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5 Star Stories: Blues alive in Memphis with Blues Hall of Fame Museum

Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 10:03 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There’s no doubt -- Memphis is “The Home of the Blues.” And that music has been celebrated and honored for 40 years by a world-renowned Memphis-based organization.

Now the Blues Foundation with its Blues Hall of Fame Museum is pushing to expand its reach to a younger and more diverse audience.

As the late Clarksdale, Mississippi native and Blues legend John Lee Hooker once said, “The blues tells a story.” And at 421 S. Main St. in downtown Memphis where Hooker is an inductee since 1980, the Blues Hall of Fame provides that story’s chapter and verse.

Blues Foundation President and CEO Patty Wilson Aden took us on a tour.

“So what you have presented are those people that have made the difference. They are the genre defining individuals,” explained Wilson Aden.

It’s an essential music experience for the casual visitor as well as hard core blues fans.

The Hall of Fame features 10 individualized galleries and interactive touchscreens, master databases to listen to music, watch videos and read the stories of each of the hall’s 400 inductees.

“And we have -- through our many galleries -- the presentation through photographs, records, costumes, instruments,” added Wilson Aden.

Blues legend and Grammy winner Bobby Rush -- class of 2006 inductee -- sat down to chat before a recent book signing at the Blues Hall of Fame.

“Who’d have ever thought, an old man, old bluesman like Bobby Rush, would have a book out,” said Rush.

His memoir, “Ain’t Studdin’ Ya: My American Blues Story,” shares a title with one of his hit songs.

“So, I write about where I been, where I was, where I am, and where I thought I should ought to be in this book,” Rush shared.

“And I want people to know when they read this book -- take it in heart. If I made it out of all the stuff I been through, you can make it too.”

And according to Rush, everything in the book is true.

“Well, maybe one thing’s not true. I said I won’t sleep with a fat woman no more. I might’a lied about that. But other than that,” joked the 87-year-old.

For Wilson Aden, Rush’s book is more of a history lesson.

“What I am discovering is that this talented, talented genius of a musician is also an historian. He is also a dream keeper,” exclaimed Wilson Aden. “He, I think embodies the aspirations of so many in the blues community. The hardships that we have experienced, the hardships that musicians have experienced and their grit, their resilience, their determination to keep moving forward.”

You might laugh while reading it because, let’s face it, Bobby Rush could teach a master class on entertaining.

“And then, you start to think, and you say, this is a rich, rich experience, this man is imparting something that we all need to hear,” Wilson Aden explained.

Book signings, like Rush’s, are among the Blues Foundation’s mission to “preserve blues heritage ... while ensuring the future of the uniquely American art form.”

“And if you follow the history of the blues from being birthed in the Delta and we get to the Great Migration, the blues travels with our people. As they go north -- St. Louis to Detroit to Chicago -- and as it goes west,” said Wilson Aden, who also happens to be the first African American president in the foundation’s history.

She added, “We are able to tell the story of African American history by following the music of the blues. And that’s fascinating to me. What we found is that, of course, the blues is the roots and everything else is the fruits. Whether it be rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues or even the hip hop today,” explained Wilson Aden. “If you peel away the genealogy of those musical genres, you’ll find that the roots have been the blues,” she said.

But Wilson Aden admits -- the future of the blues legacy depends upon reaching a wider audience and, perhaps, changing it’s image.

“For so long there was the ... misconception that the blues is closely associated with slavery -- slave music. It tells a sorry tale,” admitted Wilson Aden. “If you listen to the words of Lead Belly, if you listen to the words of Bill Broonzy, you’ll find that the blues is -- in many ways -- original protest music.”

And for the blues to remain vital, vibrant and relevant, Wilson Aden believes, “...we have to ensure that younger people -- Black, white and otherwise -- are engaged in the blues. For the sake of our African American children, we have to help them understand that the blues carries a positive message.”

For Bobby Rush, that’s an urgent and emotional mission.

“I’m a blessed man. I recorded 70 years this year and 397 records. I had my ups and my downs ... I been buried in the ground,” said the veteran bluesman. “God has allowed me to be here all these years and I’m a witness to what it is, what it was, what it should be. I’m a blues singer but I’m a biblical study,” expressed Rush.

And if you don’t believe him, he “Ain’t Studdin’ Ya!”

Every year, the Blues Foundation hosts the Blues Music Awards, Blues Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies, the International Blues Challenge and the Keeping the Blues Alive Awards -- bringing to the city hundreds of fans, blues and legends as well as up-and-coming blues artists.

The foundation has also expanded to include educational outreach in area schools and with scholarships for youth performers to attend summer blues camps and workshops.

For more details about the Blues Foundation or the Hall of Fame, visit https://blues.org/.

Copyright 2021 WMC. All rights reserved.

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