When the Blues Foundation began in 1980, it held the mission of preserving and promoting blues around the world, and this year’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award honorees demonstrate just how successful the organization has been over the past four decades. The eight individuals and organizations receiving KBAs in 2023 don’t just hail from the blues traditional territory of the American South but from such far-reaching blues outposts as Denmark, Poland, and Colombia.
The KBA Awards, chosen annually by a select panel of blues professionals, salutes those who have played crucial roles in advancing the art and commerce of blues. This year’s esteemed honorees will be recognized for their achievements at the Keeping the Blues Alive Awards brunch, taking place on Friday, January 27, 2023, at 10:30 AM, in the Double Tree Hotel.
The KBA ceremony represents just one part of the Blues Foundation’s 38th Annual International Blues Challenge. The IBC Week kicks off Tuesday, January 24, 2023, with International Showcase performances on historic Beale Street, and concludes with the finals at Memphis’ Orpheum Theatre on Saturday, January 28th at 12PM.
More than 800 musicians will arrive in Memphis from all across the globe to battle for glory — along with prizes and bookings — in the International Blues Challenge, the world’s largest and most renowned blues music competition. Showcases, jams, panels, workshops, and master classes will occur daily up and down Beale Street, with the music jamming on into the wee hours after the IBC challenger performances conclude each evening.
Recipients of the 2023 Keeping the Blues Alive Awards are:
THE LITTLE VILLAGE FOUNDATION
The Little Village Foundation, formed as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2015 by Grammy-award-winning keyboardist Jim Pugh, focuses on seeking out, recording, and promoting artists whose music has not yet been discovered outside of their communities. Little Village artists all share a common goal of exposing their music to audiences they would not have otherwise reached without LVF support. All LVF artists are provided with the tools to launch a successful album at no cost. Notably, the LVF artists also own all their intellectual property, unlike artists signed to a traditional record label. Little Village arranges to record the artists, coordinates with the artist on album artwork, manufactures one thousand CDs for the artists to sell or give away as they please, hires a publicist to promote the project, and secures online distribution for the recording – all at no cost or indebtedness for the artists. Donations to Little Village cover all expenses; the artists retain one hundred percent of the proceeds from CD sales and do not need to reimburse Little Village for any costs or share of CD sales. Once an artist sells the initial thousand CDs provided by Little Village, they can continue to press as many additional copies as they like, paying only the actual cost of the CDs directly to the manufacturer. Among the fifty-one recordings released by Little Village to date, the majority are blues related, including BMA nominee Wee Willie Walker’s comeback album and later live recording, posthumous releases from Paul DeLay and Ron Thompson, and fresh recordings by Junior Watson, Diunna Greenleaf, Chris Cain, and Kevin Burt. CDs nominated for recent Blues Music Awards include albums by Tia Carroll, Memphissippi Sounds, and Sonny Green; and a special release from United By Music, an organization that supported rising blues star Christone “Kingfish’ Ingram well before his international breakout success. The Little Village Foundation offers previously unheard-of opportunities for artists and is very deserving of this Keeping the Blues Alive award.
For more than forty years, John Guregian has been spinning the blues on his radio show, Blues Deluxe, hosted on WUML-FM in Lowell, Massachusetts. Starting in 1979, when Guregian was still a student, the show aired for four hours on Saturdays. This led to a stint as blues director for the station, along with subsequent work emceeing many blues festivals and club shows. John has invited dozens of blues artists to be interviewed on Blues Deluxe, including John Hammond Jr, Luther Allison, Chris Thomas King, Johnny Winter, Kim Simmonds, Ronnie Earl, Walter Trout, Selwyn Birchwood, Kat Riggins, Coco Montoya, Rick Estrin, Joe Louis Walker, JJ Grey, Chris Cain, Curtis Salgado, Jimmy Johnson, James Harmon, and many others. Blues Deluxe is now on the air every Saturday from 3 PM. to 6 PM. at www.wuml.org. When Covid hit in 2020, Guregian expanded his interview schedule and now has live online interviews every week with artists around the world. He’s interviewed Fiona Boyes from Australia, JT Lauretson from Norway, and Ian Parker from the UK. With over four decades on the radio and a deep commitment to helping advance the visibility and careers of artists from around the country and throughout the world, Guregian is a worthy recipient of the Keeping the Blues Alive award.
