Four Chicago bluesmen, a Mississippi juke joint king, a blues queen, and a folk-blues icon are those being inducted into The Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame, 43rd class. Those honored have made the Blues timeless through performance, documentation, and recording. Since its inception in 1980, The Blues Foundation has inducted new members annually into the Blues Hall of Fame for their historical contribution, impact, and overall influence on the Blues. Members are inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in five categories: Performers, Individuals, Classic of Blues Literature, Classic of Blues Recording (Song), and Classic of Blues Recording (Album). The Blues Foundation has inducted over 400 industry professionals, recordings, and literature into the Blues Hall of Fame.
MEET THE CLASS OF 2023
Carey Bell took his place in the lineage of Chicago blues harp masters in the 1970s, following in the footsteps of his mentors, Big Walter Horton and Little Walter Jacobs. In addition to recording his albums, he was Chicago's go-to harmonica player on over 100 sessions backing such artists as Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Louisiana Red, Jimmy Rogers, Eddy Clearwater, and many others. His Alligator CD, Good Luck Man, won a W.C. Handy Award in 1998, the same year he was elected Traditional Male Blues Artist of the Year, following several previous nominations.
Junior Kimbrough became a nationally renowned blues icon known for his unique style and his role as potentate at his own Juke, Junior's Place. He was influenced by Mississippi Fred McDowell and his friend, R.L. Burnside. His music appeared in the documentary Deep Blues, and he released albums for Philwood, Highwater, and Fat Possum. His bands typically included some of his sons and younger members of the Burnside family. The Black Keys, Iggy Pop & the Stooges, Daft Punk, and the North Mississippi Allstars have covered his songs.
Esther Phillips was a 13-year-old prodigy, singing very adult, saucy blues with the legendary Johnny Otis. Called "the indisputable queen of the blues" by the famed music critic Leonard Feather, Esther, a devotee of Dina Washington, could deliver blues, R&B, soul, jazz, pop, and even country songs with honesty and conviction. With Johnny Otis, she recorded three consecutive No 1 R&B hits in 1950 for the Savoy label. One of her biggest hits, "Release Me." led to a contract with Atlantic Records, followed by a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance of 1972.
John Primer cut his teeth singing in church and playing a handmade one-string guitar. He earned his pedigree in blues playing with Blues Hall of Famers Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and Magic Slim. Guitar wizard Sammy Lawhorn mentored him, and he was known as a first-call sideman in Chicago, recording with James Cotton, Jimmy Rogers, John Brim, Eddie Shaw, and many more, along with live recordings with Muddy, Big Mama Thornton, and others. Subsequently, Willie Dixon invited Primer to join his Chicago Blues All Stars, and when Muddy Waters needed a new band in 1980, Primer found himself playing with one of his lifelong idols until Muddy's death. He recorded for Austrian label Wolf Records, Earwig, Code Blue (Atlantic), Telarc, and Blues House Productions. Primer has been a perennial nominee and frequent victor in the Traditional Blues categories of the Blues Music Awards, Living Blues Awards, and other honors programs. His latest CD project, released in February 2023, is a tribute to Magic Slim.
Snooky Pryor was Born in rural Mississippi in 1919. He's considered one of the pioneers of the classic Chicago blues of the post-World War II era. He became one of the first harp players to amplify his sound with electricity. His first recordings were for Planet. J.O.B., Parrot, and Vee-Jay, and he also recorded for the Today label, Big Bear, Blind Pig, Antone's, Wolf, Electro-Fi, and others. Pryor made some historic recordings for several Chicago labels, including Boogie (Snooky and Moody's Boogie), a predecessor to Little Walter's massive hit Juke, and Judgment Day (later revived by British rockers the Pretty Things and Eric Clapton),
Josh White transitioned from a career as a Piedmont blues artist to a unique and integral voice in the folk music world of the 1940s. His induction into the Blues Hall of Fame and concurrent honors as Folk Alliance International's 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient are finally shining the spotlight on an icon whose many contributions have too often been forgotten or overlooked. Unfortunately, his protest songs and leftist associations led to a blacklisting during the McCarthy anti-Communist era. He incorporated Tin Pan Alley hits, pop tunes, work songs, and folk ballads from various sources. His most popular number, "One Meat Ball," was a big hit when covered by the Andrews Sisters, and many listeners heard "House of the Rising Sun" for the first time through White. His 1949 release, Ballads and Blues on Decca, was the first blues record to be released in a newly introduced format – the 33 rpm L.P. He recorded for Mercury, Columbia, ABC-Paramount, Blue Note, Elektra, Vanguard, and labels in France, the U.K., Italy, and Denmark.
