The Little Milton statue outside the Blues Hall of Fame building. Photo: Andrea Zucker
I don´t think that a lot of people know that there are two different ”Blues Hall of Fame”. One, created by The Blues Foundation, and one, belonging to Dan Marolt in San Diego. How is that, and what is the difference between the two? I will try to sort it out in short.
First, a few words about The Blues Foundation, established in 1980. It is a well known and highly respected ”501c3 non-profit organization”, meaning among other things transperancy and governmental surveillance. It´s mission is ”to preserve blues heritage, celebrate blues recording and performance, expand worldwide awareness of the blues, and ensure the future of this unique American art form”. The Swedish Blues Association (publisher of the Swedish blues magazine Jefferson) is an affiliated member of The Blues Foundation. More than 175 blues organizations in the world are affiliated as well. Familiar to many are The Blues Foundation´s annual ”Blues Music Awards” (the former ”W.C. Handy Awards”) and ”Keeping the Blues Alive Awards”. Also, every year an ”International Blues Challenge” is arranged in Memphis – the largest blues music competion in the world as far as number of music acts. Every affiliated blues organization has the right to contribute with a band or solo/duo artists. Furthermore, the Blues Foundation works with organizations around the world with a program called ”Blues in the Schools”.
Right from the beginning in 1980 The Blues Foundation started its ”Blues Hall of Fame”. The purpose was to celebrate acknowledged blues legends, primarily for their body of work over their lifetime. 3-4 artists on average per year have been inducted in this ”Blues Hall of Fame”; altogether 130 artists up til 2019, among them 120 afro-americans. A number of non-musicians (industry members), having made significant contributions, for instance Paul Oliver and Sam Charters, are inducted, as well as recordings of historical importance – single songs and whole albums - and great blues literature. The criteria for beeing inducted follow strict formulas, and the jury – anonymous, to prevent campaigns or external pressure − consists of initiated blues experts, representing all subsets of the blues. To be inducted in the ”Blues Hall of Fame” is worldwide considered to be the foremost recognition within blues music.
In 2015 The Blues Foundation built its ”Blues Hall of Fame Museum” - a physical brick building in Memphis – open to the public, in which the inducted legends are richly presented with music recordings, photos and many other memoralia.
In 1999 Dan Marolt came up with a ”Blues Hall of Fame” of his own, manifestered by a website with this name. Mr. Marolt had bought distinct domain names, such as: blueshalloffame.com, blueshalloffame.org and blueshalloffame.net and he acquired the trademark: ”Blues Hall of Fame” (as a supplemental trademark). Because of this – among other things − searching on the internet for The Blues Fundation´s ”Blues Hall of Fame”, could lead to misleading search results – ending up at Mr. Marolt´s website instead.
Since some years ago, The Blues Foundation and Dan Marolt have a formal agreement for The Blues Foundation to be able to continue using the ”Blues Hall of Fame” name, while Mr. Marolt still owns the trademark and continues his own work within his organization.
Now, how does Mr. Marolt´s ”Blues Hall of Fame” work? Primarily it´s a website, owned by one person, Dan Marolt. Mr. Marolt also has his ”Blues Hall of Fame Museum”, a virtual one though, consisting primarily of photos of the inducted artists and their diplomas, and in some cases, videos and sound recordings. Moreover, a smaller number of non-artists, as well as for instance a few radio stations and blues magazines, are also inducted. His website is his ”Blues Hall of Fame Museum”, so to speak.
There are 3 categories of inducted artists: ”Legendary Blues Artists & Legendary Blues Bands”, ”Master Blues Artists & Master Blues Bands” and ”Great Blues Artists & Great Blues Bands”. Since 1999 several hundreds of ”Blues Hall of Fame” diplomas have been delivered. Not only in the US, but in many other countries, including Sweden. A lot of so called ”blues ambassadors” assist Mr. Marolt in this. They arrange music venues – usually with a band ”playing at the door” – where the induction ceremonies take place, and the diplomas are delivered to the artists.
According to reports, possible economic redundancies from the induction ceremonies go to a fund belonging to ”United Charitable Programs”. Also, to this fund, taxfree donations via Mr. Marolt´s website can be made. His relation to the fund seems unclear.
In the US, some local divisions have been created, like ”Chicago Blues Hall of Fame” (the inductions normally take place att Buddy Guy´s Legends) and ”New York Blues Hall of Fame”. There are ”blues ambassadors” in most states in the US. The network of ”blues ambassadors” goes as far as to Australia, China and Japan.
In Sweden the inductions have taken place at ”Stampen” in Stockholm and ”Oelme Diversehandel Kafé” in Kristinehamn. At least 80 Swedish artists have since 2012 got diplomas (most diplomas were delivered in 2015, and have since 2017 been declining). 2 have received the ”Legendary Blues Artist” award, 19 have been declared ”Master Blues Artists” and 61 ”Great Blues Artists”. Perhaps it´s more, but not yet documented at Mr. Marolt´s website. A few artists have got diplomas in two categories, delivered in different years. How many artists that wrongly believe they have been inducted in the Blues Foundation´s Blues Hall of Fame is unknown.
Proposals of suitable candidates to be inducted can be sent directly to Mr. Marolt via his website. The criteria are very loose, and no jury exist. Anyone can nominate an artist or a band. At his website we can read: ”We want you to have a say as to who should be inducted, and we are big enough to hold every Blues Artist that you think should be inducted”. Also, Mr. Marolt writes: ”Our mission is to partner with other like minded people, just like you, to build this virtual Blues Hall of Fame ® e Museum”.
Dan Marolt, a musician himself, especially cherish the category ”Great Blues Artists & Great Blues Bands”. At his website it says: ”This level system allows most performing Blues Artists to be included, and to possibly advance to the next higher level. Great Local Blues Artists are the ´True Blue´, ´In the Trenches´, ´Unsung Hero´s, who dedicate their entire life, learning, practicing and performing their art form. They then travel from town to town, night after night, performing for us at our Local Blues Club for little more than the applause from the audience”.
The purpose of writing this article is to shed a light that the two ”Blues Hall of Fames” are different organizations and induction in one does not necessarily reflect that an artist has been inducted in the other. For anyone who is interested in The Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame, they should visit www.blues.org where there is an award search to find inductees from each year since 1980.
Ultimately, readers should understand that each of these organizations operate under separate and distinct rules and criteria. Mr. Marolt’s organization works much to ensure that lesser known local artists can receive recognition, while The Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame is internationally recognized as honoring those blues musicians, industry members, recordings, and literature that have made a significiant impact on the genre as a whole.