Marilyn Stringer is among the most prolific photographers currently documenting the blues. An avid music fan all her life, she began covering the blues in earnest in 2006 and has since become the head photographer for some of the most prominent blues festivals in America. Her work promotes the genre worldwide through various magazines, promoters, record labels, venues, and big-name performers. Stringer estimates that she has covered more than five thousand performances over the years through her extensive travels to festivals, events, and live music clubs. Meanwhile, she has also published three books in her Blues In The 21st Century series. The proceeds from these works have been donated to various charities and organizations supporting the Blues and Blues artists. Blues In The 21st Century Volume I explored the careers of more than one hundred performers with interviews and photos. At the same time, Volume II covered ten years of images from the Portland Waterfront Blues Festival. Volume III, specifically put together during the COVID shutdown to raise money for The Blues Foundation’s COVID Relief Fund, covered the Blues Music Awards performances and related events in Memphis. She recently started her fourth book, Blues Souls, which will feature black & white photos of renowned blues performers. Notably – and in keeping with the generous spirit that she has demonstrated for years – the future proceeds of Blues Souls have been earmarked for The Blues Foundation’s HART Fund. Along with her books, Stringer has worked closely for many years with The Blues Festival Guide. Her photos appeared on six of the last seven covers of that publication. Working with Back To The Roots magazine, she has earned seven covers over the last six years. Other leading blues publications that rely on Stringer’s talent include Blues Music Magazine, Blues Blast Magazine, and Living Blues. When asked about her attitude toward her work, Stringer says, “If I am going to take these photos, I am going to share them with the world. I want the blues to stay alive and keep the excitement for these performers going. And I don’t just photograph the main person in the band; I make sure I get photos of all the performers. They are all important to me!” Such sentiments and her incredible body of work make it clear that Stringer deserves a 2023 Keeping the Blues Alive Award.
THE SIERRE BLUES FESTIVAL
In 1995, capitalizing on his deep passion for the blues, Swiss native Silvio Caldelari established the Blues Bar music club in Sierre, Switzerland, a small mountain town known as “the city of the sun.” Fourteen years later, in 2009, Caldelari and a group of dedicated volunteers further strengthened the blues scene in Switzerland by founding the Swiss Blues Society. After affiliating their new organization with The Blues Foundation, Caldelari’s group boldly decided to launch the first-ever Sierre Blues Festival. Since that inaugural event, the three-day festival has steadily grown in popularity, and today hosts internationally renowned artists such as the Mannish Boys, Ana Popovic, Playing for Change, Shemekia Copeland, Marco Pandolfi, Janiva Magness, Eric Gales, and Shakura S’Aida. In 2022, the 13th version of the Sierre Blues Festival attracted an estimated 11,000 fans by featuring popular Italian headliner Zucchero, along with regional and international talent such as Sara Zacarelli’s Nu Band, Guts, One Rusty Band, Nigeria’s Justina Lee Brown, and Emir Kosturicas & The No Smoking Orchestra. North America was well represented with a lineup that included Larkin Poe, Mike Zito & Kat Riggins, and Sugaray Rayford. Every year, the Sierre Blues Kids share the stage with blues luminaries, building on the festival’s Blues in the Schools program launched by Michael “Hawkeye” Herman and other notable blues educators. Through the years, Caldelari has continued to work with European blues leaders to nurture the European Blues Union and its partnership with The Blues Foundation. As a result of these successes and Caldelari’s energy, passion, and collaborative spirit, the Sierre Blues Festival has attracted a wide range of partners and sponsors, including Canton of Valais, the City of Sierre, Loterie Romande, the La Nouvelliste newspaper, Rhone FM radio, and a constellation of more than sixty national and local businesses, ranging from hotels and nightclubs to major Swiss and European companies. In 2020, the European Blues Union honored Caldelari with a “Blues Behind the Scenes Award,” recognizing his decades of work promoting and celebrating blues music in Switzerland. Given the longevity and ongoing success of the Sierre Blues Festival and the event’s importance to the larger European blues scene, the festival is most certainly worthy of a 2023 Keeping the Blues Alive Award.
