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Aretha Franklin, Booker T. & the MGs, And Count Basie Will Be Inducted Into the Blues Hall of Fame

The Blues Foundation salutes its milestone 40th class of Blues Hall of Fame inductees with a special ceremony at the Halloran Centre for the Performing Arts and Education in Memphis on May 8. This year’s 13 honorees represent all five of the Blues Hall of Fame’s categories: Performers, Non-Performing Individuals, Classics of Blues Literature, Classics of Blues Recording (Song), and Classics of Blues Recording (Album).

The five performers entering the Blues Hall of Fame this year reflect the breadth of the blues’ influence. The legendary singer Aretha Franklin has been hailed as the Queen of Soul, but the blues is very much a foundation of her music. Count Basie busted out of the blues-rich Kansas City music world to become the King of Swing, and the blues certainly proved fundamental to his sound. Ida Cox rose to fame in the 1920s during the classic vaudeville blues era. Dubbed “The Uncrowned Queen of Blues,” Cox might not be as well-known as her peers Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, but she has achieved a lasting influence, particularly with her song “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues.”

Texas-born guitarist Pee Wee Crayton found his greatest success after moving to California, where he became a kingpin of the West Coast blues scene of the late ’40s. Crayton's tune “Blues After House” represents the first and only instrumental by a guitarist to top Billboard’s R&B (then still called “Race Records) charts.

Booker T. & the MG's, a band synonymous with Memphis and Stax Records, played on a galaxy of great soul and blues albums.

 Entering the Blues Hall of Fame in its Business, Academic, Media & Production category this year is Moses “Moe” Asch. While leading Folkways Records and other labels, Asch helped to document and disseminates a remarkable range of roots music. Acoustic blues was prominent among his releases, with Lead Belly, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Elizabeth Cotten, Reverend Gary Davis, and Big Bill Broonzy among the artists whose records he released.

This year’s selections for landmark recordings spotlight works by several long-time Blues Hall of Famers. Elmore James’ 1965 album The Sky Is Crying and his song “Shake Your Moneymaker” both are entering the Blues Hall of Fame. Last year, the Blues Hall inducted B.B. King’s album Blues Is King, and this year it is recognizing King’s 1954 classic tune “Everyday I Have the Blues.” Muddy Waters adds to his Blues Hall of Fame honors with the induction of his influential 1950 tune “Rollin’ Stone.” Ray Charles’ iconic “I Got a Woman” and Bessie Smith’s signature version of “The St. Louis Blues” will round out 2019’s recording honorees.

As part of the Induction Ceremony, the Blues Hall of Fame Museum is securing special items representing each of the new inductee. These artifacts will be installed and available for viewing beginning May 8. Through intriguing exhibits it offers an entertaining and educating exploration into all that is blues culture.

The Blues Hall of Fame Museum (421 S. Main St., Memphis) was built through the generosity and support of blues fans so that it would serve all four components of the Blues Foundation’s mission: preserving blues heritage, celebrating blues recording and performance, expanding awareness of the blues genre, and ensuring the future of the music.

ABOUT THE INDUCTEES:

Aretha Franklin was long recognized as the Queen of Soul; however, she also was often viewed as the Queen of the Blues as well as gospel royalty. Regardless of the genre, her powerful vocal range, striking intimacy and impeccable timing made her one of the greatest singers ever. Her father, the famous preacher Reverend C.L. Franklin, was from the Mississippi Delta. He moved the family to Memphis (where Aretha was born) before settling in Detroit. He also guided Aretha to sign with John Hammond at Columbia, where her first release was “Today I Sing the Blues." At Atlantic Records she scored hits with “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” and many others.  Franklin, who died in 2018, garnered more than 20 Grammys (including the Lifetime Achievement Award); along with receiving the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors, the NAACP Vanguard and Hall of Fame awards, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

William James “Count” Basie, born in Red Bank, New Jersey, began his career on the East Coast but his sound was forever linked to Kansas City, a freewheeling crossroads that was a hotbed for both jazz and blues. Dubbed “The King of Swing,” Basie created music rooted in the blues. He played blues piano with an easy, economical touch; wrote or revamped an impressive cache of blues and jump tunes. Basie would employ acclaimed vocalists who could sing the blues with a mastery that matched the Basie band’s musicianship. 

