It’s a rich source of information about the current, past and future goings on in the blues world. Plus, as it says on the website, it’s “the international home of blues music.”
The Blues Foundation is based in Memphis, Tennessee. Here’s their mission statement from their website…
The Blues Foundation is Memphis-based, but world-renown as THE organization dedicated to preserving our blues music history, celebrating recording and performance excellence, supporting blues education and ensuring the future of this uniquely American art form.
Founded in 1980, The Blues Foundation has 4500 individual members and 200 affiliated local blues societies representing another 50,000 fans and professionals around the world. Its signature honors and events–the Blues Music Awards, Blues Hall of Fame, International Blues Challenge and Keeping the Blues Alive Awards–make it the international center of blues music.
Its HART Fund provides the blues community with medical assistance while its Sound Healthcare program offers musicians health insurance access. Blues in the Schools programs and Generation Blues scholarships expose new generations to blues music. Throughout the year, the Foundation staff serves the worldwide Blues community with answers, contact information and news.
The Blues Foundation has three primary activities and goals…
- The preservation of blues history
- The celebration of blues excellence
- Support of blues education
Let’s look at their activities for each area.
Preservation of Blues History
A big part of keeping the blues alive is keeping the history of blues “front-of-mind” for all blues lovers. This purely American music parallels much of the history of America in the 20th century. From the emergence of blacks as cultural and musical leaders in America, to the evolution of blues music from segregated cotton field hollers to a ultra-sophisticated, multi-dimensional, multi-ethnic form that covers many areas of instrumental and vocal expertise, the rich history of blues is compelling and inspiring.
The Blues is alive and well. New blues music and new blues musicians are coming up all the time. The new and old blues musicians on the current scene cover the complete range of ages from the youngest teen blues prodigies to the oldest veterans, approaching their 90’s. The Blues Foundation honors all by providing awards to the new and the old.
The Blues Music Awards is an annual competition, held in Memphis, that honors the best blues for the year. Commonly known as the Handy Awards, this competition picks the best musicians from many categories and attending is high on the bucket list for any blues lovers.
The International Blues Challenge (IBC) is an international affair that begins early in each blues year. Local blues societies from the Foundation’s 165 Affiliated Organizations hold their own competitions to find the best local players from their own areas. Local winners in these preliminary competitions then go to Memphis to compete against all the other winners for the International winner. The winner receives promotional opportunities including cash, gigs, and prizes. Last year’s winner was Selwyn Birchwood from the Tampa Bay area and the Suncoast Blues Society, my own local society.
For the blues to continue, new blues lovers must be brought into the fold. Once a music lover finds the blues it often becomes a lifelong love affair.
To nurture this growth, The Blues Foundation’s website, www.blues.org, maintains “a comprehensive collection of resources for Blues scholars and fans.” Included on the site are a searchable database of Blues educators and artists-in-residence, a Blues bibliography, and a collection of Blues-based curricula compiled from educators around the country.
The Foundation’s Blues In The Schools program offers educators lesson plans, articles, and resources so they can teach the rich history of the blues and how it has impacted American culture over the 120 years.
The Blues Foundation’s Impact
Given all that the Foundation does, it’s no surprise that blues lovers, through their local blues societies, depend on it to keep the blues alive and well, and growing in their lives. Without The Blues Foundation this rich part of American history could well go the way of other aspects of American culture.
If you love the blues, please join here and contribute to their Blues Hall of Fame project. And if you want to do yourself a favor, go to the Blues Music Awards in Memphis in the spring. I promise a life changing time for any blues lover. Visit their website here to learn more.