If a black man can be president, can a white man sing the blues?
The latter half of that question goes back to the days when rock musicians first started working 12-bar blues into their 120-decibel repertoires.
It's also led to a number of parodies, from the Bonzo Dog Band's "Can Blue Men Sing the Whites" ("Oh Lord, wish my bed wasn't silken sheets so tight") to Martin Mull's "Ukulele Blues" ("Woke up this mornin' and both my cars were gone / Felt so low down deep inside, I threw my drink across the lawn").
But then consider Johnny Winter, who made his television debut around the age of 10 playing, ironically enough, a ukulele. He's the whitest musician out there, yet few would doubt his blues credentials.
The thing is, music itself tends to defy both ethnicity and labeling: Johnny Otis, who launched the careers of Etta James and Esther Phillips, is a musician of Greek descent, while Muddy Waters' Folk Singer is the best blues album I know of.
This week, the Indy talks to five relatively young musicians who were raised on rock but ended up making the blues their own, with no mention of silken sheets or thrown drinks. (See cover story starting on p. 17.)
Now, as to whether or not white folks can rap that's a different question entirely. The answer, of course, is no.