Connie Curtis“Pee Wee” Crayton grew up in Austin, Texas and migrated to California in the mid-1930s, living first in Los Angeles and then Oakland. With tutelage from T-Bone Walker and jazz guitarist John Collins, Crayton developed his own guitar style, incorporating their sophistication but picking with a harder edge. One of West Coast blues’ brightest stars, Crayton reached No. 1 in 1948 on Billboard’s “Race Records” chart (renamed “Rhythm & Blues” in 1949) with “Blues After Hours.” This song remains the only instrumental credited to a guitarist ever to top the R&B charts. After his chart success ran out in 1950, Crayton continued to display a dynamic flair on later records and delivered many memorable live performances. His periodic guitar battles with longtime friend T-Bone Walker always made headlines. Crayton, who died in 1985, also has been cited as an influence on both Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry.

Booker T. & the MG's delineated the soulful sound of Memphis playing behind a cavalcade of stars at Stax Records, all the while making instrumental hits of their own. Their first record, 1962’s “Green Onions,” was followed by 14 more chart hits, including ”Hip-Hug-Her” and “Time Is Tight.” The original group — consisting of Booker T. Jones (organ), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass), and Al Jackson, Jr. (drums) — came together in 1962. Donald “Duck” Dunn took over on bass a few years later. They also were an integrated band, which was rare then, particularly in the South. Their Stax, Volt and Atlantic sessions included recordings with Albert King, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, The Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas and Carla Thomas. The group entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and received a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement award in 2007, while “Green Onions” was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2018.

Ida Cox was touted as the “Uncrowned Queen of the Blues” from the start of her recording career in 1923. Although Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith typically are mentioned as the top stars of the classic vaudeville blues era, Cox was every bit their rival. A high-class entertainer who dressed in the finest gowns, Cox also was a composer of note. Her tune “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” has become a feminist anthem, while other titles and verses of hers have resurfaced in the work of legendary bluesmen. Cox retired in 1945 following a stroke; however, she was coaxed into recording again during the 1960s blues revival and cut an LP with the Coleman Hawkins Quintet in 1961. Cox passed away in 1967.

Individual (Business, Academic, Media & Production):

Moses “Moe” Asch ranks as one of the preeminent figures in the history of folk music, thanks to his tireless work in releasing more than 2000 albums on Folkways Records along with records on Asch, Disc and his other labels. The extraordinary scope of his catalog encompasses ethnic music from around the globe in addition to spoken word, sounds of nature, and other esoteric audio documentation. Folkway’s blues roster contained such luminaries as Lead Belly, Elizabeth Cotten, Reverend Gary Davis, Champion Jack Dupree, Honeyboy Edwards, Memphis Slim, and Big Joe Williams. Important too were Folkways’ field recordings that documented traditional African-American music from the American South. The educational value of the Folkways albums was further enhanced by detailed liner note inserts, another example of Asch’s pioneering vision. He also made sure that every Folkways record stayed in print, a policy that continued after the Smithsonian acquired his catalog following Asch’s death in 1986.

Classics of Blues Recording: Singles:

“Rollin’ Stone” by Muddy Waters stands as a landmark recording for several reasons. Cut in February of 1950, it was the first blues record that Chess ever issued (and the second overall, following a Gene Ammons instrumental). It also is the only classic Chess track Muddy sang and played by himself, demonstrating that he didn’t always need his stellar band in order to deliver a stirring performance. And then, of course, there was that English rock group that took its name from this song as well as a San Francisco-born music magazine whose name drew inspiration from the song title.

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