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Taj Mahal, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Mavis Staples, Keb' Mo' & Robert Cray Among the Blues Music Awards Nominees

The nominees for the 39th Annual Blues Music Awards represent a prestigious collection of acclaimed performers and rising stars that reflect the breadth and diversity of today’s blues music scene. It encompasses North Mississippi All-Stars’ updated Hill Country stomps and Mavis Staples’ gospel-infused soul as well as Taj Mahal’s eclectic global fusion and Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s fiery blues rock. The Blues Music Awards, which is universally recognized as the top accolade afforded blues musicians, upholds blues’ rich cultural traditions while every year honoring the exceptional achievements in performances, recordings and songwriting.

The Blues Foundation will present the 39th Annual Blues Music Awards on Thursday, May 10th at 7 p.m. at The Memphis Cook Convention Center. Individual tickets cost $150 per person; Regular Tables for 10 are $1,500 and Premium Tables for 10 are $1,800 each. All tickets can be purchased at beginning January 9th. The Blues Foundation’s block of rooms at the Sheraton Memphis Downtown Hotel will be open for reservations on January 9th; and Sheraton reservation links will be up on that day too. The Awards show is a premier event for blues musicians, professionals, and fans around the globe because not only do almost all the nominees attend the ceremony but they typically perform at it too.

Leading the nomination pack for this year’s BMAs is harmonica wizard Rick Estrin. With his group The Nightcats, Estrin is up for Band of the Year, as well as Album of the Year and Traditional Blues Album forGroovin' In Greaseland. Estrin, a past BMA winner, also is up for Traditional Blues Male Artist, Best Instrumentalist: Harmonica, B.B. King Entertainer of the Year and Song of the Year for his tune “The Blues Ain’t Going Nowhere.” Additionally, Nightcats’ guitarist Christoffer “Kid” Andersen is among the Instrumentalist-Guitar contenders.

The B.B. King Entertainer of the Year and Song of the Year look to be hotly contested categories because they feature acts with multiple nominations. Don Bryant (4 nominations) and Wee Willie Walker (5 noms) are contenders in both categories. Estrin, meanwhile, faces the duo Mike Ledbetter and Monster Mike Welch for Album of the Year, Traditional Blues Album, and Band of the Year. Ledbetter also is a B.B. King Entertainer of the Year contender and is in the running for Contemporary Blues Male Artist and Instrumentalist–Vocals, while Welch ranks among the Instrumentalist–Guitar finalists. Another multiple nominee, The North Mississippi All-Stars will battle Estrin and Ledbetter & Welch for Band of the Year and are competing for Song of the Year and Rock Blues Album honors too.

This year, the Blues Foundation will be handing out 26 BMAs as they have added a pair of new categories. There now is a Blues Rock Artist of the Year award to go along with Blues Rock Album of the Year. Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Mike Zito, Walter Trout, Jason Ricci and Eric Gales are all candidates for this honor. The other new category is Instrumentalist-Vocals, which will honor the great voices that make songs so memorable. Beth Hart, Don Bryant, John Nemeth, Michael Ledbetter, Sugaray Rayford and Wee Willie Walker compose this category’s impressive list of performers.

Several winners from last year’s BMAs are back among 2018’s nominees. Curtis Salgado, a triple winner in 2017, will try to retain his Soul Blues Male Artist award, while Diunna Greenleaf and Lurrie Bell, the reigning Female and Male Traditional Blues Artists respectively, are returnees in those categories. Bobby Rush, who took home Best Album and Best Historical Album honors last year, is one of the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year candidates. 2017’s Acoustic Artist of the Year Doug MacLeod now is an Acoustic Album of the Year nominee. Multiple BMA winner Kim Wilson will attempt to hold on to his Instrumental: Harmonica crown in conjunction with nominations for Traditional Blues Album, Blues and Boogie Vol.1, and Traditional Blues Male Artist while another multi-BMA honoree Victor Wainwrighthas a chance to win the Instrumentalist Pinetop Perkins Piano Player again.