In 1982, at age 15, Franky Bruneel started his blues radio show, Back to the Roots. His show ran on several local and national radio stations throughout Belgium, his native country, and it grew in popularity. In 1991, Franky began organizing Blues concerts and created a link that brought American artists to Europe for short tours. For over 30 years, Franky has been a tour organizer and made European bookings for many blues artists, including Carey Bell, Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers, Bob Corritore & The Rhythm Room All-Stars, Kim Wilson’s Blues Revue, Mud Morganfield, and many more. In 1995, Franky created a modest fanzine named after his old radio show, Back To The Roots. It contained Blues news and tips for new CDs. There was no Blues magazine in Belgium, and people started subscribing, and other Blues writers joined the team. What began as a radio show and a small fanzine grew into a full-fledged, glossy, 64-page, full-color Blues magazine. The magazine currently produces five issues yearly, featuring Blues News, interviews, and reviews of books, CDs, and DVDs. It has the most extensive Blues concert calendar in the Benelux, the geographic area encompassing three neighboring countries: Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. ‘Back To The Roots’ is now the only printed Blues magazine in the Dutch language and is read in Belgium and the Netherlands. It is also one of the most important Blues magazines in Europe. Franky Bruneel has acted as a consultant for festivals, helped negotiate recording agreements, and has released three compilation albums on the Back To The Roots label. His 40 years of work in the blues as a DJ, writer, photographer, editor, and publisher of his own blues magazine, website, and record label, as well as his direct work with blues artists, make him a valued resource in the worldwide blues community.
The Grammy-nominated blues journalist Ron Wynn has been writing about music for more than forty years. A brilliant writer and intellectual, as well as a living encyclopedia of the blues, Wynn began his career in the 1980s as the chief music critic for the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, where he profiled both national and regional blues greats, ranging from B.B. King and Buddy Guy to Jim Dickinson and Bobby Rush. Wynn went on to chronicle the careers of important blues artists for Boston’s Bay State Banner, Connecticut’s Bridgeport Post-Telegram, the Memphis Star, and Nashville’s City Paper. He currently writes for the Nashville Scene, the Tennessee Tribune, the Tennessee Jazz and Blues Society, and Jazz Times, as well as other publications and websites. Wynn took part in fellow Memphis journalism legend Robert Gordon’s documentary, Muddy Waters: Can’t Be Satisfied, and was interviewed for the 1994 film, Rhythm, Country & Blues. His liner notes for From Where I Stand—The Black Experience in Country Musicreceived a Grammy nomination in 1998, and in 2005, he contributed writing for the Grammy-winning compilation album Night Train to Nashville, Vol 1. Wynn has made countless appearances on panels, at conferences, and in concert programs and has contributed to three books, including Ain’t But a Few of Us: Black Music Writers Tell Their Story, slated for publication in December 2022. Since 1994, he has also worked as a beloved DJ, leading a variety of blues, soul, and gospel radio shows. Along with writing about famous blues artists, Wynn has championed up-and-coming musicians and has also told the tales of songwriters, producers, promoters, and others whose work tends to stay behind the scenes. Overall, he has had a remarkable career and penned many thousands of compelling pieces.
BLUE FRONT CAFE
Located on Highway 49 in Bentonia, Mississippi, the Blue Front Café has been the home of the great Bentonia School blues tradition since 1948, when Jimmy “Duck” Holmes’ family first opened the Café. During the Blue Front Café’s earliest years, it regularly featured performances from the likes of Henry Stuckey and Skip James, both of whom became musical mentors to Holmes. The café is still open daily and presents live blues performances every weekend, making it the oldest continually operating juke joint in the United States. The Blue Front Café is in an incredibly colorful and historic locale—well maintained and welcoming, but essentially unchanged for more than seventy years in its location across from the town’s railroad tracks. As the headquarters of the free Bentonia Blues Festival, which Holmes started in 1972 and has run ever since, the Café has become a beacon for blues fans from around the world. The beloved juke joint is also the home of its own annual anniversary celebration—a smaller festival held every September. Holmes, now 74, is regarded as a living blues legend and the leading practitioner of the distinct Bentonia style. A Mississippi Blues Trail Marker and series of videos shot at the Café for the Black Key’s Mississippi hill country-inspired album, Delta Kream, have put even more focus on the Blue Front as a musical mecca and a perfect citadel of authentic, enduring blues.
