Larry McCrayBlues singer, songwriter, and guitarist Larry McCray lost two brothers in the past two years, and a sister in 2000. But through the blues, he has found a means of dealing with his loss.

"There is something missing there, and I got to figure out a way to express what I feel about it," McCray said about the deaths of his brothers. The loss of his sister became the inspiration for his work "Picture on the Wall."

The blues have also provided the Michigan-based McCray with an avenue for dealing with other aspects of life, from family to money, he said.

"There are at least 500 shades of the blues," McCray said, echoing Gil Scott-Heron. He works with many of those shades in songs such as "Blues Is My Business," "Feel So Damn Good (I'll Be Glad When I Got the Blues)," "Soul Shine," and "Don't Need No Woman Like That."

Sugar Pie DeSantoJames Brown was known as the Godfather of Soul, but his other nickname was "the hardest-working man in show business." Sugar Pie DeSanto is known as the female James Brown because of the way she works a stage, even at 73.

"What an honor, you know, to be the lady James Brown," Sugar Pie said in a recent phone interview. "Because I was cuttin' up and I still cut up - if you know what I mean. I was getting down, all right? And with God's help I will still be getting down 'til I don't want to sing anymore. Wait 'til I'm 85 and they push me on-stage in a wheelchair - 'And here she is!' - and I bet I'll be mastering that wheelchair, having it spinning and everything!"

Dee AlexanderIntroduced to jazz at an early age by her mother, singer/songwriter Dee Alexander grew up with "the classics." In a recent interview, Alexander said, "I used to ask [my mother], especially when she would play Billie Holiday, 'Wow, she sounds so sad... . What's wrong with her, and why is she whining about her man?'"

Fiona BoyesBlues guitarist, singer, and songwriter Fiona Boyes hasn't always been a blues musician. In our recent interview, Boyes laughed as she remembered her early musical experiences with a different instrument: the clarinet. "It was kind of ... a nerdy instrument," she said. "Maybe if I'd been given a bit of New Orleans jazz or something, I would've stuck with that instrument."

Robin RogersBlues singer/songwriter Robin Rogers has been performing professionally for the better part of 30 years and remembers where it was that she first felt the excitement of a live audience: on her elementary-school stage, in the early 1960s, performing an a cappella rendition of "What Child Is This?" for the students' Christmas pageant.

"It really had an effect on me when I heard everyone applaud," says Rogers, with a laugh, during a recent phone interview. "I thought, 'This is kinda cool.'"