Fenton Robinson practiced an erudite brand of blues hailed by musicians, critics, and discerning audiences worldwide. However, he rarely enjoyed wide public acclaim with greater concentration than his audience usually gave him. He was a performer, songwriter, and teacher. He backed Junior Wells, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Otis Rush and recorded for USA, Giant and Palos, Stage 7. He also recorded two critically acclaimed albums for Alligator, including the Blues Hall of Fame LP I Hear Some Blues Downstairs.
INDIVIDUALS - BUSINESS, PRODUCTION, MEDIA, ACADEMIC
David Evans scholarly research and his fieldwork in Mississippi, Louisiana, and other states formed the basis for a plethora of publications, recordings, liner notes, and lectures. He has been the recipient of multiple research grants, academic honors, and awards, including two Grammys for liner notes. He graduated from Harvard before earning degrees in folklore and mythology at UCLA and teaching at California State-Fullerton. His film and video work includes a Mississippi fife and drum documentary and an instructional video on the guitar style of Tommy Johnson, while his radio resume is highlighted by two long-running shows he hosted in Memphis on WEVL. Evans has served as a series editor at the University Press of Mississippi since 1996. The series numbers over 100 books, including The Original Blues, this year’s Blues Hall of Fame honoree in the Classics of Blues Literature category, and his latest book, Going Up the Country: Adventures in Blues Fieldwork in the 1960s.
Little Walter: The Complete Chess Masters is 2023’s Classic Blues Recording: Album. Hip-O’s 5-CD, 126-track compilation of one of the most influential Blues harmonica players, is true blues treasure trove.
There are five Classic of Blues Recording: Singles receiving Hall of Fame induction: Lowell Fulson's 1965 recording, “Black Nights,” Freddy King’s 1961 hit, “I’m Tore Down,” “Mojo Hand,” released by LIghtnin’ Hopkins in 1960, “My Black Mama” released by Son House in 1930 and the Howlin’ Wolf classic, “Little Red Rooster.”
Entering the Blues Hall of Fame as a Classic of Blues Literature is The Original Blues: The Emergence of the Blues in African American Vaudeville 1899-1926, by Lynn Abbott & Doug Seroff chonicles the minstrel and ragtime traditions in vaudeville theatre that was major public venue for Blues in its early years.
For the complete bios and descriptions of all inductees, click here.
THE BLUES FOUNDATIONS 2023 BLUES HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES
Individuals – Business, Production, Media, Academic
Classic of Blues Literature
The Original Blues: The Emergence of the Blues in African American Vaudeville 1899-1926,
by Lynn Abbott & Doug Seroff (University Press of Mississippi, 2017)
Classic of Blues Recording - Album
Little Walter: The Complete Chess Masters (1950-1967) (Hip-O Select, 2009)
Classics of Blues Recording – Single or Album Track
"Black Nights" -- Lowell Fulson (Kent, 1965)
"I'm Tore Down" -- Freddy King, Federal, 1961)
"Mojo Hand" -- Lightnin' Hopkins (Fire, 1960)
"My Black Mama" -- Son House (Paramount, 1930)
"The Red Rooster" (Little Red Rooster) -- Howlin' Wolf (Chess, 1961)
The Blues Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, held in conjunction with the Blues Music Awards, will occur on Wednesday, May 10, 2023, at the Halloran Centre (225 S. Main St., Memphis). A cocktail reception honoring the BHOF Inductees and Blues Music Awards nominees will begin at 5:30 p.m., with the formal inductions commencing at 6:30 p.m. in the Halloran Theater. Tickets, including the ceremony and reception, are $75 each and available with Blues Music Awards tickets.
The Blues Hall of Fame Museum will showcase several special items representing the 2023 class of inductees. These artifacts will be on display for public viewing beginning the first week of May and will remain on view for visitor enjoyment for the next 12 months.
Museum visitors can also explore the permanent exhibits and individualized galleries that showcase an unmatched selection of album covers, photographs, historical awards, unique art, musical instruments, costumes, and other one-of-a-kind memorabilia. In addition, interactive displays allow guests to hear the music, watch the videos, and read the stories about each Blues Hall of Fames over 400 inductees.
The museum's current exhibit in the upstairs gallery is Chroma in Blues, featuring the paintings of Joel Libby. Libby calls his technique "painterly pop art," referencing his bold and rough brushwork and the genre made popular by artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. His work has been featured in various galleries and displayed in multiple permanent collections, including that of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY; the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, IL; and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA.
The museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays with hours listed here. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for students with I.D.; free for children 12 and younger and Blues Foundation members. Membership is available for as little as $25 per person; to join, visit Blues.org. The Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame Museum is at 421 South Main Street in Memphis, TN.
Blues Hall of Fame biographies and descriptions were researched and written by Living Blues magazine co-founder Jim O’Neal (bluesoterica.com) with thanks to Bob Eagle and David Evans.
The Blues Foundation's partners and sponsors include ArtsMemphis, Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, Memphis Tourism, Tennessee Arts Commission, and BMI,