Recording Academy Memphis Chapter hosts a reception celebrating the 2018 Blues Music Awards; Photo: Greg Campbell/WireImage.com
Keb' Mo', Taj Mahal, Samantha Fish, Mavis Staples: 2018 Blues Music Awards
Taj Mahal and Keb' Mo' are riding a steady wave of blues momentum. The dynamic duo emerged as the big winners at the 2018 Blues Music Awards on May 10, taking home Album of the Year honors for their acclaimed TajMo project. This recognition follows their shared GRAMMY win for Best Contemporary Blues Album at the 60th GRAMMY Awards.
At the Blues Awards, TajMo also captured Contemporary Blues Album honors. In addition to their joint wins, Mahal won Acoustic Artist and B.B. Entertainer of the Year while Keb' Mo' took Contemporary Blues Male Artist.
"It's a great honor," says Mo'. "I don't know what to say. I'm just really surprised."
Designed as a showcase of the year's best in blues recordings and performances, the annual Memphis, Tenn.-based celebration doled out 26 awards. Like the GRAMMY Awards' American Roots Field, which includes awards for contemporary and traditional blues, the Blues Music Awards recognize the artists who have helped bridge blues' storied lineage and those who are pushing the genre into an exciting future.
Surely an apt title for the awards, "The Blues Ain't Going Nowhere" by Rick Estrin & The Nightcats picked up Song of the Year honors. The band also earned Band of the Year and Estrin, a master harmonica player, took home Traditional Blues Male Artist.
Blues/soul band Southern Avenue — comprising five young musicians, fronted by Tierinii Jackson — picked up Best Emerging Artist Album for their eponymous 2017 debut album. Released on the legendary Stax label, the LP has been likened to a breath of fresh air for the genre with its own unique blend of gospel-tinged R&B vocals, roots/blues-based guitar work and soul-inspired songwriting.
A star surely on the rise, Samantha Fish earned Contemporary Blues Female Artist honors. In 2017 the Kansas City, Mo., native released Belle Of The West, an LP produced by Luther Dickinson that authentically incorporates blues, Americana and country elements.
A trio of formidable blues women were also recognized. GRAMMY nominee Beth Hart, who can wail and sing as quiet as a feather, was honored with Instrumentalist — Vocals. The legendary Mavis Staples took home Soul Blues Female Artist and Ruthie Foster won the Koko Taylor (Traditional Blues Female Artist) award.
Host Steven Van Zandt lent an enthusiastic voice to the event, showing his respect and support for the genre that started it all.
"Whether it's soul music or rock music, it's all kind of based in the blues," said Van Zandt. He went on to talk about how the music serves to get more young people involved. "It's putting a lot of instruments in kids hands, and the more of that we can do the better."
On the day prior to the awards, the Blues Hall of Fame induction ceremony took place, honoring performers, music industry professionals and recordings of stature.
"The Blues Hall of Fame is the pinnacle honor for anyone who's worked in or performed in the blues industry," says Barbara Newman, president and CEO of The Blues Foundation. "It is an honor of a lifetime of achievement in blues."
Performers inducted into the blues hall this year included the Aces, Georgia Tom Dorsey, Sam Lay, Mamie Smith, and Roebuck "Pops" Staples. Among the recordings recognized were B.B. King's 1967 album, Blues Is King, Bo Diddley's "I'm A Man," Joe Turner's "Roll 'Em Pete," and the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame-inducted "Green Onions" by Booker T. & The MG's.
In all, the action in Memphis proved the blues are more than just the foundation of the music we love — they are alive and kickin'!