Billy Branch is a three-time Grammy nominee, a retired two-term governor for the Chicago Grammy Chapter, an Emmy Award winner, and a winner of the Addy Award. In addition, Branch has received numerous humanitarian and music awards.
Branch was born in Great Lakes, Chicago, Illinois, although his family moved to Los Angeles when he was five years old. In 1969 he moved to Chicago where he attended and graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Branch attended the first Chicago Blues Fest, produced by Willie Dixon, in 1969. Six years later, after graduating from the University of Illinois, he was touring with the band led by Willie Dixon called the Chicago Blues All-Stars. He soon took the place of the harmonica player Carey Bell, when Carey left the All Stars to form his own band.
In the 1970s, Branch founded his own group, The Sons of Blues, along with Lurrie Bell on guitar and Freddie Dixon on bass guitar. They are the sons of Carey Bell and Willie Dixon respectively, and they recorded for Alligator Records and with a change in personnel for Red Beans Records. The new band consisted of Carlos Johnson on guitar and J. W. Williams on vocals and bass guitar. He has also recorded for Verve Records and Evidence Records.
Since those early days, Branch has played on over 150 different recordings, including 12 under his own name. He has recorded with Willie Dixon, Johnny Winter, Lou Rawls, Koko Taylor, Eddy Clearwater, Honeyboy Edwards, Syl Johnson, Lurrie Bell, Ronnie Baker Brooks, and Taj Mahal. In addition, he has received three Grammy nominations (losing one nomination to B.B. King and Eric Clapton). He served two consecutive terms on the Grammy Board of Governors, and currently is chairman of the Grammy Blues Committee. In addition, he has won multiple Blues Music Awards, an Emmy Award, an Addy Award, two Chicago Music Awards, and numerous humanitarian and achievement awards. The 2007 Chicago Blues Festival honored the 30th anniversary of Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues with a three-hour performance, plus they headlined the 2011 Chicago Blues Festival.
Other than co-headlining Alligator's 1990 Harp Attack! with fellow harp players Junior Wells, Carey Bell, and James Cotton, Branch largely busied himself with extensive sideman work and teaching an innovative "Blues in the Schools" program until 1995.
Branch annually appears at major festivals around the world including the Montreux Blues Festival, North Sea Blues Festival, Cognac Blues Festivals and Long Beach Blues Festival, Chicago Blues Festival, San Francisco Blues Festival and the North Sea Jazz Festival.
The Sons of Blues' current lineup consists of Branch on harmonica and vocals, Moses Rutues Jr. on drums and vocals, Nick Charles on bass and vocals, Sumito Ariyoshi on keyboards and vocals, and Dan Carelli on guitar and vocals.
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