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Verbals: Suzanne Swanson

The air is heavy and humid when you arrive in Memphis, in the second week of May for the beginning of the Blues Music Awards festivities held yearly by The Blues Foundation. The Mississippi River  flows high due to snow melt running into the expansive waterway from hundreds of miles north after a stormy winter. In spite of the 80 degree F (27 C) heat, a swell of excitement exists as this is one of the busiest music weeks every year.

Events began on Monday, May 8.  If you did not have your tickets sent to you a trip to the Blues Hall of Fame on S. Main is necessary to pick up Will Call tickets and visit the museum that holds important memorabilia from all the Blues Hall Of Fame inductees.  Downstairs, there are sound booths to listen to recordings of special interest to blues buffs.  In the reception area where you are able to purchase albums, CD’s, clothing, and other items. Outside is a bench, shared with a seated bronze statue of Little Milton that was unveiled April 10, 2015. A perfect sitting for any photo buff wanting to record their visit.

As the day wears on a welcome breeze drifts lazily across the river toward bustling Beale Street, the hub of all things musical in this Delta city. Neon lights glow and dance an invitation to come, meet old and new friends, share a meal, a beverage, and experience the joy that only live music can bring.

Corky Siegel is introducing the film Born In Chicago at Malco’s Studio on the Square. Before this, the Memphis Blues Society is hosting a performance of member musicians. Afterwards, back on Beale Street, Eric Hughes Band takes one of the many stages along the row of brightly lit venues. A leisurely walk up and down the street will whet your appetite for more of the tunes that bring memories from melodies and lyrics that make an impression. If you have any energy left from your journey, the celebrations continue into the small hours of the morning.

Eating in this Delta hub is always a pleasant adventure.  There are so many fine traditions here for repeat visitors and new comers.  Some of note are;  Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken,  Alcenia’s Soul Food (breakfast and lunch, close to Sheraton host hotel), Rendezvous BBQ,   Blues City Café (Beale St), Miss Polly’s Soul City(Beale St.), Majestic Grille, Blue Plate Café Downtown (breakfast/brunch), and the Kooky Canuck. B.B. King’s Blues Club, Flight Restaurant and Wine Bar, Arcade (Elvis’s favorite), Pearl’s Oyster House, and Flying Saucer Emporium, these are around the downtown area. Many more restaurants and bars are available, depending on preferences.

Tuesday is a good day to investigate Sun Studio, Stax Museum, Graceland, Gibson Guitar, the National Civil Rights Museum, Peabody Hotel, and the Memphis Rock & Soul Museum.  Any one of these gives you a richer portrait of this music hub that has played a leading role in the history of the American Delta.

Jay Sieleman, former CEO of The Blues Foundation, along with Priscilla Hernandez, led an hour and a half walk along and over the Mississippi River. This is a wonderful idea in starting your Wednesday by walking the areas close to your hotel as this river made this city the cotton capital of the South.

Later in the early afternoon Mike Kappus, Music manager and record producer of the fabled Rosebud Agency, shared his experiences and music during the forty-plus years with the company. These included Los Lobos, The Robert Cray Band, Ben Harper, J. J. Cale, The Neville Brothers, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Trombone Shorty, Allen Toussaint, and The Staple Singers, to name a few.  He explained that Rosebud is sorting and documenting material to archive for the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis, another valued visiting spot. The evening began with the induction ceremony of the Blues Hall of Fame recipients for 2017, and this year’s honorees represented all five of the Hall of Fame’s categories:

Performers, Non-Performers, Classics of Blues Literature, Classics of Blues Recording (Song) and Classics of Blues Recording (Album) were the six chosen for induction. Included were two distinctive vocalists, Mavis Staples and Latimore; a pair of legendary guitarists, Magic Slim and Johnny Copeland along with longtime Howlin’ Wolf sidemen guitarist Willie Johnson; and piano-man Henry Gray. They will join the more than 125 Hall of Fame members. The year’s non-performer selection is Living Blues magazine co-founder and radio show host Amy van Singel, who passed away in Sept. 2016. The Classic of Blues Literature pick is the recognized Father of the Blues, W.C. Handy’s 1941 memorable autobiography. John Lee Hooker was among the Hall’s first inductees in 1980 and now his 1966 Chess album The Real Folk Blues will enter the Hall of Fame in the Classic of Blues Recording Album category. The quintet of Classic of Blues Recording songs includes Bo Diddley’s signature tune “Bo Diddley,” Tommy Tucker’s much covered classic “Hi-Heel Sneakers,” the Albert King hit “I’ll Play the Blues For You,” Son House’s “Preachin’ the Blues” and “I Ain’t Superstitious,” which features 2017 inductee Henry Gray playing on Howlin’ Wolf’s well-known 1961 recording.