The Best Emerging Artist Album category offers a snapshot of blues’ multi-generational, geographically diverse appeal. Nominees include a couple of young acts: the Southern multi-instrumentalist blues duoLarkin Poe composed of the Atlanta-bred, Nashville-based Lovell Sisters, and Southern Avenue, a power-packed Memphis band whose debut disc came out on their hometown Stax Records. The Altered Five Blues Band, Miss Freddye, and Tas Cru are regional success stories (Milwaukee, Buffalo, and Upstate New York, respectively) that are attracting more attention in the music world. Lastly, there’s the second-ever album from R.L. Boyce, who has lived, and made music, in Mississippi’s Hill Country for over five decades.

Blues’ vibrant heritage is wonderfully demonstrated in the five choices for Historical Album of the Year. Live at Notodden ’97 presents a previously unissued Norwegian blues festival live recording that captures thePaul deLay Band in their prime. Sony Legacy’s American Epic: The Collection soundtrack fills five discs with blues and all sorts of other Americana sounds from the acclaimed PBS TV series. Commemorating the 20th anniversary of his death, Luther Allison: A Legend Never Dies 1976-1997 represents Ruf Records’ comprehensive Luther Allison boxset, boasting 7 CDs and 4 DVDs. Craft Records compiled 100 John Lee Hooker songs (including rarities, live recordings and several previously unreleased tracks) into King of the Boogie to celebrate Hooker’s centennial anniversary. Craft also put together Mr. Luck: The Complete Vee-Jay Singles, a 3-CD feast of Jimmy Reed’s work from the early 1950s through the mid-1960s.

The complete list of 39th Blues Music Award nominees can be found below as well as on the Blues Foundation’s website, A ballot will be sent soon to all Blues Foundation members as they have the privilege of deciding which nominees actually will take home a Blues Music Award in May. Membership to The Blues Foundation will remain open through the entire voting period from January 23rd to March 1st and ballots will be sent to new members as they join the organization by clicking on the Join Now button when visiting

Major funding for the Blues Music Awards is provided by ArtsMemphis and Tennessee Arts Commission. The 39th BMAs also are sponsored by AutoZone, BMI, Ditty TV, First Tennessee Foundation, Gibson Foundation, and Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Blues Foundation is known around the world as being THE organization whose mission is to preserve blues heritage, celebrate blues recording and performance, expand worldwide awareness of the blues, and ensure the future of this uniquely American art form. Founded in 1980, the Memphis-based Blues Foundation has approximately 4,000 individual members and 200 affiliated local blues societies representing another 50,000 fans and professionals around the world. Its signature honors and events - the Blues Music Awards, Blues Hall of Fame, International Blues Challenge and Keeping the Blues Alive Awards - make the Blues Foundation the international center of blues music. For more information, log onto
39th Blues Music Award Nominees

B.B. King Entertainer of the Year
  • Bobby Rush
  • Michael Ledbetter
  • Rick Estrin
  • Sugaray Rayford
  • Taj Mahal 
Band of the Year
  • The Cash Box Kings
  • Monster Mike Welch and Mike Ledbetter
  • Nick Moss Band
  • North Mississippi All-Stars
  • Rick Estrin & the Nightcats 
Album of the Year
  • Don Bryant - Don't Give Up on Love
  • Monster Mike Welch and Mike Ledbetter - Right Place, Right Time
  • Rick Estrin & The Nightcats - Groovin' In Greaseland
  • TajMo - TajMo
  • Wee Willie Walker & The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra - After a While 
Song of the Year
  • “The Blues Ain’t Going Nowhere” – written by Rick Estrin
  • “Don’t Give Up On Love” – written by Scott Bomar and Don Bryant
  • “Don’t Leave Me Here” – written by Kevin R. Moore, Taj Mahal, and Gary Nicholson
  • “Hate Take a Holiday” – written by Willie Walker, Anthony Paule, and Ernie Williams
  • “Prayer for Peace” – written by Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson, and Oteil Burbridge 
Best Emerging Artist Album
  • Altered Five Blues Band - Charmed & Dangerous
  • Larkin Poe - Peach
  • Miss Freddye - Lady of the Blues
  • R.L. Boyce - Roll and Tumble
  • Southern Avenue - Southern Avenue
  • Tas Cru - Simmered & Stewed 

