For many years now, I have been attending the Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Awards ceremony in Memphis, Tennessee, both as a blues fan and as a professional member of the blues music business. I strongly encourage fans of blues music and just plain, great music in general to attend this important event.
The event has been the first or second Thursday night in May for as long as I can remember. In its early days it was called the W.C. Handy Awards. For all events put on by the Blues Foundation, including how to buy tickets to the Blues Music Awards Show, go to www.blues.org
The Blues Equivalent of the Grammy Awards Ceremony
What is so special about this event? Here are 12 reasons to make the trek to this auspicious annual event.
1. Tons of Blues Music & Artist Award Categories
This event celebrates and honors outstanding blues musicians in 24 categories. The Grammy Awards has only 2 categories for blues music – Contemporary and Traditional.
2017 Blues Music Awards Categories
- Acoustic Album
- Acoustic Artist
- B.B. King Entertainer
- Best Emerging Artist Album
- Contemporary Blues Album
- Contemporary Blues Female Artist
- Contemporary Blues Male Artist
- Historical Album
- Koko Taylor Award (Traditional Blues Female Artist)
- Pinetop Perkins Piano Player
- Rock Blues Album
- Soul Blues Album
- Soul Blues Female Artist
- Soul Blues Male Artist
- Traditional Blues Album
- Traditional Blues Male Artist
2. Awesome Blues Performances
Each award category has a nominee performing for 15 minutes. So the show has a ton of great performers.
3. Great Opportunities to Meet New Friends & Associates in the Blues Industry
In the lobby outside the awards ceremony hall, many of the musicians
, and lots of fans and blues industry folks, hang out and schmooze. There are lots of photo opportunities here as well as a chance to converse, make new contacts
and have a drink (which you can also do inside the awards show hall)!
4. Blues Memorabilia Auction
While the awards ceremony is going on there is a silent auction of great blues memorabilia, including items like blues CD bundles from labels, fine art prints, posters, autographed books and photographs, and other cool stuff.
5. The Blues Hall of Fame Induction
The night before the Blues Music Awards is the Blues Hall of Fame Induction. This ceremony is very special, as living and deceased legendary musicians, as well as classic blues recordings, books and music industry folks, get honored and inducted.
This year I have the privilege of talking about legendary blues guitarist Willie Lee “Guitar” Johnson, who played in Howlin’ Wolf’s band in the early 1950s and on Wolf’s early recordings. Willie is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential electric guitarists of all time. I am giving a short speech about Willie because I produced his last recordings and booked his final gigs.
6. Local Memphis Blue’s Museums & Exhibits
While in town for the Blues Music Awards it’s always great to spend a few hours at each of the exhibit halls on and within a few blocks of Beale Street.
One of my favorites is the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame
which opened 2 years ago and is only a short walk off Beale Street at 421 S. Main Street. During the day you can go hang out there for a few hours looking at the exhibits and listening to the inductees’ music in sound booths. It’s a pretty cool place. You can even get your picture taken sitting next to a life size brass statue of guitarist Little Milton Campbell out on the front bench.
Other local museum favorites include:
7. Beale Street Clubs & Gigs
After the Blues Hall of Fame Induction and Blues Music Awards ceremonies Beale Street is jumping with blues bands of varying styles at almost every club. In addition to seeing all the musicians at the awards ceremony, many of them have gigs at the Beale Street clubs.
And then there is the Queen of Beale Street Barbara Blue at Silky O’Sullivans
. Tell here I sent you! She and I got to know each other while we were judging a round of the International Blues Challenge together and found out that we were both from Pittsburgh, PA. Small world!
8. Beale Street Music Festival
If you have time to spend two weekends in Memphis, the weekend of May 5-7 is the fabulous Beale Street Music Festival
, which always has a diverse lineup.
9. A Quick Trip to Clarksdale, Mississippi
Clarksdale, Mississippi, on the north end of the Mississippi Delta, is only 65 miles south of Memphis on Highway 61. I go there every year after the Blues Music Awards to see my friends, to hang out with blues friends from all over the world and to hear great music at:
- Red’s Juke Joint
- Ground Zero Blues Club
- Cathead (the source of information for all blues events and sights around town)
- Hopson Plantation venues
- And other music joints
10. Southern Food at its Finest
Yet another reason to go to the Blues Music Awards and hang around a few days is the opportunity to eat great Southern cooking. Some of the best barbecue and red beans and rice are available in Memphis at nearly all the Beale Street clubs and elsewhere in Memphis. Some favorites are:
11. Blues Graveyards & Historical Markers
If you are big on visiting blues musicians’ gravesites and reading historical markers there are a bunch around Memphis and all over Mississippi. Check out http://msbluestrail.org/blues_marker_list
for more information and ideas.
In my travels over the last few years I have visited the graves of:
12. More Blues & Music Lover Museums
In addition to the museums around Memphis, within one to two hours from Clarksdale are four world-class museums on American Music. I’d suggest that you visit:
I hope you get the chance to make it the Blues Music Awards and Blues Hall of Fame Induction in the coming years to honor some of the greatest artists and industry folks contributing to the blues scene. Please make sure to say hello!