This year, Big Llou’s Fifth Annual Hall of Fame Tribute Jam and Fundraiser took place at The Warehouse, south of the National Civil Rights Museum. This is a time to celebrate recent inductees.  Here, the blues icons of today perform the music that brought the recipients the acknowledgement and appreciation they deserve.

Thursday is the pinnacle of activity beginning with The Blues Foundation holding a Health Screening on the second floor of the Sheraton Downtown funded by The HART Fund. Doctors, nurses, and other health practitioners are on site for a variety of health screenings including, but not limited to, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, custom made earplugs and a lot more. The HART Fund is for blues musicians and their families in financial need due to a broad range of health concerns. The Fund provides for acute, chronic, and preventive medical and dental care and even funeral and burial expenses.

Two overlapping events took place as well. An important information meeting regarding the Recording Academy celebrating the Blues Music Awards, and legendary saxophonist Eddie Shaw’s Retirement Party.

The main event of the evening, the 38th Blues Music Awards happened at the Memphis Cook Convention Center. The program cover this year gave respect to blues women.  Bob Gray designed it. In keeping with this theme performers Terrie Odabi, Lara Price/Fiona Boyes, Nancy Wright, Vanessa Collier, Diunna Greenleaf, Janiva Magness, Thornetta David, Bettye LaVette, and Annika Chambers, thrilled the capacity audience throughout the proceedings.  Some of the other musicians who stood out were Kenny Neal, Doug MacLeod, Cedric Burnside, Nick Moss with Dennis Gruenling, Johnny Rawls, Jonn Del Toro Richardson, RW Grigsby, John Nemeth, Albert Castiglia, John Primer, Toronzo Cannon, Guy King, and several more. Hats off in praise to CEO Barbara Newman and Joe Whitmer, COO, for the musical direction, Paul Averwater, stage manager, Kyle Deibler,and Greg Johnson, assistant stage manager.

The winners of the evening for the 2017 Blues Music Awards are:                                                                        

ACOUSTIC ALBUM - The Happiest Man in the World by Eric Bibb


ALBUM - Porcupine Meat by Bobby Rush


BAND - Tedeschi Trucks Band

BEST EMERGING ARTIST ALBUM - Tengo Blues by Jonn Del Toro Richardson

CONTEMPORARY BLUES ALBUM - Bloodline by Kenny Neal



HISTORICAL ALBUM - Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History of Bobby Rush by Bobby Rush (Omnivore Recordings)






KOKO TAYLOR AWARD - Diunna Greenleaf


ROCK BLUES ALBUM - Let Me Get By by Tedeschi Trucks Band

SONG - “Walk A Mile In My Blues” Written by David Duncan, Curtis Salgado, & Mike Finnigan  

Performed by Curtis Salgado

SOUL BLUES ALBUM -The Beautiful Lowdown by Curtis Salgado


SOUL BLUES MALE -Curtis Salgado

TRADITIONAL BLUES ALBUM - Can’t Shake This Feeling by Lurrie Bell


During the In Memoriam portion, photos of over fifty notable blues music luminaries showed on a huge screen and James Cotton received a standing ovation. Sadly, many important contributors to the industry have passed in the previous months.  We can be grateful for their influences and salute the gifts that they imparted.


A distinctive bronze life-size statue to Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland was dedicated Friday morning at S. Main and Martin Luther King Jr Avenue. That afternoon, Holger Petersen of Stony Plain Records and Saturday Night Blues (CBC.ca), held a book signing of his latest release of conversations with B.B. King, Allen Toussaint, and more.


While some travelled south to Clarksdale, the sixth Annual Play-It-Forward fundraiser for The HART Fund and Generation Blues took place at the Hard Rock Café. Held before a capacity crowd, Andy T Band with Anson Funderburgh kicked off a substantial entertainment list that had Chef Jimi Patricola as presenter. At the same time, The Blues Foundation and the Beale Street Merchants Association held fort along Beale Street with a huge list of the world class Blues Music Awards nominees.  This went on until two in the morning.

Saturday, the choice was even more excellent music either in Memphis or in Clarksdale at the fifth annual Pinetop Perkins Boogie and Crawfish Boogie.

There was more than enough blues music to satisfy all attendees this year in Memphis thanks to president, Barbara Newman, and chief operating officer, Joe Whitmer, who head The Blues Foundation, and their very capable staff. Consider this as one of the most intensive, fun filled weeks for any music lover to attend. Y’all come back now and enjoy it again next year!