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Blues Hall Of Fame Inducts Aretha Franklin, Seminal Recordings & The "Greatest Drummer In the World"
For a genre with as rich of a history as the blues, the honor of becoming a Hall of Famer is that much more prestigious. On May 8, artists, industry professionals, and fans gathered in Memphis, Tenn., to induct this year's class into the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame, a class comprised of blues legends, historic recordings and more.
The ceremony, held at the Orpheum Theater’s Halloran Centre for Performing Arts & Education, was one of the kickoff events for the foundation’s Blues Music Awards Week, highlighted by the 40th anniversary Blues Music Awards held the following night at the Cook Convention Center. The reverent yet celebratory tone of the night was set by the event co-hosts, GRAMMY winner Dom Flemons, who was nominated at the BMAs for his GRAMMY-nominated solo album Black Cowboys, and longtime blues radio personality Bill Wax.
CONGRATULATIONS to the 40th BLUES HALL of FAME class inducted tonight in Memphis!
2019 inductees include Aretha Franklin, Booker T. & the MG’s, Count Basie, Ida Cox, Pee Wee Crayton and Moe Asch plus recordings by Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Elmore James. pic.twitter.com/fpIjuwpcOa
— Blues Foundation / Blues Hall of Fame (@BluesFoundation) May 9, 2019
In all the foundation inducted five performers, one non-performer, five songs, one album, and one book of blues literature into the hall of fame, which was established in 1980. In addition to plaques commemorating their induction, all the honorees are featured in new exhibits in the $2.9 million Blues Hall of Fame, opened in 2015 in the foundation’s downtown Memphis headquarters.
“If you visit you will see such exciting artifacts as [new inductees] Pee Wee Crayton's red Fender Stratocaster, Booker T. & the MGs' Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy, Duck Dunn’s bass, and original blues albums and single recordings,” Barbara Newman, head of the 40-year-old Blues Foundation, told the audience.
The induction of Rock-and-Roll Hall of Famers Booker T & the MGs, the legendary house band at Memphis’ Stax Records, by their label mate, soul singer William Bell, was one of the highlights of the evening, with the group’s guitarist, Steve Cropper, giving a tearful tribute to his departed bandmates Donald “Duck” Dunn, Lewie Steinberg and Al Jackson, Jr.
“Duck and I always said Al was the greatest drummer in the world. If you don’t believe it watch some of the videos sometime. He was the greatest R&B drummer I ever worked with," Cropper said, calling out another R&B traps legend in attendance, Bernard Purdie, for confirmation. “I know he was a big fan of Al Jackson’s just like we were.”
Purdie was also singled out in the induction of Aretha Franklin, the recently deceased GRAMMY Legend and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient for whom he played on such classics as “Rock Steady.” Accepting for her family, Franklin’s cousin and longtime backup singer Brenda Corbett highlighted the bluesier side of the Memphis-born Queen of Soul’s catalog, including “Today I Sing the Blues” off of her first album.
“On behalf of the Franklin family we want to thank you for your love, for your generosity, but mostly for your respect,” Corbett said, echoing the title of Franklin’s best-known song.
The business of the blues has its heroes, too. On this night celebrating the genres great trailblazers and champions, 87-year-old Recording Academy National Trustees Award recipient Chris Strachwitz of the legendary roots label Arhoolie inducting his friend and business partner, the late Moses “Moe” Asch, founder of Folkways Recordings.
The Blues Hall Of Fame also singled out singles in this year's class. Blues guitarist Bob Margolin inducting “Rollin’ Stone,” a recording by his one-time boss, inaugural Blues Hall of Fame inductee Muddy Waters, with Waters’ son, bluesman Joseph “Mojo” Morganfield accepting. The song birthed the namesake of both Rolling Stone magazine and legendary British rockers the Rolling Stones.
Other inductees included big band leader and nine-time GRAMMY winner Count Basie, Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Bessie Smith’s recording of “St. Louis Blues,” slide guitar great Elmore James’ recording of “Shake Your Moneymaker” and his album The Sky Is Crying. The following night at the 40th annual Blues Music Awards, "Shake your Moneymaker" would serve as a fitting finale with Reverend Peyton’s Big Band backing saxophonist Mindi Abair, Flemons, Cropper, and the E Street Band's Steven Van Zandt.
Just days prior to the four-year anniversary of his passing, 15-time GRAMMY winner B.B. King’s recording of “Every Day I Have the Blues” was inducted. Pioneer blues singer Ida Cox, 17-time GRAMMY winner Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman,” the book Lost Delta Found: Rediscovering the Fisk University-Library of Congress Coahoma County Study, 1941-1942, and Connie Curtis “Pee Wee” Crayton were also honored, rounding out an astounding class of 2019 and an unforgettable night in Memphis.
For more information, including a complete of the more than 300 inductees into the Blues Hall of Fame, visit blues.org.