Blues Awards-Memphis

Always one of the most magical nights of the year in Memphis, Tennessee, the Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Awards recently attracted an international crowd of people who gathered to celebrate their collective love for the blues.

On an already-steamy mid-May night at the Cook Convention Center, there was only shoulder-to-shoulder standing room during the cocktail reception immediately preceding the awards ceremony. Some escaped outside to the smoking deck overlooking the Mississippi River. There, a woman in a tight sequined dress and cowboy hat held court at her table with a young man dressed in full Scottish garb—kilt and lace-up brogans.

Inside, blue-blooded Southern belles wearing sheer shoulder wraps over evening gowns sipped cocktails and chatted with men sporting piercings and pompadours, dreadlocks and designer suits. Across the room, Delta bluesman Blind Mississippi Morris talked up a Stax stalwart.

As the cavernous ballroom began to fill with people anxiously awaiting the night’s ceremony and concert—not to mention a Memphis-appropriate dinner of barbecued ribs, catfish, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, and elevated platters of sugar cookies—the band on stage began the welcome. Blues stalwarts Otis Taylor, Guy Davis, and Don Vappie performed the classic "Come On In, Sit Right Down," vocalized by the ever-growling Alvin Youngblood Hart. A banjo added a touch of hillbilly bluegrass and Mississippi Delta field music to the surprisingly genteel ensemble.

But gentility soon made way for sparks, as a plucky cast of characters known as the Steve Edmonson Band took the stage. Featuring Jackie Payne, Frankie Lee, Trudy Lynn, Johnny Rawls, and the inimitable Sugar Pie DeSanto, the band blazed through half a song before DeSanto appeared.

Blues Awards-Memphis

Bound in a skin-tight black velvet dress and ropes of pearls, DeSanto greeted the crowd by telling them they were about to hear a song from a woman of class. The singer, comedienne, and dancer—who began her career in San Francisco in ’55 recording for Federal Records—then launched into a number that had her swiveling her hips like a burlesque queen and asking, "Is she as hot as me at 71?" They might have been the words of an ancient song, but DeSanto clearly wanted the audience to know that her gumption belies her age. This was ever more evident when she prowled the front of the stage, even launching into an over-the-head full tumble mid-song.

Blues Awards-Memphis

Up next was New Orleans Queen of Soul, Irma Thomas—who later in the evening was awarded with the Soul Blues Female Artist of the Year and Soul Blues Album of the Year—no small feat given that Thomas was nominated along with such luminaries as the aforementioned DeSanto, the otherworldly Bettye LaVette, and icon for all ages Mavis Staples. An impassioned Thomas spoke about losing her New Orleans home and nightclub during Hurricane Katrina. Then, with her lyrics on the piano of accompanist Marcia Ball, Thomas explained that she was about to perform a recently recorded song that she’d never sung live. She asked the crowd to bear with her if she began to cry. She then delivered her prayer and anthem, "Shelter From the Rain," and while she didn’t break down into tears, some people in the audience did.

This was just the beginning of the six-hour Blues Music Awards, which were broadcast live on XM Satellite Radio, and will later air as a PBS television special.

One by one, blues legends Watermelon Slim, Bobby Rush, Barbara Blue, Tab Benoit, John Mayall, Pinetop Perkins, Charlie Musselwhite, and others took the stage, and between awards presentations, filled the room with the sweet, soulful sound of the blues.

For more information about the 2007 Blues Music Awards, please visit

The full list of 2007 award winners is:

  • Comeback Album of the Year: Jerry Lee Lewis—Last Man Standing
  • Traditional Blues Male Artist of the Year: Robert Lockwood, Jr.
  • Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year: Etta James
  • Acoustic Artist of the Year: David "Honeyboy" Edwards
  • Acoustic Album of the Year: Rory Block—The Lady and Mr. Johnson
  • Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year: Marcia Ball
  • Instrumentalist-Guitar: Hubert Sumlin
  • Soul Blues Male Artist of the Year: Bobby Rush
  • Soul Blues Female Artist of the Year: Irma Thomas
  • Soul Blues Album of the Year: Irma Thomas—After the Rain
  • Historical Album of the Year: John Lee Hooker—Hooker
  • Contemporary Blues Album of the Year: Guitar Shorty—We the People
  • Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year: Janiva Magness
  • Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year: Tab Benoit
  • Instrumentalist-Harmonica: Charlie Musselwhite
  • Instrumentalist-Bass: Mookie Brill
  • Instrumentalist-Drums: Willie "Big Eyes" Smith
  • Instrumentalist-Horn: Eddie Shaw
  • Instrumentalist-Other: Robert Randolph
  • Best New Artist Debut: Slick Ballinger—Mississippi Soul
  • Song of the Year: "Church is Out"—Charlie Musselwhite
  • Traditional Blues Album of the Year: Charlie Musselwhite—Delta Hardware
  • Album of the Year: Charlie Musselwhite—Delta Hardware
  • Band of the Year: Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials
  • B.B. King Entertainer of the Year: Tab Benoit


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