MEMPHIS, Tenn. – May 11, 2018 — The 39th annual Blues Music Awards became a one-year anniversary party for Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ as their acclaimed collaboration TajMo, released on May 4, 2017, picked up both Album of the Year and Contemporary Blues Album honours at The Blues Foundation ceremony hosted on May 10.
Taj Mahal also was also named the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year and best Acoustic Artist, while Keb’ Mo’ was chosen as best Contemporary Blues Male Artist.
Rick Estrin was the night’s other big multi-award winner. Estrin, who had garnered the most BMA nominations with eight, was selected best Traditional Blues Male Artist, his song “The Blues Ain’t Going Nowhere” won Song of the Year, and Rick Estrin & the Nightcats earned the Band of the Year honours.
Little Steven Van Zandt was the host for the festivities presented at Memphis’ Cook Convention Center and he also served as one of the evening’s award presenters along with musicians as Tony Joe White, Joe Louis Walker, Candi Staton, Janiva Magness, David Porter, and Ruthie Foster. Van Zandt capped off the night by joining guitarist Mike Zito on stage for the show’s closer.
Mike Zito also was picked as the best Blues Rock Artist, which was one of the two new categories that the Blues Foundation added to the Blues Music Awards this year. The other new category, best Instrumentalist-Vocals, was nabbed by Beth Hart.
Ruthie Foster not only was a presenter but a winner too of the Koko Taylor Award for Traditional Blues Female Artist. Blues guitarist, Samantha Fish, was chosen Best Contemporary Female Blues Artist, while Mavis Staples retained her title as Soul Blues Female Artist.
The Soul Blues Male Artist winner also was a returnee from last year, Curtis Salgado. Victor Wainwright, similarly, held on to the Pinetop Perkins Piano Award for Instrumentalist–Piano, a title he has won four of the last six years.
Doug MacLeod, the Acoustic Artist award winner the last two years, topped the Acoustic Album category this year for Break the Chain.
The other best album honours went to Walter Trout’s We’re All In This Together for Rock Blues Album, Monster Mike Welch and Mike Ledbetter’s Right Place, Right Time for Traditional Blues Album, and Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm’s self-titled effort for Soul Blues Album.
Wainwright and Hart’s fellow winners in the Instrumentalist categories were Trombone Shorty as Horn Player of the Year, Michael “Mudcat” Ward as Bass Player of the Year, Tony Braunagel as Drummer of the Year, Jason Ricci as Harmonica Player of the Year, and Ronnie Earl as Guitarist of the Year.
This year’s winner for best Historical Album was Ruf Recordings’ Luther Allison compilation A Legend Never Dies, Essential Recordings 1976-1997, while the Best Emerging Artist Album went to hometown band Southern Avenue for their eponymous debut on Stax Records.
Many of the nominees and winners also performed at the awards, including Keb’ Mo’, Rick Estrin & the Nightcats, Walter Trout, Southern Avenue, Monster Mike Welch & Mike Ledbetter Band, North Mississippi Allstars, Guy Davis, Vanessa Collier, Larkin Poe, and The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra featuring Vaneese Thomas, Trudy Lynn, Sugaray Rayford and Wee Willie Walker.
The Blues Foundation points out that half of the performances on the BMA stage were led by artists who are under the age of 45, with many still in their 20s and 30s.
Blues Foundation President and CEO Barbara Newman reports, “We are watching the trends closely, and the blues, as a genre, is definitely on an uptick, with younger musicians being drawn to create and play this style of music and a continually growing following of the music on our social media outlets and beyond.”
The complete list of Blues Music Award winners:
1. Acoustic Album: Break the Chain – Doug MacLeod
2. Acoustic Artist: Taj Mahal
3. Album: TajMo – Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’
4. B.B. King Entertainer: Taj Mahal
5. Band: Rick Estrin & the Nightcats
6. Best Emerging Artist Album: Southern Avenue – Southern Avenue
7. Contemporary Blues Album: TajMo – Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’
8. Contemporary Blues Female Artist: Samantha Fish
9. Contemporary Blues Male Artist: Keb’ Mo’
10. Historical: A Legend Never Dies, Essential Recordings 1976-1997 – Luther Allison (Ruf Recordings)
11. Instrumentalist-Vocalist: Beth Hart
12. Instrumentalist-Bass: Michael “Mudcat” Ward
13. Instrumentalist-Drums: Tony Braunagel
14. Instrumentalist-Guitar: Ronnie Earl
15. Instrumentalist-Harmonica: Jason Ricci
16. Instrumentalist-Horn: Trombone Shorty
17. Pinetop Perkins Piano Player (Instrumentalist – Piano): Victor Wainwright
18. Koko Taylor Award (Traditional Blues Female): Ruthie Foster
19. Rock Blues Album: We’re All In This Together – Walter Trout
20. Rock Blues Artist: Mike Zito
21. Song: “The Blues Ain’t Going Nowhere” written by Rick Estrin and performed by Rick Estrin
22. Soul Blues Album: Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm – Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm
23. Soul Blues Female Artist: Mavis Staples
24. Soul Blues Male Artist: Curtis Salgado
25. Traditional Blues Album: Right Place, Right Time – Mike Welch and Mike Ledbetter
26. Traditional Blues Male Artist: Rick Estrin
Mavis Staples’ father, the late guitar great Roebuck “Pops” Staples, was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame at a separate ceremony on Wednesday evening. This year’s other new members included the incomparable drummer Sam Lay; the renowned blues pianist and songwriter Georgia Tom Dorsey; acclaimed Chicago blues band The Aces; the first “Queen of the Blues,” singer Mamie Smith; and, in a non-musician category, Al Benson, the legendary Chicago disc jockey, promoter and music entrepreneur. The historic recordings honoured by the Blues Hall of Fame were Ma Rainey’s “See See Rider Blues,” Albert King’s “Cross Cut Saw,” Joe Turner’s “Roll ‘Em Pete,” Booker T. & the MG’s’ “Green Onions,” and Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man,” while B.B. King’s 1967 album Blues Is King was this year’s Classic of Blues Recording Album entrant. Additionally, the Bob Riesman authoritative 2011 biography I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy was inducted as 2018’s Classic of Blues Literature selection.
The Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Week also contained a variety of special events, including a Little Steven concert, a special meet-and-greet with painter Michael P. Maness (whose art is currently on display in the Blues Hall of Fame Museum), a Bob Porter book signing, a Recording Academy luncheon, free health screenings hosted by the Blues Foundation’s HART Fund, and a jam session fundraiser that followed the Induction ceremony.
As Little Steven said in his introductory speech, “At a time our country is more segregated than at any time in the past 100 years, music holds us together and touches all our souls.”