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Mon, 01.27.1930

Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Blues Singer born

Bobby Bland

*Bobby Bland was born on this date in 1930. He was a Black blues singer.

He was born Robert Calvin Brooks in the small town of Barretville, Tennessee. His father, I. J. Brooks abandoned the family not long after his birth. He later acquired the name 'Bland' from his stepfather, Leroy Bridgeforth, who was also called Leroy Bland. Young Bland dropped out of school in third grade to sharecrop in the cotton fields and never graduated. With his mother, Bland moved to Memphis in 1947, where he started singing with local gospel groups, including the Miniatures.

Eager to expand his interests, Bland began frequenting the city's famous Beale Street. He became associated with a circle of aspiring musicians, including B.B. King, Rosco Gordon, Junior Parker, and Johnny Ace, collectively known as the Beale Streeters. In 1951, talent scout Ike Turner recorded Bland in Memphis. Because Bland was illiterate, they first recorded the one song he knew, "They Call It Stormy Monday." While the recording was never released, Bland later recorded the song in 1961, which became one of his hit singles. Turner backed Bland on piano for his first two records were released under Robert Bland.

Between 1951 and 1952, he recorded commercially unsuccessful singles. Bland's recordings from the early 1950s show him striving for individuality for two years while serving in the U.S. Army. When Bland returned to Memphis in 1954, several former associates, including Johnny Ace, enjoyed considerable success. He joined Ace's revue and returned to Duke Records, then run by the Houston entrepreneur Don Robey. According to his biographer Charles Farley, Robey handed Bobby a new contract, which Bobby could not read, and helped Bobby sign his name on it. The contract gave Bland just half a cent per record sold instead of the industry standard of 2 cents.

Bland released his first single for Duke in 1955. In 1956 he began touring on the Chitlin' Circuit with Junior Parker in a revue called Blues Consolidated, initially doubling as Parker's valet and driver. Unlike many blues musicians, Bland played no instrument. Bland's first chart success came in 1957 with "Farther Up the Road," which reached number 1 on the R&B chart and 43 on the Billboard Hot 100. Bland also recorded a hit version of T-Bone Walker's "Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just as Bad)." His last record of reaching number 1 on the R&B chart was "That's the Way Love Is" in 1963; he continued to produce a consistent run of R&B chart entries through the mid-1960s. Financial pressures forced the singer to cut his touring band, and in 1968 the group broke up. He suffered from depression and became increasingly dependent on alcohol but stopped drinking in 1971.

Sobriety resulted in several successful and critically acclaimed contemporary blues and soul albums. The first single released from His California Album, "This Time I'm Gone for Good," took Bland back into the pop Top 50 and made the R&B top 10 in late 1973. In 1985, Bland signed a contract with Malaco Records, specialists in traditional Southern black music, for which he made a series of albums while continuing to tour and appear at concerts with B. B. King. In 1985, the album Members Only on Malaco reached number 45 on Billboard's R&B albums chart, and the title song reached number 54 for R&B singles.

Bland developed a sound that mixed spiritual with the blues and R&B. He was described as "among the great storytellers of blues and soul music who created tempestuous arias of love, betrayal, and resignation, set against roiling, dramatic orchestrations, and left the listener drained but awed." He was sometimes called the "Lion of the Blues" and the "Sinatra of the Blues."

The white Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison was an early follower of Bland, covering "Turn on Your Love Light." In contrast, with the band, Them (he later covered "Ain't Nothing You Can't Do" on his 1974 live album It's Too Late to Stop Now), Bland was an occasional guest singer at Morrison's concerts. He also included a previously unreleased version of a March 2000 duet of Morrison and Bland singing "Tupelo Honey" on his 2007 compilation album. In 2008 the British singer and lead vocalist of Simply Red, Mick Hucknall, released the album Tribute to Bobby, containing songs associated with Bland.

He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981, the Rock and Roll Hall in 1992, and the Memphis Music Hall in 2012. He received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. Bobby Bland continued performing until shortly before he died on June 23, 2013, at his home in Germantown, Tennessee; he was 83. He is survived by his wife, Willie Martin Bland, and his son Rodd, a musician.

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