BLUES ALIVE AWARD
KEEPING THE BLUES ALIVE AWARD
What is the Keeping the Blues Alive Award?
Each year, The Blues Foundation presents the Keeping the Blues Alive (KBA) Awards to individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the Blues world. The Blues Foundation will present the 2023 KBA Awards at a recognition brunch as part of the International Blues Challenge (IBC) weekend of events.
Unlike the Blues Music Awards, the award recognizing the past year’s best in recordings and performances voted on by thousands of The Blues Foundation’s members, the KBAs are awarded to non-performers strictly on the basis of merit by a select panel of Blues professionals. The committee generally refrains from awarding the KBA to an individual or organization more than once. Instead, a new winner is selected each year, except in rare cases when a significant period of time has elapsed since the first award.
Affiliated organizations, past KBA recipients, and members of The Blues Foundation’s Board of Directors are eligible to submit nominations. If you know a deserving person, seek out one of those who are authorized to nominate and help them make the submission.
Nominees and recipients of the Keeping the Blues Alive Awards must be in keeping with The Blues Foundation’s values as a welcoming and inclusive organization, as reflected in our Statement Against Racism.
2023 Keeping the Blues Alive Award Recipients
John Guregian has been spinning the blues on his radio show, Blues Deluxe, on WUML-FM in Lowell, Massachusetts, for over 40 years. Starting in 1979, when John was still a student, the show aired for two hours on Saturday. The show led to John becoming the blues director at the station. John has also emceed many blues festivals and club shows over the years. John has invited dozens of blues artists to be interviewed on Blues Deluxe. 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 among many others. Blues Deluxe is now on the air every Saturday from 3 PM to 6 PM at www.wuml.org. As of 2020, coinciding with Covid, John expanded his interview schedule and now has live online interviews every week with artists around the world. These interviews are between 30 and 75 minutes in length. John has interviewed Fiona Boyes from Australia, JT Lauretson from Norway, Ian Parker from the UK, and several others. 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, John Guregian is worthy of a Keeping The Blues Alive award.
The Blue Front Café, on Highway 49 in Bentonia, MS, has been the home of the great Bentonia blues tradition since 1948, when Jimmy "Duck" Holmes' family first opened the Café and artists like Henry Stuckey and Skip James, both Jimmy's mentors, graced its stage. Today, the café is still open and running daily, presenting live blues every weekend as the longest-operating juke joint in the United States. The Café is in an incredibly colorful and historic locale—well maintained and welcoming, but essentially unchanged for more than 70 years in its location across from the town's railroad tracks. It has become a beacon for blues fans worldwide and is the home of the free Bentonia Blues Festival, which Jimmy started in 1972 and has run since. It is also the home of its yearly anniversary celebration—a smaller festival held every September. The modestly perfect citadel of authentic, enduring blues, the Blue Front Café is still operated by Jimmy, a literal living legend who, at 74, is the leading practitioner of the Bentonia style. A Mississippi Blues Trail Marker and series of recent videos for the Black Keys' new Mississippi hill country-inspired album Delta Kream that were shot at the Blue Front are putting even more focus on the Café as a musical Mecca, a modestly perfect citadel of authentic, enduring blues.
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.
Veteran, Grammy-honored blues journalist Ron Wynn has been writing about music for more than 40 years. He is a brilliant writer, a living encyclopedia of blues, and a true intellectual. In the'80s, he was the chief music critic at the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, where he profiled national and regional blues greats—from B.B. King and Buddy Guy to Jim Dickinson and Bobby Rush. Over the years, Ron has chronicled blues figures of importance for Boston's Bay State Banner, Connecticut's Bridgeport Post-Telegram, The New Memphis Star magazine, Nashville's City Paper, and currently, the Nashville Scene and the Tennessee Tribune. He's also a columnist for the Tennessee Jazz and Blues Society's website and writes for Jazz Times, among—remarkably—many other publications. Cinematically, he participated in fellow Memphis journalism legend Robert Gordon's Muddy Waters: Can't Be Satisfied and was interviewed for the 1994 movie Rhythm, Country & Blues. His liner notes for From Where I Stand—The Black Experience in Country Music were nominated for a Grammy. His work was part of the Grammy-winning Night Train to Nashville, Vol 1. compilation (covering the Nashville R&B Scene) in 2005. Ron's made countless appearances on panels, at conferences, and in concert programs and contributed to three books, including Ain't But a Few of Us: Black Music Writers Tell Their Story, coming later this year. And he's been a DJ, chairing blues, soul, and gospel shows starting in 1974. Ron has not only written about veterans but championed up-and-comers and told the tales of people behind the scenes: songwriters, producers, promoters, etc. Overall, he has had a remarkable career and penned many thousands of compelling pieces.
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.
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.
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.
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.