Blues Music Awards Nominees Announced

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The nominees for the 39th Annual Blues Music Awards have been announced, with stalwarts of the genre such as Taj Mahal, Mavis Staples, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Keb’ Mo’ among those vying for the honors.

The nominees, according to a press release, “represent a prestigious collection of acclaimed performers and rising stars that reflect the breadth and diversity of today’s blues music scene.”

The Blues Foundation will present the 39th Annual Blues Music Awards on May 10 at 7 p.m. at the Memphis Cook Convention Center. All tickets can be purchased at now. The Awards show, says the announcement, “is a premier event for blues musicians, professionals, and fans around the globe because not only do almost all the nominees attend the ceremony but they typically perform at it too.”

Leading the nomination pack for this year’s BMAs is harmonica wizard Rick Estrin. With his group the Nightcats, Estrin is up for Band of the Year, as well as Album of the Year and Traditional Blues Album for Groovin’ in Greaseland. Estrin, a past BMA winner, also is up for Traditional Blues Male Artist, Best Instrumentalist: Harmonica, B.B. King Entertainer of the Year and Song of the Year for his tune “The Blues Ain’t Going Nowhere.” Additionally, Nightcats’ guitarist Christoffer “Kid” Andersen is among the Instrumentalist-Guitar contenders.

Mavis Staples

Related: Mavis Staples was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame last year

The B.B. King Entertainer of the Year and Song of the Year categories look to be hotly contested because they feature acts with multiple nominations. Don Bryant (four nominations) and Wee Willie Walker (five noms) are contenders in both categories. Estrin, meanwhile, faces the duo Mike Ledbetter and Monster Mike Welch for Album of the Year, Traditional Blues Album and Band of the Year. Ledbetter also is a B.B. King Entertainer of the Year contender and is in the running for Contemporary Blues Male Artist and Instrumentalist–Vocals, while Welch ranks among the Instrumentalist–Guitar finalists. Another multiple nominee, the North Mississippi All-Stars, will battle Estrin and Ledbetter & Welch for Band of the Year and are competing for Song of the Year and Rock Blues Album honors too.

This year, the Blues Foundation will be handing out 26 BMAs as they have added a pair of new categories. There now is a Blues Rock Artist of the Year award to go along with Blues Rock Album of the Year. Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Mike Zito, Walter Trout, Jason Ricci and Eric Gales are all candidates for this honor. The other new category is Instrumentalist-Vocals, which will honor the great voices that make songs so memorable. Beth Hart, Don Bryant, John Nemeth, Michael Ledbetter, Sugaray Rayford and Wee Willie Walker compose this category’s impressive list of performers.

Several winners from last year’s BMAs are back among 2018’s nominees. Curtis Salgado, a triple winner in 2017, will try to retain his Soul Blues Male Artist award, while Diunna Greenleaf and Lurrie Bell, the reigning Female and Male Traditional Blues Artists respectively, are returnees in those categories. Bobby Rush, who took home Best Album and Best Historical Album honors last year, is one of the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year candidates. 2017’s Acoustic Artist of the Year Doug MacLeod now is an Acoustic Album of the Year nominee. Multiple BMA winner Kim Wilson will attempt to hold on to his Instrumental: Harmonica crown in conjunction with nominations for Traditional Blues Album, Blues and Boogie Vol.1, and Traditional Blues Male Artist while another multi-BMA honoree Victor Wainwright has a chance to win the Instrumentalist Pinetop Perkins Piano Player again.

The Best Emerging Artist Album category offers a snapshot of blues’ multi-generational, geographically diverse appeal. Nominees include a couple of young acts: the Southern multi-instrumentalist blues duo Larkin Poe composed of the Atlanta-bred, Nashville-based Lovell Sisters, and Southern Avenue, a power-packed Memphis band whose debut disc came out on their hometown Stax Records. The Altered Five Blues Band, Miss Freddye and Tas Cru are regional success stories (Milwaukee, Buffalo, and Upstate New York, respectively) that are attracting more attention in the music world. Lastly, there’s the second-ever album from R.L. Boyce, who has lived, and made music, in Mississippi’s Hill Country for over five decades.

John Lee Hooker photographed in San Francisco, CA April 3, 1992© Jay Blakesberg

Blues’ vibrant heritage is wonderfully demonstrated in the five choices for Historical Album of the Year. Live at Notodden ’97 presents a previously unissued Norwegian blues festival live recording that captures the Paul deLay Band in their prime. Sony Legacy’s American Epic: The Collection soundtrack fills five discs with blues and all sorts of other Americana sounds from the acclaimed PBS TV series. Commemorating the 20th anniversary of his death, Luther Allison: A Legend Never Dies 1976-1997 represents Ruf Records’ comprehensive Luther Allison boxed set, boasting seven CDs and four DVDs. Craft Records compiled 100 John Lee Hooker songs (including rarities, live recordings and several previously unreleased tracks) into King of the Boogie to celebrate Hooker’s centennial anniversary. Craft also put together Mr. Luck: The Complete Vee-Jay Singles, a 3-CD feast of Jimmy Reed’s work from the early 1950s through the mid-1960s.

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Listen to a track from Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’s duets album TajMo

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