Christone "Kingfish" Ingram Performs At The Observatory North Park
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 07: Christone “Kingfish” Ingram performs on stage at The Observatory North Park on March 07, 2024 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

Born of suffering and struggle, the blues has transcended its origins to influence the foundation of American popular music from jazz to pop, R&B to rock ’n’ roll.

“I would have to say that it is very healthy at this point,” Kimberly Horton, president and CEO of The Blues Foundation, said. “We have a lot of young musicians that are coming up and coming out that are willing – and looking forward – to carrying the torch that is being handed down to them.”

Once the domain of wizened Black stalwarts, a new generation of devotees is emerging and engaged with an expanding audience. At the 45th annual Blues Music Awards May 9, 25-year-old Grammy winner Christone “Kingfish” Ingram claimed four trophies including Album of the Year for Live in London. Ingram told Pollstar he was thankful for “all the voters in the foundation for giving us that recognition. And I really appreciate it.”
Horton commented that music lovers “have come into the realization that the music that is out today – whether it be R&B, pop or rap – was derived from the blues in some shape, form or fashion,” said Horton. “So many hip-hoppers now are sampling music that includes the traditional blues. It really is cool after all.”

The blues went through an identity crisis. People assumed it was sad or outdated. Young people hesitated to embrace music that was associated with slavery and oppression.
“Now with so many of the cool artists sampling it, it makes it a little easier for the younger generation to accept,” offered Horton.

Legacy performers are still in demand with Taj Mahal, 81; Bobby Rush, 91; and Buddy Guy, 87, touring and performing. With streaming services and easy access to early recordings the audience has grown.

“They are embracing it and enjoying it,” said Horton. “Everybody likes the blues, they just don’t know that they like the blues. People don’t know until they hear it.”

The Memphis-based Blues Foundation was created in 1980 with the aim of preserving the genre’s history, celebrating excellence and supporting education. The Blues Music Awards honors the diverse styles under the blues umbrella including contemporary, soul blues, traditional, acoustic blues and blues rock.

“The blues is a small family, but a big family,” Horton explained. “Just because I don’t play bass 1-4-5 does not mean what I’m playing is not the blues. We include all of it.”
A cornerstone is The Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame, which has more than 400 inductees in five categories including performer, individual and classic blues album, single and literature.

The 2024 class introduced on May 8 included performers Sugar Pie DeSanto, Lurrie Bell, Lil’ Ed and The Blues Imperials, Odetta, Jimmy Rushing, Scrapper Blackwell and O.V. Wright.

In 2015, the Foundation launched the Blues Hall of Fame Museum with exhibits including Pee Wee Crayton’s Fender Stratocaster, Donald “Duck” Dunn’s Lakland electric bass, Matt “Guitar” Murphy’s McHugh guitar, Bettye LaVette’s Kennedy Center Honors performance outfit and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s stage kimono.

Leading up to the Blues Music Awards, the Foundation unveiled the museum’s new AI hologram with 2009 Blues Hall of famer Taj Mahal answering questions, playing and interacting with visitors. “People are coming from all over to visit with the hologram,” said Horton.

The Foundation supports blues around the globe via a network of 200 affiliate blues societies.

“There is a beautiful young wave of younger African-American artists that are leading the change for equity in the blues,” said Atiba Berkley, president of the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society in Greensboro, North Carolina, and a member of the Foundation’s 13-member board of directors.

The Blues Foundation also hosts the International Blues Challenge (Jan. 7-11, 2025) with performances by artists who competed at the affiliate level before being selected to compete in Memphis. This year there were representatives from the U.S., Korea, Turkey and the Philippines.

“The future of the blues is here to stay,” said Horton. “We live it every day. It’s in us and it is something that we need to embrace and hold on to and make sure that it is preserved, and the history and heritage of it is preserved.

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