Founded in 1995, the Atlanta Blues Society promotes and preserves the blues through an innovative Blues in the Schools program, a weekly blues calendar, charitable events, monthly support of the Blue Flame Fund to assist blues musicians in need, and partnerships with Atlanta’s KBA awarded clubs, Darwin’s and Blind Willie’s. Since its inception, the ABS has grown to 400 members and has attracted 30 local sponsors. In addition to creating paying gigs for local bands, the ABS works with local music camps, providing scholarships for young musicians. The society also supports its IBC contestants each year by filming and recording all acts who compete and giving each entry their recorded set in hi-def video and mixed down multi-track audio, and the ABS winners receive as much studio time as needed to record a master disc, all free of charge. Perhaps most importantly, the ABS supports sustainable and popular charitable events including Blues Stotts, which raises money for cystic fibrosis care and research in memory of founding ABS member Larry Stotts. The ABS is particularly proud of its Georgia Blues & Roots Festival, its Georgia Music Legends Award, and its annual Toys for Tots drive.
Organized in 2008, Croatian Blues Forces, a founding member of the European Blues Union, got its start when blues aficionado Drazen Buhin, the secretary of the Croatian Musicians Union, arranged for representation of Croatia at the first European Blues Conference, held that year in Parma, Italy. In June 2009, CBF sent its first musician to compete in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Later that year, CBF held its Croatian Blues Challenge following the model and rules of the IBC, and in January 2010, CBF sent the winners in both the solo/duo and band categories to Memphis. Every year since, CBF has conducted a Croatian Blues Challenge and sent representatives in both categories to the IBC. Ensuring the future of blues music in Croatia, CBF has sent representatives to the Youth Showcase three times, in 2013, 2014, and 2017. In cooperation with record labels Spona and Croatia Records, CBF has produced nine blues releases, with four more being finalized. CBF continues to support Blues in the Schools programs, both locally and internationally, produces local blues concerts throughout the year, and has either started or helped produce a number of blues festivals across Croatia.
Sarah French is the leading blues publicist in Canada. Her hard work, dedication, and experience in the music industry have earned her a reputation as the go-to publicist for Canadian musicians. In addition to an extensive current client roster of some of the best in Canadian blues and roots music, French has worked with 2010 KBA recipient Richard Flohil, Stony Plains Records, and late musician Jeff Healey. She represents several Juno Award and Maple Blues Award winners and nominees. For the past nine years, French has been responsible for the publicity for Canada’s national blues awards gala, the Maple Blues Awards, held each year in Toronto. She is also an active member of the Toronto Blues Society’s board of directors. A goal of French’s is to let the world know that Canadians have their own blues, and there are many blues music fans and musicians in the country who support and promote the music. Another goal is to help younger music fans discover blues music and how the blues has influenced today’s popular music.
Don “Don O.” Ottensman has been playing the blues on KNON-FM, Dallas’s noncommercial 55,000-watt radio station, for 35 years. Ottensman’s show has been one of the biggest fundraisers during the station’s pledge drive for over 30 years. He has interviewed dozens of artists and blues celebrities for his show, including B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Little Milton, Denise LaSalle, Sonny Rhodes, Johnny Copeland, Jimmy Rogers, Sam Myers, and many more. On his radio show, musicians such as Larry Garner, Joe Louis Walker, Tutu Jones, and more were interviewed and played on the radio for the first time or very early in their careers. For 33 years he has produced an annual Freddie King birthday tribute and was part of the team that arranged for Gov. Ann Richards to declare Freddie King Day in the state of Texas on September 3, 1993. In 2002, he organized Dallas-Fort Worth Blues History Week around the 65th Anniversary of Robert Johnson’s Dallas recording session.
Blues Alive Festival, the oldest blues festival in the Czech Republic, was established in Sumperk in 1996. In the festival’s first years, performances were limited to Czech blues bands only. Later, acts from Slovakia and Germany and then the rest of Europe and the USA were added to the annual lineup. Soon Blues Alive became a major event not only for Czech blues fans but for blues fans from around the world. The roster of performing artists has included the Holmes Brothers, C.J. Chenier, Louisiana Red, Hubert Sumlin, Cephas & Wiggins, Joe Louis Walker, Sue Foley, Curtis Salgado, James Cotton, Lurrie Bell, Johnny Winter, Guitar Shorty, Shemekia Copeland, Nikki Hill, Maria Muldaur, Billy Branch, Lucky Peterson, Mark Hummel, Anson Funderburgh, Otis Taylor, Rick Estrin, Walter Wolfman Washington, John Németh, Mike Zito, Warren Haynes, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Samantha Fish, Otis Taylor, Jonny Lang, and many more. Beginning sixteen years ago, the festival added a final performance in Chorzow, Poland, to further expand its reach. On this special weekend in November each year, fans from around the world come together to celebrate the blues.
Swedish blues photographer Hans Ekestang has been capturing the blues through his impressive photography since 1971. He has devoted the better part of his life to traveling internationally to create a superior catalog of photographs, having attended blues festivals across Scandinavia, Europe, and the United States. His subjects have included blues legends B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Luther Allison, among countless others. 2008 Keeping the Blues Alive Award recipient Jefferson magazine has been featuring Ekestang’s images for over 45 years, with Ekestang providing his photos at no charge to ensure that they are seen by a broad public. His photographs have also been exhibited at numerous public events in Sweden, further educating the public about the blues. A 196-page book of his blues and R&B photos, Great Feelings and Meetings, has recently been published in Sweden and warmly welcomed by blues enthusiasts. Hans Ekestang has a unique talent for catching the moment and expressing the feelings of these artists on stage. His aim is to evoke the same feelings in anyone looking at the pictures.
