Guy Davis always figured he'd wind up on stage one way or another. After all, both his parents had found success performing. The son of actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee remembers with a laugh the times he'd perform for his family by doing little else than waving around a diaper.
"When I was little I just knew I wanted to be in front of people," he said. "Thank God, I had some musical talent."
Davis grew up to become an actor and blues musician. He has played on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" and "A Prairie Home Companion." He's toured with Jethro Tull and acted on Broadway. Yet for all the large stages he's performed on, he still returns to the smaller crowds, giving workshops on the blues for school-age kids.
He's in Beaufort this week for a residency at Beaufort Academy and a concert Saturday night at the school. The concert is part of ARTworks' "Bridging Cultures & Generations Through Music" program.
Davis has a connection to the South on both sides of his family, his mother's parents lived at some point in South Carolina. Davis never lived down South but always heard tales from his grandparents.
"I come from a family of storytellers," he said.
His parents, noted as groundbreaking African-American actors, never explicitly encouraged or discouraged his showbiz interest. But he never doubted his future. Music and theater were ever-present in his childhood. Stories were there, too, many coming in the Southern accent of his grandmother. He has said that cadence has influenced his sound as a blues musician.
His latest release, "The Adventures of Fishy Waters: In Bed with the Blues," is an audio play in which Davis slides into the role of an aging hobo. It's the mix of storytelling, music and theater that combines his influences growing up. Or, as he puts it, "It's an attempt to release my inner Garrison Keillor."
Davis started off more as an actor than a musician. He appeared in the 1980s homage to hip-hop culture, "Beat Street," with Rae Dawn Chong, and he played Dr. Josh Hall on "One Life to Live." He appeared on Broadway in the Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston-penned "Mule Bone." By the mid-1990s his attention switched more toward music. He's released an album just about every year over the past decade; NPR named 2004's "Legacy" as one of the best of the year.
He takes time to teach students about the blues to give the music to another generation, he said. Like the stories once told to him, he now passes on his knowledge.
"Blues is alive because people are alive to play it. That's how it gets passed on," he said. "The kids seeing the process of the blues, that's what matters."