TEDDY’S JUKE JOINT
Lloyd “Teddy” Johnston, proprietor of Teddy’s Juke Joint, will tell you he’s only ever had one address. It’s here, at the end of a dirt road off Highway 61—one of the last remaining juke joints on the Chitlin’ Circuit. Teddy was born in this shotgun shack in the thick woods north of Baton Rouge. After touring the country in the 50s and the 60s as a DJ, he returned to Zachary, Louisiana in the early 70s to expand his childhood home into a bar. He allowed gospel groups to practice in the building, but when they began to form blues bands of their own and needed a place to perform, Teddy’s Bar & Lounge became Teddy’s Juke Joint. By the late 1970s, blues musicians from around the Delta and the World lined up to perform at Teddy’s. A visit to Teddy’s Juke Joint is like stepping into the past. It’s like walking back into 1979. Once a little shotgun house, Teddy’s has evolved into an “Authentic Louisiana Juke Joint.” On the walls, you’ll find old photographs, bar signs, license plates, and relics from the past. Teddy is a “Slim Harpo Ambassador” recipient of the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation and other notable recognitions by local and worldwide publications. Teddy sits behind his music throne, spinning the best of rhythm and blues, and “Nancy’s Kitchen” is always open for some of the best food you’ll ever put in your mouth. The club books world-famous and home Blues acts 2-4 nights per week, and classic spins the rest of the time. With just one visit, you will feel the warmth and hospitality of Teddy’s and will be sure to return.
ABOUT THE BLUES FOUNDATION
The Blues Foundation is a world-renowned Memphis-based organization whose mission is to preserve blues heritage, celebrate blues recording and performance, expand worldwide awareness of the blues, and ensure the future of this uniquely American art form. Founded in 1980, the Foundation has approximately 4,000 individual members and 180 affiliated blues societies representing another 50,000 fans and professionals worldwide. Its signature honors and events — the Blues Music Awards, Blues Hall of Fame Inductions, International Blues Challenge, and Keeping the Blues Alive Awards — make it the international hub of blues music. Its HART Fund provides the blues community with medical assistance for musicians in need, while Blues in the Schools programs and Generation Blues Scholarships expose new generations to blues music. The Blues Hall of Fame Museum, located in Downtown Memphis, adds the opportunity for blues lovers of all ages to interact with blues music and history. Throughout the year, the Foundation staff serves the global blues community with answers, information, and news.
IBC week will not only see performances leading up to the January 28th finals, but the Blues Foundation has also programmed a variety of seminars, showcases, master classes, film screenings, book signings, exhibits, networking events, and receptions that musicians, blues professionals, and fans can attend.
The Blues Foundation will again host health screenings for diabetes, screenings for cholesterol, PSA, Hepatitis C, and other conditions free of charge to IBC musicians and attendees. Sponsored by the Blues Foundation’s HART (Handy Artist Relief Trust) Fund, screenings will be provided on Wednesday, January 25, and Thursday, January 26, from 12 PM – 2:30 PM on the second floor of Club 152 (152 Beale Street.)
The International Blues Challenge is sponsored this year by ArtsMemphis, the Tennessee Arts Commission, Memphis Tourism, the Memphis Airport Authority, BMI®, and broadcast partner Ditty TV.
To purchase an International Blues Challenge Pass and final seating upgrades, along with tickets to the Keeping the Blues Alive Awards Brunch and Ceremony, please visit this link: IBC & KBA TICKETS
For more information about the International Blues Challenge, including the full schedule of events, IBC merchandise, and links to reserve discounted hotel rooms at The Doubletree Hotel, please visit Blues.org.