We’re sad to announce that Kitty Carson, blues enthusiast, the longtime host of Kitty’s Blues radio show on WAIF 88.3 FM, and the founder of the Greater Cincinnati Blues Society, passed away on August 27, 2021.
Blues Radio Show
Kitty started her blues radio show on WAIF-FM in 1977. With WAIF itself starting broadcasting in 1975, the show could be considered one of the pioneering shows on WAIF and certainly the longest continuously running blues radio show in the Greater Cincinnati area.
As time went on, Kitty noticed a void of touring national blues acts in Cincinnati. She spent much time, money and effort traveling to other cities to see national acts. She wished to bring national acts to Cincinnati, so after much investigation, the idea to start a blues society was born.
She organized the first meeting at Mansion Hill Tavern in December 1990 to determine interest. About a hundred enthusiastic blues lovers showed up, with over 45 signing up to be members on the spot.
The society was modeled after other existing blues societies around the country, and its main goal was to bring a yearly free outdoor blues festival to Cincinnati.
Kitty served as president from 1990 to 1994. The first Queen City Blues Fest, as the festival was called in those days, was held in 1992, indoors at Music Hall Topper Ballroom. The second fest was in 1994, outdoors at beautiful Sawyer Point Park on the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati. With the Society off to a solid start, and her goal of an outdoor summer blues festival accomplished, she handed over the Society to the volunteer organization she had built (although she was always available for consultation when needed).
As she sometimes said, she was good at starting new things, but not necessarily with maintaining them.
She continued hosting Kitty’s Blues through the 2000’s, until recent years, when she gradually transferred her show to a rotation of hosts, including Randy Dimond, Michael Byrd, Bob Herrmann, and Chuck and Sketti with Cat (Chuck Brisbin, Joe Sketti, and Cat Campbell).
The current lineup of hosts will continue doing the radio show, and the name Kitty’s Blues will be kept to honor and remember Kitty. A memorial brick is being made for Kitty, which will be placed in front of the radio station.
Memories and Tributes
Mary Ann Kindel:
I first met Kitty Carson in 1991. I was going to Mansion Hill to play in the blues jam. When I walked in the door, I was greeted by Kitty, who was sitting at a table right by the door so you had to pass by her to enter. She said something to the effect of – “I’m Kitty Carson, and this is a meeting of the Greater Cincinnati Blues Society. What would you like to volunteer for?” And she showed me a clipboard with various volunteer positions.
Her approach was a little unconventional, but it made me laugh. I thought taking photos of blues artists for the archives sounded interesting, so I signed up for that. In retrospect, that was a defining moment in my life that led to me getting more involved with the Blues Society, where I’ve made many friends and had many opportunities I would not have otherwise had. So thanks Kitty!
As a person, Kitty was bold, outgoing, enthusiastic, energetic, inquisitive, smart, and thrifty. She was good at networking and organizing people. She had a deep knowledge of blues music. I’ll never forget when she booked Luther Allison for the blues fest. We had never heard of him, because he had moved from Chicago to Europe many years before. We weren’t so sure about her decision until we saw him a month before our fest at the Chicago Blues Fest, and we were just blown away. She had, of course, gotten him for a very reasonable price because he was still “under the radar”. He delivered a similar legendary performance at our festival, and in our minds, Kitty became a booking genius.
Like Mary Ann I first encountered Kitty at Mansion Hill Tavern sometime around 1990 or 1991. As a long time blues lover I think I remember reading a blurb about a nascent society of individuals with similar taste and decided it might be a good idea to join. Kitty’s dream was always to bring a large outdoor free or low-cost festival to Cincinnati similar to those she had seen in Chicago and perhaps in Arkansas. As we had no toehold into access for a large outdoor venue, the first Queen City Blues Fest (1992) as it was called back then, was indoors at Topper ballroom high atop Music Hall. Kitty was the Festival Director and my responsibility was ticketing. She arranged for James Cotton, Cephas and Wiggins, and Jackie Torrance to round out the bill along with local luminaries the Beaumonts, Big Joe Duskin, Alice Hoskins etc. My fondest memory of that event was Kitty with an entire chest load (brassiere et al)! stuffed with cash proceeds from the festival working her way back down from the third-floor to arrange for a night deposit so that we could stay in the black.
Kitty managed to take her passion and infuse it to a circle of passionate (naive?) inner circle of volunteers who would help carry her dream to the finish line. An aborted attempt at an outdoor festival in 1993 was followed by a new strategy and re-organization with a stated goal to launch our inaugural outdoor festival in 1994. I had (foolishly) raised my hand at just the wrong moment and found myself in the position of festival Director. The early years of the festival were marked by Kitty’s intense involvement, encouragement and tutelage as we (Dave, Mary Ann, Tom, Sandy, Bill, Ken, Gravy, Les, Keith, Cathy, Midge, Gary, Debi, Dilip and countless others who will doubtless castigate me for not remembering them) invented an all volunteer run free outdoor fest on the fly as we went along. As Mary Ann has so saliently pointed out, Kitty‘s finest hour and perhaps the pinnacle of Blues Fest performances was booking Luther for the closing set of the ‘95 Fest. We were truly blessed to be a part of his triumphal return to the states and crushed by his untimely death about a year later, a victim of cancer.
Her intensity and continued focus on perpetuating the Fest knew very little in the way of boundaries as she persistently networked, wheedled, cajoled, encouraged and challenged the core of volunteers, assorted booking connections, music friendly city politicians and others to keep the flame alive. Her spirit lives on in all those who organized, attended, and/or merely enjoyed the Blues Festival here in Cincinnati in its many forms over the years. A toast to you m’dear.
