The Memphis Cook Convention Centerwas packed with blues musicians, fans, and music-world luminaries on May 9th anxious to see who would be announced as winners at the 40th Annual Blues Music Awards. For the second consecutive year, Little Steven Van Zandt emceed the festivities, with such notable musicians as Maria Muldaur, Latimore, Colin Linden, Scott Barnhart, Colin James, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Victor Wainwright serving as presenters. Besides awarding honors in 25 categories, the BMAs, as is its tradition, featured performances from many nominees, with the gala ending in jubilant all-star jam.
The night’s joyful celebration, however, also held a note of sadness. This year’s top award winner was Michael Ledbetter, who passed away in January. Ledbetter was honored with the Instrumentalist-Vocals award and named B.B. King Entertainer of the Yearwhile his group, The Welch-Ledbetter Connection, were victors as the Band of the Year. Additionally, his co-bandleader, Monster Mike Welch, topped the Instrumentalist-Guitar category. At the ceremony, Welch noted of his late musical partner: “I am the guitarist I am in 2019 because I had to keep up with Mike Ledbetter.”
Shemekia Copeland earned two BMAs for her acclaimed album America’s Child, which was first recognized as Contemporary Blues Album and then took home top honors as Album of the Year. The evening’s only other double winner was Danielle Nicole, who took home theInstrumentalist-Bass and Contemporary Blues Female Artist honors. Ruthie Foster was the sole musician to retain their title as she again received the Koko Taylor Award for Traditional Blues Female Artist. Cedric Burnside and Kenny Neal, meanwhile, re-gained their 2017 crowns for Instrumentalist-Drums and Contemporary Blues Male Artist, respectively.
Amanda Fish, whose album Free was proclaimed the Best Emerging Artist Album, followed in the footsteps of her sister Samantha, last year’s Contemporary Blues Female Artist recipient. Eric Gales (Blues Rock Artist), Dennis Gruenling (Instrumentalist-Harmonica), Vanessa Collier (Instrumentalist-Horn), Annika Chambers (Soul Blues Female Artist) also made their debuts as BMA awardees, while Billy F Gibbons, of ZZ Top fame, won Blues Rock Album for The Big Bad Blues.
The road to winning a BMA was far longer for Nick Moss (Traditional Blues Male Artist) and Sugaray Rayford (Soul Blues Male Artist), whose triumphs came after years of nominations. Although Johnny Rawls had won before, he had been nominated more than a dozen times between receiving the Soul Blues Album prize in 2010 and this year for the aptly titled I’m Still Around.
Several musicians added to their collections of BMA honors. Rory Block was picked as the top Acoustic Artist and the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year went to Marcia Ball. Buddy Guy, the all-time leader in BMA awards, had his release, The Blues Is Alive and Well, chosen the best Traditional Blues Album. Guy was not the only victorious Blues Hall of Famer this year. Joe Louis Walker won in the Acoustic Album category for Journeys to the Heart of the Blues, a project he did with Bruce Katz and Giles Robson. Charlie Musselwhite, who ranks with Guy among prolific BMA winners, had his collaboration with first-time winner Ben Harper on Harper’s tune “No Mercy in This Land” honored as Song of the Year.
Here is the complete list of Blues Music Award winners (final)
- Acoustic Album: Journeys to the Heart of the Blues – Joe Louis Walker/Bruce Katz/Giles Robson
- Acoustic Artist: Rory Block
- 3.Album:America’s Child – Shemekia Copeland
- B.B. King Entertainer: Michael Ledbetter
- Band: Welch-Ledbetter Connection
- Best Emerging Artist Album: Free –Amanda Fish
- Blues Rock Album: The Big Bad Blues –Billy F Gibbons
- Blues Rock Artist: Eric Gales
- Contemporary Blues Album:America’s Child – Shemekia Copeland
- Contemporary Blues Female Artist: Danielle Nicole
- Contemporary Blues Male Artist: Kenny Neal
- Instrumentalist-Bass: Danielle Nicole
- Instrumentalist-Drums: Cedric Burnside
- Instrumentalist-Guitar: Monster Mike Welch
- Instrumentalist-Harmonica: Dennis Gruenling
- Instrumentalist-Horn: Vanessa Collier
- Instrumentalist- Pinetop Perkins Piano Player: Marcia Ball
- Instrumentalist-Vocals: Michael Ledbetter
- Song: “No Mercy In This Land” Written By Ben Harper and Performed by Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite
- Soul Blues Album: I’m Still Around – Johnny Rawls
- Soul Blues Female Artist: Annika Chambers
- Soul Blues Male Artist:Sugaray Rayford
- Traditional Blues Album: The Blues is Alive and Well – Buddy Guy
- Koko Taylor Award for Traditional Blues Female Artist: Ruthie Foster
- Traditional Blues Male Artist: Nick Moss