86-Year-Old Blues Legend Bobby Rush Talks Recovery After COVID-19 Scare

Bobby Rush Grammys
David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Bobby Rush attends the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards at Staples Center on Jan. 26, 2020 in Los Angeles.

Bobby Rush has "never been so nervous in my life" as when he was quarantined at home in Mississippi last month with COVID-19 symptoms.

The 86-year-old Grammy Award-winning blues veteran is back on his feet and ready to make some new music -- soon, he hopes. But he tells Billboard that he's never been as sick as he was starting in late February and has never been as scared as he was during several weeks of self-quarantine at his home in Jackson.

"It wasn't so much my life I was worried about," Rush says. "It was about my grandchildren, my great grandchildren, the nine people in my band -- everyone who depends on me. That bothered me. The whole time I was sick I thought, 'Oh God, what's gonna happen to these people around me?'"

Rush, who was born Emmett Ellis Jr., began feeling sick around Valentine's Day, when he was traveling to a concert in Chicago. "My head was hurting me, but it went away," he recalls. But two weeks later in Nashville he felt worse. "My head was killing me, and I had these chills. I couldn't get warm." Once home and after a Facebook Live performance, Rush's son, a police officer in Jackson, took him to the hospital, where he was registered a 105-degree fever that doctors guessed he'd had for several days.

"My son couldn't come in with me because I had all the symptoms of the virus," Rush says. There were no COVID-19 tests in Mississippi at the time, however; After eight hours Rush was sent home and told to quarantine himself. He was finally tested two weeks later, and it took more than 10 days to get the results -- which were negative.

"By that time (he took the test) I either didn't have it or I had it and got rid of it," Rush says. "It sure felt like I had it. I had everything you've read about -- everything but (losing) sense of smell, sense of taste. I never lost those, but I didn't have an appetite. I had everything else. It's the sickest I've ever been in my life."

Rush used some of his time in quarantine to catalog tapes and songs he had amassed. "I wanted to clean up some of this stuff for everybody, just in case anything happened to me," he says. Rush is looking forward to getting back into the studio, with plans for an acoustic album and "to do some more blues" to follow up his 2019 release Sitting on Top of the Blues. And he is left grateful for the support he received after his illness was announced two weeks ago.

"It was overwhelming," he says. "So many people were concerned about me and reached out and showed their love for me. I never knew I'd receive that. That really helped me get through it, I'll tell ya."

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