Blues chanteuse Nora Michaels turns 70 with a birthday gig at the Highway 99 Blues Club

by MK Scott

It was a great night of music and laughs on Friday, December 29, at the Highway 99 Blues Club (1414 Alaskan Way) in the shadow of the Alaskan Way Viaduct along the waterfront. The event was all about Seattle-based blues chanteuse, Nora Michaels, who used the gig as a way to celebrate her 70th birthday.

With the great Lonnie Williams on sax, Gina Zukoski on keyboard, David Salonen on bass and Dave Hill, Jr. on drums, Michaels performed bluesy songs like ‘I’m Gonna Play the Honky Tonks’ and ‘Blues in the Night,’ and that set the stage for an evening of great moments.

Singer Nancy Dillon joined Michaels for ‘Spare Man’ and ‘Since I Fell for You.’

Michaels has always had a special place in her heart for the LGBT community and she paid homage by sharing her story of performing her next song on the back of a float at the 1987 Seattle Pride Parade and then she began to sing ‘Dr. Long John.’

Back in the 1990s, Michaels had a Public Access TV show, ‘On the Beat with Nora Michaels,’ that won Best Variety Cable TV show Western states in 1991. Also in 1991, she appeared in ‘La Mome Piaf,’ a cabaret show saluting the great Edith Piaf, at Cabaret de Paris in downtown Seattle. The show was directed by Duffy Bishop.

Michaels moved to Portland in 1994 for a short time and that’s when I personally met her and saw her ‘La Mome Piaf’ show for the first time in early 1995, a performance that was Michaels at her best. I was reminded of that performance 23 years ago as she sang ‘La Vie en Rose,’ ‘Three Bells,’ ‘Hymn a L’amour’ and ‘Je ne Regrette Rien.’

Her next song, ‘Cleaning Blues,’ was hysterical as Michaels demonstrated how funny she can be when she performs. It was also great to see special guest Gary Lanz (from the Victor Janusz Band) join in on lead guitar.

When the first set was over the band led the audience in a bluesy rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ and everyone enjoyed some birthday cake.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay for her second set, which featured Victor Janusz as a special guest.

As a conservative closeted gay kid in his mid-20’s I admit I didn’t get her kookiness when we first met and missed the opportunity to work with her on more than one occasion because of that, which I regret to this day. I felt so fortunate to have shared this milestone moment with Nora Michaels as she turned 70 and look forward to experiencing her joy and pure talent for many more years to come.

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