Annetta “Cotton Candy” Washington

Annetta Washington
Washington (Photo Credit: LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC Libraries)


As a songwriter, musician, and poet, Annetta Washington reigned almost four decades as the Queen of Kansas City Blues. Cotton Candy, as she was called, was renowned not only for her amazing talent as a musician but also as the grande dame of the region’s blues community, acting as a mentor to many of its performers.

Born on New Year’s Day 1931, Washington was raised by her grandmother and grew up in relative poverty. Her early exposure to music came from listening to the radio. In 1971, she formed a gospel group for the Fellowship Prayer Temple in Kansas City, Kansas. A decade later, she was a fixture in the Kansas City blues scene.

Washington helped found the Kansas City Blues Society in 1980. Four years later, she lost a leg to diabetes but refused to let it derail her life and music career. She and her band, Cotton Candy and So Many Men, were selected as the best blues group in Kansas City and placed third in the International Best Blues Band Contest in 1998. Meanwhile, as a member of the Amputee Coalition of America, Washington became a tireless advocate for disabled people and performed at the organization’s national convention in 2000.

Despite the financial and physical hardships she’d known, Washington often proclaimed, “I’m too blessed to be depressed.”

Amid her may accomplishments, Cotton Candy was perhaps best known as a mother figure in the Kansas City blues community, earning the nickname “Mama” among those she took under her wing. She often helped form musical groups, uniting musicians in her large social group who she thought would play well together. Washington also was generous in donating to local missions and lending her time and musical talent to numerous benefit concerts and jam sessions.

She was performing at a benefit event on December 15, 2007, when she suffered a stroke on stage. Washington died 10 days later, on Christmas Day, at age 76.