R&B and blues singer Esther Phillips is among the 2023 inductees into The Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame. Phillips had two top 20 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 — “Release Me” (1962, when she was known as “Little Esther” Phillips) and a remake of Dinah Washington’s “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes” (1975). Phillips didn’t live to see her induction. She died in 1984 at age 48.
Josh White, who went from being a Piedmont blues artist to an important voice in the folk music world of the 1940s, was also inducted. White, who died in 1969 at age 55, received the Folk Alliance International’s 2023 lifetime achievement award for a legacy (deceased) artist on Feb. 1 in Kansas City, Mo. Leyla McCalla and Josh White Jr. performed in tribute to White at that event. McCalla performed “I Gave My Love a Cherry (The Riddle Song).” White Jr. sang “One Meatball.”
This year’s other Blues Hall of Fame honorees include four Chicago bluesmen (Carey Bell, John Primer, Snooky Pryor and Fenton Robinson) and a Mississippi juke joint king (Junior Kimbrough).
Of the seven artists being inducted this year, four (Bell, Phillips, Primer and Robinson) had been nominated for Grammy awards, but none had won (which suggests the need for these specialized awards). Phillips was a four-time nominee for best R&B vocal performance, female. She lost three times to Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin.
Of the seven artists, only Primer is still living. He is 78.
Since its inception in 1980, The Blues Foundation has inducted more than 400 industry professionals, recordings, and works of literature into the Blues Hall of Fame. Members are inducted in five categories: performers, individuals, classic of blues literature, classic of blues recording (song), and classic of blues recording (album).
David Evans, who won the award for individuals, is a two-time Grammy winner for best album notes. He won for Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented By William Ferris and Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues – The Worlds of Charley Patton.
One of the five recordings being honored has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. That’s Son House’s 1930 recording “My Black Mama,” which was voted into the Grammy HOF in 2013.
Little Walter: The Complete Chess Masters is 2023’s classic blues recording: album. Hip-O’s five-CD, 126-track compilation was released in 2009.
Entering the Blues Hall of Fame as a classic of blues literature is The Original Blues: The Emergence of the Blues in African American Vaudeville 1899-1926. The book, by Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff, chronicles the minstrel and ragtime traditions in vaudeville theatre that was major public venue for blues in its early years.
The Blues Hall of Fame induction ceremony, held in conjunction with the Blues Music Awards, will take place on Wednesday, May 10, at the Halloran Centre in Memphis. A cocktail reception honoring the BHOF inductees and Blues Music Awards nominees will begin at 5:30 p.m., with the inductions commencing at 6:30 p.m. Tickets, including the ceremony and reception, are $75 each and available with Blues Music Awards tickets.
The Blues Hall of Fame Museum in Memphis will showcase several items representing the 2023 class of inductees. These artifacts will be on display for public viewing beginning the first week of May and will remain on view for the next 12 months.
Here’s a full list of The Blues Foundation’s 2023 Blues Hall of Fame inductees.
- Carey Bell
- Junior Kimbrough
- Esther Phillips
- John Primer
- Snooky Pryor
- Fenton Robinson
- Josh White
Individuals – Business, Production, Media, Academic
- David Evans
Classic of Blues Literature
- The Original Blues: The Emergence of the Blues in African American Vaudeville 1899-1926 by Lynn Abbott & Doug Seroff (University Press of Mississippi, 2017)
Classic of Blues Recording – Album
- Little Walter: The Complete Chess Masters (1950-1967) (Hip-O Select, 2009)
Classics of Blues Recording – Single or Album Track
- “Black Nights” — Lowell Fulson (Kent, 1965)
- “I’m Tore Down” — Freddy King (Federal, 1961)
- “Mojo Hand” — Lightnin’ Hopkins (Fire, 1960)
- “My Black Mama” — Son House (Paramount, 1930)
- “The Red Rooster (Little Red Rooster)” — Howlin’ Wolf (Chess, 1961)