Jackie Bell, 43, steps out of a little red two-seater, and I'm jealous of her legs. I briefly recall my inferiority when Miss Bell called me on stage during a charity fund raiser, and all of Jackson saw me dance like a white Baptist girl next to her trained-ballerina self. Then she said I don't look more than 25, and I forgave her and loved her more. Today she hugs me like she just saw me yesterday, but is so glad to see me again. Suddenly I feel like the leggiest woman in the world. See, that's what Jackie Bell does. She sings like her back ain't got no bone, and she makes you think you can, too.
That's why the 930 Blues Café is packed every night with Jackson regulars,
plus fans from Japan, Africa and every other crevice of the world who come to Jackson just to see Jackie Bell. She's been featured in publications from Southern Living to International Japan. She's toured the Southeast and even Italy, and her fans have followed her to the Chicago Blues Festival. She tells me: "I'm not a star. The stars are in the sky." Uh huh. OK, Jackie. Jacksonians know we are the blessed ones in this dynamic.
Jackie Bell spent her first 12 years in Monroe, La., before her father moved the family to Jackson. She takes phone calls throughout the interview from her daddy and her momma. While she expresses her frustration, her eyes and gentle laugh mirror the love she is giving and getting from the interruptions. She praises a family who has supported her dream during the years at Callaway High School, the years at Hinds Community College when she was the first black vocalist to sing "Lift Every Voice and Sing," and the years at Alcorn State when she studied English and graphic design.
No matter where her voice takes her, Jackie Bell loves her Jackson audience. She says: "We don't mind having a good time. We know how to have a blues party."
She does have a good time, but Jackie Bell is more than a dancer and more than a singer. She's a historian who knows music—including country (she loves Faith Hill), jazz, gospel and, of course, blues. She's a humanist who looks for the best in every soul she meets.
Every performance holds a communication factor with her audience, no matter the locale, and she credits that connection to knowing the source. Her momma told her that she has a gift for learning too fast. Even so, she tells me, "You can feel it if you really understand it."