Blues fans today are mourning the loss of bluesman and soul singer Bobby “Blue” Bland. The Tennessee-born singer, songwriter, arranger and bandleader, known to many as “The Lion of the Blues” or “the Sinatra of the blues” died on Sunday, June 23rd at his Memphis, Tennessee home due to complications from a long illness according to family members. Mr. Bland was 83.
Born on January 27, 1930 in Rosemark, Tennessee under the name Robert Calvin “Bobby” Bland started his musical career after moving to Memphis with his mother when he began singing with gospel groups like The Miniatures. It was the lure of Memphis’s famed Beale Street that led Mr. Bland to hook up with other musicians that would eventually become known as the Beale Streeters.
After a stint in the army and a return to Memphis in 1954, Mr. Bland headed down the road to developing his own refined signature singing style based on such singers as Nat King Cole and Tony Bennett, that style that would earn him the nickname “the Sinatra of the blues.”
In 1956, he began touring with Junior Parker, sometimes doing double duty as a valet and driver. Then songs like his “Farther Up the Road” and “Little Boy Blue” started hitting the charts, soon to be followed by such singles like “I Pity the Fool,” “Turn On Your Love Light” and “Cry Cry Cry.” While not a sensation on the pop charts, Mr. Bland did earn 23 Top Ten spots on Billboard’s R & B chart and was eventually rated the 13th best all-time selling artist on the R & B charts.
Between the years 1958 and 2003, Mr. Bland would record some 28 albums that include Blues Consolidated with Junior Parker, Here’s the Man, Ain’t Nothing You Can Do and The Soul of the Man on Duke Records; I Feel Good, I Feel Fine, Sweet Vibrations and Tell Mr. Bland on MCA; After All, Blues You Can Use, Memphis Monday Morning and Blues at Midnight on the Malaco Records label. Mr. Bland also had 3 live albums and 5 compilations to his credit.
Mr. Bland earned a Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.
“Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Bobby “Blue” Bland was a prolific blues singer and balladeer,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy in a statement released today. “His signature performance style seamlessly blended a mix of blues, country, gospel, jazz and pop music to create his unique sound. He was a stylistic pioneer who influenced countless musicians across many genres, with a career spanning nearly eight decades. Our music community has lost a tremendous and legendary talent, and we mourn this loss with his family, fans and all those who had the pleasure and privilege of working with him.”
Funeral and memorial details have not yet been announced by Mr. Bland’s family.