I met Kitty the first Sunday in August, 1992 at my first Blues Society meeting at Mansion Hill Tavern. One of my best memories is WAIF’s Holiday Party that December when the Kelly Richey Band played live on the radio. It was my first time on the radio and we had a blast. I also remember Kitty had $10,000 cash in her car at the first Blues Fest in October 1992 at Topper Ballroom at Music Hall, just in case there weren’t enough ticket sales to pay the bands. Thanks to Don Schott & company plastering the city with posters, we didn’t need her money. But, it was close…
Back when I was just starting to get involved in helping to lead Blues Fest with Dave, Jeff, Barry and others (2006-2007), Kitty made sure that I started to learn about the history of the Blues Society and how much the group had done to support and encourage the Blues! As my participation progressed, I got to visit with her on her radio show and she made ME feel like I was the celebrity, except we ALL know who the real treasure is! Kitty told stories so well you felt as if you were there hearing that same amazing song and watching those shenanigans right through her. I’m keeping her laugh and smile close to my heart. Thank you, Kitty!
Michael “Byrdman” Byrd:
I first met Kitty Carson at the Queen City Blues Fest in 1996. In 1995, John Thad and I were made the two new hosts for WNKU-FM’s “Crossroad Blues.” I don’t remember who introduced Kitty and me, but I do remember that Kitty, after having been told I was doing Blues on WNKU, didn’t exactly come across as warm and fuzzy towards me – she scared the hell outta me! Those gut wrenching feelings continued throughout the interaction that followed. She was the Queen of the Cincinnati Blues scene and she knew it! It was only at the end of this, our first encounter, that Kitty revealed herself. In her own unique way after intimidating me for what felt like hours, I noticed one side of her lips turning upwards with the glint of a grin. Soon, the other side followed, and Kitty was wearing a great big ol’ smile! She knew what I didn’t realize at that point… we were on different teams, but were both playing for the same league! In essence, we joined forces that day. That allegiance has endured. I’m really glad of that!
After spending two years of grimacing over what I considered a dirty deal I got from WNKU shortly before it folded, my good friend Dave Warford, who had come to WNKU from WNOP, told me that he thought Kitty was looking for someone to help her on “Kitty’s Blues.” I called Kitty, and she invited me to join her. We become a two-person team hosting Kitty’s Blues on WAIF-FM in 2014. That is when I began to discover what a miraculous woman Kitty truly was. She told me about how she got Buddy Guy (way before he reached superstar status) his first gig in Cincinnati. Seems we had too much bigotry and prejudice in Cincinnati to bring a black Bluesman to town back then. But that didn’t stop Kitty. She got him that gig. Afterward, she was in the process of getting Willie Dixon booked for a gig in Cincinnati when he died in 1992. Kitty knew and was instrumental in getting Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown booked in Cincinnati. Kitty loved Blues music and spent her life making sure it was heard. Kitty’s advocacy of the oppressed was apparent in all other aspects of her life, as well. She was a staunch advocate for Women’s Rights until the day she died. Kitty was never afraid to ruffle feathers for what she considered to be right, and she had pretty good judgement!
Randy Dimond and I went to Columbus to see Kitty five days before she passed away. She was in good spirits, but we could tell things were not good. We spent a few hours chatting with her about all sorts of topics; life, love, music, people, but mainly about her getting healthy enough to get back down to Cincy to do more “Kitty’s Blues” radio shows with us for Cincinnati’s great Blues fans. Kitty just smiled.
Shortly before we left, Kitty asked me a question, “Byrdman,” as she always called me, “Do you like my hair?” I looked at it briefly, but noticed no apparent change. “It looks great!” I said just to placate her, but Kitty could tell I hadn’t seen what she wanted me to notice. “It’s PINK!” Kitty exclaimed. Only then did my eyes catch the glint of pink in her hair. “It’s faded now…but it was bright pink when I first did it!” I wish I had a picture… Kitty was never afraid to ruffle feathers!
Kitty Carson served the good people of Cincinnati for many years in many ways. She did so in a way that was compassionate, careful, loving and invigorating. Young women of today would be wise to look towards Kitty Carson as an inspiration for their own lives as well as to continue the legacy of the pink headed Blues Queen of Cincinnati! A lovely Blues Queen who now beautifully rests in peace…with pink hair!
Kitty represented the spirit of the blues !!!!!
I was so saddened to hear of the passing of the legendary Kitty Carson. A true pioneer in the effort to support and encourage the blues here in Cincinnati! I have so many great memories of Kitty but here are just a couple.
The memory that stands out most and I can remember like it was yesterday is when we had Otis Rush melt down as our headliner on our Main Stage at the Cincy Blues Fest. I had greeted Otis and his wife and band early in the day, and he had already stopped off for some liquid libations on the way over. By the time he came on to play, he was truly feeling no pain. Kitty had arranged to broadcast his set live on the radio, but unfortunately the set went from bad to worse to a complete calamity which we actually had to just cut off. Kitty, who was normally pretty mild mannered, was more than a bit irritated with Mr. Rush and proceeded to mentor him backstage on the folly of his ways…lol. As Kitty dressed him down for cursing on her airwaves and basically acting like a jackass, he had this look on his face like a toddler. It was a side I had never really seen of Kitty but I was very impressed by the way she handled what was a terrible situation for us. You don’t mess with the Cincy Blues Fest and get a pass from Kitty! Over the years we have come to laugh about it, but at the time it was a pretty tense situation.
Another memory that stands out for me is more personal. My son Brandon had expressed interest in doing a summer radio show on WAIF when he was maybe 13 or 14. WAIF used to open up the summer for anyone to propose a show and Brandon wanted to do a punk rock show. Kitty was so helpful to him (and all of the new folks) and helped him learn how to work everything and get his show on the air. It is a treasured memory for us and I always appreciated how Kitty took him under her wing. It was just the kind of person she was!
We have truly lost a legend.