By Suzanne Lynch, Director of Marketing and Development –
The late great Bobby “Blue” Bland will be honored with a permanent presence in downtown Memphis. The unveiling will take place Friday, May 12, 2017, at 11:00 a.m. The effort to erect a life-sized Bland statue was led by former Blues Foundation President & CEO Jay Sieleman with the help of Paul Benjamin and Roger Naber. Together, they rallied the generous donors that contributed nearly $50,000 needed to create and install the statue.
Andrea and Larry Lugar were engaged to sculpt and forge the Bland statue, the same team that created the Little Milton statue in front of the Blues Hall of Fame. The statue will be located at the corner of South Main and Martin Luther King Avenue in Downtown Memphis. The Blues Foundation served as the nonprofit fiscal agent for the project. Vividpix Design provided graphic design for the initial fundraising solicitation and subsequent documentation for the statue unveiling. Design 500 and archimania provided consulting services regarding the installation, landscaping, lighting and signage.
Bland was honored with a 2013 Governor’s Arts Award by Governor Haslam. Jim O’Neal, a co-founder of Living Blues magazine and Rooster Blues Records, said this about Bland:
“Asked to name the greatest blues singer of all time, many blues artists have chosen and will continue to choose Bobby “Blue” Bland—as have untold numbers of listeners throughout his incredible career. Bland’s uncanny ability to infuse suave, sophisticated vocals with raw emotional depth as well as a highly romantic appeal is all the more remarkable considering his lack of formal education. Born in rural Rosemark, Tennessee, near Memphis, on Jan. 27, 1930, Bland sang gospel as a youngster and came up hearing blues, field hollers and country music; the smooth pop stylings of Tony Bennett and Perry Como were also strong influences. In Memphis, where he started singing in amateur shows at the Palace Theater, Bland became friends with B.B. King, Rosco Gordon and Junior Parker, and to get into the scene he joined them as a chauffeur or valet. His own talent was soon recognized by Sam Phillips, who recorded Bland’s first sides in 1951, and Bland began a decades-long association with Duke Records in 1952. He and Duke label mate Parker toured together for years in a “Blues Consolidated” package. Bland began piling up hits including “Farther Up the Road,” “I’ll Take Care of You,” “I Pity the Fool,” and “Turn On Your Lovelight,” some of them tender love songs, others dripping with blues feeling, and still others enlivened by the sanctified rhythms of the church. A star in soul music as well as blues, Bland kept himself surrounded by top-notch band musicians, producers, and songwriters as he continued to sweep audiences off their feet and add to an amazing legacy of records for Duke, ABC, and Malaco. As a vocalist who didn’t play an instrument onstage, Bland never crossed over to guitar-crazed white audiences as much as B.B. and other bluesmen did, but he attained a royal place of honor in the blues pantheon and has continued to enthrall his faithful legions over the decades.”