Meet Me with Your Black Drawers On: My Life in Music

Meet Me with Your Black Drawers On: My Life in Music

Meet Me with Your Black Drawers On: My Life in Music

Meet Me with Your Black Drawers On: My Life in Music


Jeannie Cheatham is a living legend in jazz and blues. A pianist, singer, songwriter, and co-leader of the Sweet Baby Blues Band, she has played and sung with many of the greats in blues and jazz--T-Bone Walker, Dinah Washington, Cab Callaway, Joe Williams, Al Hibbler, Odetta, and Jimmy Witherspoon. Cheatham toured with Big Mama Thornton off and on for ten years and was featured with Thornton and Sippie Wallace in the award-winning PBS documentary Three Generations of the Blues. Her music, which has garnered national and international acclaim, has been described as unrestrained, exuberant, soulful, rollicking, wicked, virtuous, wild, and truthful. Cheatham's signature song, "Meet Me with Your Black Drawers On" is a staple in jazz and blues clubs across America and in Europe, Africa, and Japan.

In this delightfully frank autobiography, Jeannie Cheatham recalls a life that has been as exuberant, virtuous, wild, and truthful as her music. She begins in Akron, Ohio, where she grew up in a vibrant multiethnic neighborhood surrounded by a family of strong women. From those roots, she launched a musical career that took her from the Midwest to California, doing time along the way everywhere from a jail cell in Dayton, Ohio, where she was innocently caught in a police raid, to the University of Wisconsin-Madison--where she and Jimmy Cheatham taught music. Cheatham writes of a life spent fighting racism and sexism, of rage and resolve, misery and miracles, betrayals and triumphs, of faith almost lost in dark places, but mysteriously regained in a flash of light. Cheatham's autobiography is also the story of her fifty-years-and-counting love affair and musical collaboration with her husband and band partner, Jimmy Cheatham.


I tried on a brand new blues this morning;
‘Cause my old blues don’t fit no mo’ …

The words of the blues song lodged inside my soul like static in an old radio—the dial set somewhere between stations.

My Great Gramma’s words got all tangled up in that static. She always said, “Jeannie, you gotta know when to fight and when to run away. It takes a wise soul to know the difference.”

Well, I don’t know how wise a decision I had made, but I think I was running away so I could fight.

Early that morning, at the crack of dawn, I’d arrived at the Greyhound bus station and said hello to the jackbooted policeman on duty. His job was to stop and question all arrivals as they descended the bus steps. the city of Akron did not tolerate drifters. You had to show the cop your money or a letter about a job, or he would send you to the ticket agent, who would hand you a one-way ticket right back to wherever you had come from.

The policeman said, “Going out again, Miz Evans?”

I nodded yes. He was used to seeing me and the musicians I performed with, or M’Ma’s gospel choir, or just me alone, going to play somewhere in the tristate area—Youngstown and Cleveland, Ohio; Erie, Pennsylvania; West Virginia; and all the little places in between. This morning’s journey was different.

Got to change the way I’m living
Ain’t nothing like it was before …

The lyrics were pounding in my head. a new song crying out to be born crept unbidden into my brain. My head began to ache. I rubbed my temples and thought, maybe someday I’ll finish it.

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