Satin Doll

Third Ward singer Jewel Brown once worked for both Louis Armstrong and Jack Ruby.

Decked out in magnificent gowns she chose herself at places like La Bianca on Seventh Avenue in New York City, Brown toured the world with Armstrong from 1961 to 1968, when the jazz legend fell ill. She began to work on her own in places like Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, but in 1971, her mother's condition worsened and she suddenly retired.

"I just felt like Daddy needed my help with so much," says Brown.

She took an interest in her brother's hair salon on Dowling and worked there for 15 years. She also opened a successful insurance brokerage. After Brown's father passed away, she began to take a few special gigs just to keep active, working with the famous Heritage Hall Jazz Band.

Last year Dialtone Records owner Eddie Stout approached Brown. He told her he was putting together a session for a new album by Milton Hopkins, Lightnin' Hopkins's cousin. The result, Milton Hopkins & Jewel Brown, is a mix of romping blues covers that includes "Jerry," a tune Brown sang with Armstrong, as well as other blues chestnuts like "Daddy, Daddy," Little Willie John's "I'm Shakin'," and Lightnin's "I'm Leaving You Now."

Hopkins and Brown are part of a large Houston contingent performing this week at the Chicago Blues Festival as part of a tribute honoring Lightnin's 100th birthday.

Besides last month's Jazz Fest, Jewel also recently played one of the strangest gigs of her career, a birthday party in Russia.

"We flew into Moscow, then we drove out to this very secluded place in a bus," she explains. "I'd never seen a place like this, not in Paris, not in River Oaks, nowhere. I mean, it was fancy. And there was so much security, machine guns everywhere."

She eventually discovered she was singing to a mixed-gender crowd of 50 people, and Russian President Vladimir Putin was in the audience.

"Just like that party, music has taken me a lot of places," Brown reminisces. "But the sad thing about Houston is, if you're going to make a living in music, you've got to go somewhere else. All the greats — Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Milt Larkin, hundreds of people — they had to leave Houston to make a living playing music. It's sad, but it's a fact."

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