Purvis Young’s Miami neighborhood of Overtown was called “Colored Town” during the Jim Crow era, when African Americans were prohibited from entering white neighborhoods without worker ID cards. During this period, the district provided a home base for visiting jazz and blues musicians, including Josephine Baker, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday, who played prominent venues in Miami Beach, but could not stay in its segregated hotels.
Young appreciated music all his life: “I listen to old rock, jazz, blues. A melody is what you listen to, to get new ideas.” Blues City shows three crying men with saxophones surrounded by a jumble of apartment buildings that appear to be falling down or moving in time with the music. Whether the protagonists are haloed angels with trumpets or simply humans with musical horns, the imagery suggests that the impoverished inner city both fosters and the blues and is animated by them. —Timothy Anglin Burgard