
But where had she come from? Barbara's young parents arrived in Detroit, Michigan from Arkansas in the mid '20s, raising their family amid the deepest depression—as well as some of the worst race riots—the country had ever seen. Right out of high school, Barbara began to raise her strong voice regularly at demonstrations for racial equality and economic justice. While still in her teens, she began to sit in with bands around town and won the interest of local music promoters. She even got an offer to tour with Alvino Rey's band, but she turned it down in favor of singing at factory gates and in union halls.
Did you get that chick? She's a gasser! (Louis Armstrong, Time Magazine 1959)
As a gut-level blues singer she is without compare. (Phil Elwood, SF Examiner 1987)
...perhaps the finest living interpreter of the classic blues of the 20's. Lee Hildebrand, East Bay Express 1996)
“A celebration of the human spirit accented by a bawdy feminist humor and a healthy sense of the absurd.” (J. Poet, SF Chronicle 1998)
She’s always been a role model and a hero of mine – musically and politically. (Bonnie Raitt, KALW 2010)
“Barbara Dane still has pipes of polished brass.” (New York Times, 2011)