Jean Guillermo’s passion is keeping the blues alive in France, and he has put thousands of hours into this endeavor. He is one of the six founding members of the European Blues Union and has served as both board member and vice president. In 2011 he helped found the French national blues society, France Blues, and has served as both vice president and president. He has spent his life dedicated to promoting blues music and blues musicians throughout France, Europe, and the world by facilitating relationships between festival promoters, radio stations and deejays, venues and clubs, magazines and print media, and the artists themselves. He founded and managed, as a full-time volunteer, a 17-day, multi-city blues festival with a mix of evening performances by blues musicians and daytime Blues in the Schools activities. He has brought blues music into all levels of education, from primary schools through universities, and to senior care centers, homeless shelters, jails and prisons, and hospitals. In 2018 he was honored by the European Blues Union with a Blues Behind the Scenes Award.
Catfood Records owner Bob Trenchard has worked in the music business for over 50 years in a variety of roles. Originally linked with Johnny Rawls and Kay Kay and the Rays as a bass player, songwriter, and producer, Trenchard launched Catfood Records in 2001 with the Rays’ Texas Justice CD. The Rays went on to record several albums for Catfood with Johnny Rawls, Barbara Carr, Otis Clay, James Armstrong, Jackie Johnson, Daunielle, Sandy Carroll, Dave Keller, and others. Catfood artists have won Living Blues Southern Soul Album of the Year four times, and five albums have made Downbeat Magazine Critics’ Best Albums of the Year List. In addition, Catfood artists have been nominated for Blues Blast Magazine Music Awards and received nine BMA nominations. Trenchard’s service to the blues and to his community does not stop with his work for Catfood. He has served on The Blues Foundation’s Board of Directors and is President of the Trenchard Foundation, which has awarded 33 college scholarships to students in West Texas and New Mexico. In 2016, when his youngest son, Trey, died, Trenchard partnered with the University of Nebraska Foundation to ensure that his family’s support would continue in perpetuity through the Trenchard Institute of Excellence college scholarship program.
Since 1996, Lewis Mashburn’s Capitol Oyster Bar in Montgomery, Alabama, has been a dedicated supporter of live blues. The club is one of the premier venues in the South to showcase and promote top blues artists from across the United States. Mashburn’s passion for the blues is evident in the way he and his staff treat both artists and patrons. Everyone who visits or plays at the Capital Oyster Bar is treated with great respect and warm hospitality. A sampling of artists who have performed over the years includes Bobby Rush, Charlie Musselwhite, Marcia Ball, Eddie Shaw, Bob Margolin, Watermelon Slim, Johnny Rawls, Golden State Lone Star Revue, Duke Robillard, John Primer, Bobby Blue Bland, Magic Slim and the Teardrops, Super Chikan, the Kinsey Report, Rory Block, and Jarekus Singleton. Lewis Mashburn and his club have helped build one of the most thriving blues scenes in the South. The Capital Oyster Bar exists for the music, cares for the musicians, and treats everyone like family.
Jesse Finkelstein has been keeping the blues alive for decades as the producer and host of Blues Radio International and co-founder of the Shining Stone Music Group. Blues Radio International is the world’s only weekly worldwide shortwave blues music broadcast streaming simultaneously on the internet. Rather than play only recorded music, Blues Radio International features exclusive live performances and interviews with top blues artists and others in the industry. Blues Radio International is heard by a vast audience that no other existing blues radio show, internet stream, or domestic broadcast has ever reached. It has confirmed listeners in nearly 200 countries, and its powerful shortwave radio signal reaches every continent. People listen to Blues Radio International not only on the internet but most importantly, the half of the world where there is no internet. Some listeners live in refugee camps or in extreme poverty. Others live in war zones or countries that restrict internet access. Jesse Finkelstein has personally provided all the funding for the international transmissions of Blues Radio International. Rather than accept contributions, he has asked instead that all donations be directed to The Blues Foundation to support its mission. Blues Radio International continues to strive to keep the blues alive through Jesse Finkelstein’s commitment and dedication to the genre.
Since 1981, when he saw one of Muddy Waters’ last road performances, Tom Hyslop has been obsessed with the blues. It has been suggested that he has more CDs than most music stores or radio stations. Hyslop has been a staff writer and contributing editor for both Blues Revue and Blues Music Magazine. He has written liner notes as well as hundreds of CD reviews, and has conducted interviews with blues musicians for more than 20 years, with articles on Big Jack Johnson, Gary Clark Jr., Magic Slim, Rick Estrin, Nikki Hill, Nick Moss, John Németh, John Primer, Jody Williams, Li’l Ed Williams, and many others. Hyslop has also contributed year-end best-of lists for Blues Music Magazine and Blues Junction Productions for several years. He has been a talent-buying consultant for the Marquette (Michigan) Area Blues Fest for almost all of its 15-year existence, and for a short time he booked a Marquette restaurant and club, bringing artists such as Johnny Rawls, Phillip Walker, Sean Costello, and Eddie C. Campbell, among others, to his very small hometown. Hyslop has also been a supporter of and organized two successful fundraisers for the Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research.