Five people who have spread the blues through their music and advocacy are set to be honored at a gala Thursday hosted by the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation, the organization behind the annual spring festival that draws thousands of music fans to Louisiana’s capital city.
The spring festival celebrates Baton Rouge’s prominent place in the blues world with two days of local, regional and national musicians taking stages downtown. But each fall, the Blues Foundation holds a gala to bring blues aficionados closer to the personal history of south Louisiana blues at a smaller and more intimate event.
In addition to serving as a fundraiser, the gala "gives us an opportunity to live out our mission, which is to promote, preserve and propel the south Louisiana blues genre," said Kim Neustrom, the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation's executive director.
The foundation's sixth annual gala will be held 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Thursday at the Old Governor's Mansion, with live music by the Blue Monday All Stars and DJ Swamp Boogie, and a new display of regional blues memorabilia, collectibles and artifacts. The gala is produced in partnership with Pal Productions and Preserve Louisiana.
The event will shine a spotlight on five people who have played a part in shaping or helping to spread Baton Rouge's blues tradition. And by shining a spotlight on those people and their work, the foundation is working to introduce attendees to blues history on a smaller platform.
"At the gala, we get to celebrate [the blues] by saying this is the music and these were the people," said Maxine Crump, member emeritus of the foundation's board.
"This is about our heritage," Crump added. "We're celebrating and honoring the heritage of the blues. We're keeping it alive so that people know that blues is America's original music."
This year's honorees include Clarence Williams, Lil Buck Sinegal, Rob Payer, Willie Durrisseau and Bobby Rush.
An early 20th century blues pianist, Williams will be recognized with the Blues Original Award, which goes to those who shaped the blues sound and whose music flourished during the height of the blues era.
Sinegal, who died this summer, was a sought-after guitarist who performed with Slim Harpo, Allen Toussaint and Rockin' Dopsie. He will be recognized with the Blues Tribute Award, given to those whose influence still thrives after their death.
This year's Blues Emissary Award will be given to Payer, a longtime supporter and educator on Baton Rouge blues music. Payer is the production director and music director for WBRH, 90.3 FM, and KBRH, 1260 AM.
Durrisseau will receive the Living Legend Award, given to living musicians who are considered legends in the scene. Durrisseau, who turned 100 on Feb. 20, still plays an old Creole style on his fiddle.
And Grammy-winning bluesman Rush will receive the Red Stick Blues Award for his work touring and spreading the Baton Rouge-area blues. Born in 1933 in Homer, Rush has been awarded 17 blues music awards and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2006.
Blues "is the music that influenced the rest of the music that we hear today, locally, nationally and worldwide," Crump said. "This music did that, and it started here — Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas. Louisiana is the home of the blues just as Mississippi is."