The Blues Foundation has set 14 musicians, recordings and behind-the-scenes figures to be honored at part of its 41st class of inductees into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2020. As might be expected, the kudos are heavy on the classic blues era, but also include figures as alive and well as Bettye LaVette, the 73-year-old powerhouse singer who’s actually achieved a career plateau in the last 15 years.
Other contemporary musicians named to be being honored next May in Memphis include Syl Johnson, a Chicago funk-and-soul performer who rose to fame in the ’60s and ’70s (and remains a favorite of hip-hop samplers today), and harmonica player (and fellow Chicagoan) Billy Branch, who has found a second career as a renowned arts educator in recent years.
Among those who’ve passed on who are being inducted are pianist Eddie Boyd, who recorded for Chess in the ’50s and had a thriving career later in Europe before his death in 1994; Victoria Spivey, who had a 40-year recording career before dying in 1976 that included working with everyone from Louis Armstrong to Bob Dylan; and blues harp legend George “Harmonica” Smith, who died in 1983 and was famous for working with Muddy Waters in the ’50s as well as his own solo records.
Ralph Peer, a producer who is a familiar figure to Nashville historians, but whose work in recording blues musicians was vital in the 1920s, is being inducted in the individual (business, media and academic) category.
Several recordings are being named to the Blues Hall of Fame, with “Howlin’ Wolf: The Chess Box” getting the singular album honor, plus five singles: Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s All Right (Mama)” (famously covered by a fledgling Elvis Presley), Bertha “Chippie” Hill’s 1926 version of “Trouble in Mind”; Willie Brown’s 1930 “Future Blues” (revived in recent years by performers like Langhorne Slim); B.B. King’s breakout 1951 No. 1 R&B hit “3 O’Clock Blues”; and Ruth Brown’s still oft-revived 1953 R&B smash “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean.”
Getting the honor for classic of blues literature is “Earl Hooker, Blues Master,” a 2001 biography of the guitarist (a 2016 inductee himself) by French writer Sebastian Danchin.
The induction ceremony will take place May 6, 2020 at the Halloran Centre at the Orpheum, the esteemed former movie palace in Memphis. Tickets for the Hall of Fame event as well as the annual Blues Music Awards go on sale Jan. 7.