Historical Album of the Year
  • Jimmy Reed, Mr. Luck: The Complete Vee-Jay Singles – Craft Recordings
  • John Lee Hooker, King of the Boogie – Craft Recordings
  • Luther Allison, A Legend Never Dies – Ruf Records
  • The Paul deLay Band, Live at Notodden ’97 – Little Village Foundation
  • Various, American Epic: The Collection – Sony Legacy 
Acoustic Album of the Year
  • Catfish Keith - Mississippi River Blues
  • Doug MacLeod - Break the Chain
  • Guy Davis & Fabrizio Poggi - Sonny & Brownie's Last Train
  • Harrison Kennedy - Who U Tellin’?
  • Mitch Woods - Friends Along The Way
  • Rory Block - Keepin' Outta Trouble 
Acoustic Artist
  • Doug McLeod
  • Guy Davis
  • Harrison Kennedy
  • Rory Block
  • Taj Mahal 
Contemporary Blues Album of the Year
  • Beth Hart - Fire on the Floor
  • Corey Dennison Band - Night After Night
  • Ronnie Baker Brooks - Times Have Changed
  • Selwyn Birchwood - Pick Your Poison
  • TajMo – TajMo 

Contemporary Blues Female Artist
  • Beth Hart
  • Karen Lovely
  • Samantha Fish
  • Shemekia Copeland
  • Vanessa Collier 
Contemporary Blues Male Artist
  • Keb' Mo'
  • Michael Ledbetter
  • Ronnie Baker Brooks
  • Selwyn Birchwood
  • Toronzo Cannon 
Rock Blues Album of the Year
  • Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band - Lay It On Down
  • Mike Zito - Make Blues Not War
  • North Mississippi Allstars - Prayer for Peace
  • Savoy Brown - Witchy Feelin'
  • Walter Trout - We're All In This Together 
Rock Blues Artist
  • Eric Gales
  • Jason Ricci
  • Kenny Wayne Shepherd
  • Mike Zito
  • Walter Trout 
Soul Blues Album of the Year
  • Don Bryant - Don't Give Up on Love
  • Johnny Rawls - Waiting for the Train
  • Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm - Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm
  • Sugaray Rayford - The World That We Live In
  • Wee Willie Walker & The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra - After a While 
Soul Blues Female Artist
  • Bettye LaVette
  • Denise LaSalle
  • Mavis Staples
  • Trudy Lynn
  • Vaneese Thomas 
Soul Blues Male Artist
  • Curtis Salgado
  • Don Bryant
  • Johnny Rawls
  • Sugaray Rayford
  • William Bell
  • Wee Willie Walker 
Traditional Blues Album of the Year
  • The Cash Box Kings - Royal Mint
  • Elvin Bishop's Big Fun Trio - Elvin Bishop's Big Fun Trio
  • Kim Wilson - Blues and Boogie Vol. 1
  • Monster Mike Welch and Mike Ledbetter - Right Place, Right Time
  • Rick Estrin & The Nightcats - Groovin' In Greaseland
Koko Taylor Award (Traditional Blues Female)
  • Annika Chambers
  • Diunna Greenleaf
  • Janiva Magness
  • Miss Freddye
  • Ruthie Foster 
Traditional Blues Male Artist
  • John Primer
  • Kim Wilson
  • Lurrie Ball
  • R.L. Boyce
  • Rick Estrin
Instrumental - Bass
  • Benny Turner
  • Bob Stroger
  • Larry Fulcher
  • Michael "Mudcat" Ward
  • Patrick Rynn 
Instrumentalist - Drums
  • Jimi Bott
  • June Core
  • Kenny Smith
  • Tom Hambridge
  • Tony Braunagel 
Instrumentalist - Guitar
  • Anson Funderburgh
  • Chris Cain
  • Christoffer "Kid" Andersen
  • Monster Mike Welch
  • Ronnie Earl 
Instrumentalist - Harmonica
  • Billy Branch
  • Dennis Gruenling
  • Jason Ricci
  • Kim Wilson
  • Rick Estrin 
Instrumentalist - Horn
  • Al Basile
  • Jimmy Carpenter
  • Nancy Wright
  • Trombone Shorty
  • Vanessa Collier 
Instrumentalist - Pinetop Perkins Piano Player
  • Anthony Geraci
  • Henry Gray
  • Jim Pugh
  • Mitch Woods
  • Victor Wainwright 
Instrumentalist - Vocals
  • Beth Hart
  • Don Bryant
  • John NĂ©meth
  • Michael Ledbetter
  • Sugaray Rayford
  • Wee Willie Walker