With an expansive list of nominees whose music stretches across genres, The Blues Foundation’s 42nd Annual Blues Music Awards (BMA) will reflect the widening influence of blues music and blues artists.
Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Elvin Bishop of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Dion are each BMA nominees this year. Silkroad Ensemble Artistic Director and trained opera singer Rhiannon Giddens is contending for the Koko Taylor Award for Traditional Blues Female Artist, while Bernard Purdie, the legendary sideman for James Brown and Aretha Franklin among others, is competing for top drummer honors. The Soul Blues Album category includes That’s What I Heard by Blues Hall of Fame inductee Robert Cray, recipient of the Americana Music Lifetime Achievement Award. The exciting new music presented by these and other BMA nominees reveal the genre’s evolution and vitality.
Topping the nomination chart this year again are Rick Estrin & the Nightcats with five nominations; they also led last year with six nominations. Estrin is up for the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year, Instrumentalist Harmonica (which he won last year), and Contemporary Blues Male Artist categories. He is also credited as songwriter with Frank Bey, Kathy Murray, and Nightcats guitarist Kid Andersen for Bey’s Song of the Year entrant All My Dues Are Paid. Andersen, additionally, is battling for the best guitarist honors while Nightcats drummer Derrick “D’Mar” Martin ranks among the top drummer contestants.
Five is the lucky number for Sugar Ray & the Bluetones. The group squares off against Estrin & the Nightcats for the Band of the Year award along with Anthony Geraci's Boston Blues Allstars, John Németh & the Blue Dreamers, and Southern Avenue. Sugar Ray Norcia is competing for Traditional Blues Male Artist and Instrumentalist Vocals honors, while the Bluetones’ Too Far From the Bar is up for Album of the Year and Traditional Blues Album. Furthermore, Bluetones’ Michael "Mudcat" Ward and Anthony Geraci are nominated for Instrumentalist Bassist and Instrumentalist Piano (Pinetop Perkins Piano Player Award); the two, moreover, play together in Geraci’s Boston Blues Allstars.
Challenging Estrin for the highly competitive B.B. King Award are last year’s winner Sugaray Rayford, multi-BMA winner Lil’ Ed Williams, Shemekia Copeland, and Németh. Németh and Copeland also face off in the Contemporary Blues Album category. Németh’s other nods are for Instrumentalist Vocals, Soul Blues Male Artist, and, with the Blue Dreamers, Band of the Year. Copeland is also vying for Contemporary Female Blues Artist, Contemporary Blues Album and Album of the Year.
The 2021 BMA’s 25 categories include a number of well-known acts, both in and out of the blues world. The Blues Rock Album contenders include the long-running band Savoy Brown, while guitar ace Kenny Wayne Shepherd is a Blues Rock Artist award hopeful. Last year’s Blues Hall of Fame inductee Bettye LaVette hopes to hang on to her Soul Blues Female Artist title, and her fellow 2020 Blues Hall of Famer Billy Branch faces Fabulous Thunderbird frontman Kim Wilson in both the Traditional Blues Male Artist and Instrumentalist Harmonica categories. Multi-BMA winner Ruthie Foster is up for Instrumentalist Vocals and Contemporary Blues Female Artist; the latter category contains acclaimed performers Samantha Fish, Sue Foley, Shaun Murphy, and Copeland. Another highly competitive category, Acoustic Blues Artist, features Harrison Kennedy, Dom Flemons, Catfish Keith, Keb’ Mo’ and last year’s victor, Doug MacLeod.
This year’s nominees also illustrate how blues artists traverse generations, with ages spanning seven decades. Ninety-two-year-old Jimmy Johnson’s Every Day of Your Life is among Traditional Blues Album selections. With 150 years between them, Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite have also been nominated in the Traditional Album category with 100 Years of Blues; the album is also up for Album of the Year. Eighty-seven-year-old Bobby Rush received doubled nominations for Rawer Than Raw for Album of the Year and Acoustic Album of the Year, while 81-year-old William Bell is a Soul Blues Male Artist contender. Dion is one of the first-timers along with younger colleagues like Richard Ray Farrell (Acoustic Blues Album); Kat Riggins (Contemporary Blues Album); and Sonny Green (Soul Blues Album). Youth ruled at the 2020 BMAs as 21-year-old Christone “Kingfish” Ingram came away the big winner, taking home five awards. This year, he will hope to be crowned again as top guitarist and Contemporary Blues Male Artist. Andrew Alli, “King” Solomon Hicks, Jose Ramirez, Ryan Perry, and Betty Fox Band comprise a quartet of talented up-and-coming blues stars aspiring to follow in Ingram’s footsteps by winning Best Emerging Artist Album.
Widely recognized as the highest honor bestowed by the blues community, the BMAs applaud the past year’s exceptional achievements in blues music recording, performance, and songwriting, as well as supporting the blues’ rich cultural traditions. The 42nd Annual BMA program will be presented as a virtual event on June 6, 2021 starting at 4 p.m. CT. The world is invited to watch the celebration, which will be live-streamed on The Blues Foundation’s Facebook page and its YouTube channel at no charge.
Only members of The Blues Foundation can vote for the BMAs. Voting opens on January 28 and closes March 12 at 11:59 p.m. CT. Blues Foundation membership costs as little as $25 per year. Visit www.BLUES.org and click on “Join” to learn about membership, donations, and to help keep the blues thriving around the world.
Major funding for the 2021 Blues Music Awards provided by ArtsMemphis, BMI, the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise LLC, Memphis Tourism and the Tennessee Arts Commission. *Confirmed as of January 27, 2021
The complete list of Blues Music Award nominees can be found below and on The Blues Foundation’s website —www.blues.org