The Blues Foundation Thrives by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Posted on 3/29/2010 by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

(Memphis, Tennessee) I am delighted to announce the continued success of the world's greatest protagonist for preserving Blues music, the Blues Foundation. Many of you have read some of the articles we have published here at the American Blues News concerning their many initiatives, in particular, the International Blues Challenge held in Memphis every year.

This week I wanted to take an opportunity to thank the folks at the Blues Foundation for their hard work for a noble cause that is very close to my heart, the indigenous American miracle known as the Blues.

I have been steeped in the Blues my entire life. Memphis is a geographic intersection of music and culture, where blues met hillbilly, where big band and jazz music influenced the creation of blues orchestras such as the Beale Streeters and B.B.King, where a young man named Elvis hung out on Beale Street and incorporated the style of stars like Big Boy Crudup, Jimmy Reed and Big Mama Thornton.

B.B. King

Having heard the strains of WDIA radio from my early childhood, I could not have been more gratified than to have the honor of growing up and accompanying some of the same great stars of the Blues I had heard in the cradle, Rufus Thomas, Little Milton, Earl Forest, Chick Willis, Roscoe Gordon, B.B. King.

An old recording by my old band mate, Chick Willis

Many years ago, I attended meetings held by Joe Savarin, the first man to attempt to concoct the organization which came to be known as the Blues Foundation. I joined the organization in it's first year of existence and have the W. C. Handy t-shirt to prove it.

Joe Savarin was a mainstay in Handy Park back in the early 1980's when my band, the Wampus Cats, was first getting our start. We performed there on many warm days serenading passersby for tips. Joe was there everyday, rain or shine. His brothers, Paul and Lou, both owned the first blues clubs that opened during the revitalization of downtown Memphis.

From these humble origins in 1980, the Blues Foundation was refined into a well-run professional organization that has touched lives and furthered the cause of preserving our music for over 30 years. My friend, Jay Seilman, is the Executive Director. He has done a masterful job of steering the Foundation into a stable financial position, expanding both the membership and the number of affiliate blues societies. Now the Blues Foundation sanctions over 185 blues societies who can send contestants to the IBC every year. Likewise, the membership of the organization has burgeoned from 1,000 to almost 4,000 members.

Friend and band mate, filmmaker Willy Bearden
Keeping the Blues Alive Award recipient

This is incredibly impressive to me as I was one of about 25 people attending the first organizational meeting of the fledgling Blues Foundation in 1980. Likewise, I remember that my dear friend, filmmaker and band mate, Willy Bearden received a "Keeping the Blues Alive" award for guaranteeing the Foundation's finances during some of their rocky formative years.

Eric Hughes and Leo Goff

When Eric Hughes started the Memphis Blues Society a few years ago, it had been many years since Memphis had its own blues society. We organized and ran blues jams once a week for a couple of years to get the ball rolling again. It was initially slow going and our friend, Joe Whitmer of the Blues Foundation helped us with guidance, encouragement and his own hard work to insure our success, particularly in our first IBC contest.

Joe Whitmer of the Blues Foundation

For the first time in many years, Memphis had contestants participate at the International Blues Challenge. Young people had an opportunity to meet and share the stage with the best blues players in the area at the blues jams. This tradition was carried on by President Dave Bennett and now by current President Darren J. Fallas.

Bob Mehr, a fine writer for the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper, has written an excellent article about the continuing success of the Blues Foundation, and I wanted to share it with our international audience of music lovers here at the American Blues News:

In the article Jay Seilman states that the Blues foundation is finally in a stable enough position to begin to plan on moving to a location which would be "a visible, physical presence in the community: part school, part interpretive center, part executive office, part hangout for artists and fans."

This is exciting news as there is currently only a small business office to house the Foundation and no facility to show off their extensive collection of blues memorabilia. Likewise, the Board of Directors of the Foundation has grown to include some influential Fortune 500 company managers and owners, "Newcomers include Steve Bryson, who founded and runs credit card processing firm Global Electronic Technology Inc. in Cypress, Calif..; Craig Ray, a former Mississippi Development Authority tourism official; and Laurie Tucker, senior vice president of corporate marketing at FedEx."

"Memphis touts itself as the Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock and Roll," Sieleman said. "If there's currency or credibility in that, perhaps I'm biased, but I say it's in the Blues Foundation."

Steve Bryson, who owns eight companies and operates out of California, is a Memphis native who has never forgotten his roots nor his love for Memphis music. This underscores his commitment to the Blues Foundation and his championing of I55 Productions, a new Memphis record company which is positioning to sign over 10 new artists and release some classic blues recordings by stars such as Fred Sanders and the late Willie Foster.

Steve Bryson and Memphis Blues Society President, Darren J. Fallas

"Blues musicians are part of the American tradition, and they need to be protected," Bryson said. "My goal in becoming a member was to go out and raise money but to make sure we're taking care of the musicians, that we're putting money in health care, that we're taking care of the people."

Reflecting on ups and downs of the foundation's 30-plus years, Bryson added, "In my humble opinion, the Blues Foundation should have a home that rivals Graceland, and should have had it a long time ago."

Here's links to earlier articles I have written here about Steve:

The Blues Foundation hosts the following:

Blues Music Awards

Blues Hall of Fame

International Blues Challenge

Keeping the Blues alive Awards

HART(Handy Artists Relief Trust) for Blues musicians and their families in financial need due to a broad range of health concerns.

SOUND Healthcare

Blues in the Schools

Generation Blues (scholarship program)

I would encourage each of you who love the Blues to join the Blues Foundation today. Their entry membership is only $25 and their extensive list of educational and outreach programs can be viewed at their site,

Please do your part to support the continuation of the music:

Join the Blues Foundation today!

Here's a link where you can join online:


Check out my website at:

©2010, Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

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