After 75 years of performing live – including in mid-century minstrel shows – Rush’s joyful ‘folk funk’ is finally attracting wide acclaim. He talks about his tough childhood, his feud with James Brown and staying true to his Black audience

The King of the Chitlin’ Circuit. The Hardest Working Man in Showbiz. The Funkiest Man Alive. These are just three honorary titles bestowed on Bobby Rush, and he wears them all with joyous pride. Rush had planned to start the new year with two performances in London until Omicron cancelled his entire European tour, but relaxing at home in Jackson, Mississippi, the 88-year old exudes bonhomie. Covid-19 has already disrupted his life plenty, forcing a man who, until 2020, spent the past five decades working over 200 nights a year, to take time out. Did he relax? Rush laughs: “Sure I did. I got busy in my home studio cutting new material.”

This was after he recovered from coronavirus. “I was the first person in Mississippi to get Covid,” says Rush. “It was before they had the vaccines and I got real ill, hospitalised for five weeks. I survived through God’s grace and the fact that I’ve always kept fit, never touched drugs or alcohol. But it sure beat up on me like nothing else before.”

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