Blues Blast Magazine 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award
True leadership centers on a vision of a brighter future along with the dogged determination to turn that vision into reality, the willingness to make personal sacrifices and tough decisions to maintain the focus on the vision, and the ability to enlist other people into adopting the vision as their own. The ultimate expression of leadership can be seen when an individual implements a bold vision that achieves transformational changes within their organization.
In 2003, the Blues Foundation was mired in a sea of debt, declining membership, and broken organizational structures. When the Board of Directors began to search for a leader with the skills necessary to rescue the Foundation, they didn’t have to cast a wide net. Attorney Jay Sieleman had been serving on the Foundation’s Advisory Board, providing guidance to affiliate organizations on non-profit and legal issues unique to a Blues Society. Hired as the Director of Administration, Sieleman began implementing the steps required to turn the moribund Foundation into an international advocate for Blues music.
Growing up in small-town Iowa, in the midst of America’s heartland, Sieleman’s exposure to blues music was limited to the occasional hit record from B.B. King or Robert Cray that somehow managed to carve out space on commercial radio. He attended the University of Iowa, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, followed three years later with a Juris Doctor from the University of Iowa College of Law. He then served as the assistant county attorney for Des Moines, becoming the first full-time juvenile prosecutor in the state. In 1983 Sieleman fulfilled his long-standing interest in the Peace Corps, volunteering for two years as a provincial legal advisor in the Solomon Islands.
That experience only furthered his wanderlust. Sieleman eventually secured a position with the Panama Canal Commission as preparations were under way to complete the transfer of ownership of the Canal to the citizens of Panama. While working on that project, Sieleman discovered the existence of the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. In 1994, along with his wife Priscilla, he sailed on his first Blues Cruise and instantly became a huge fan of the music and the musicians. His passion for the music was the spark that convinced him to volunteer with the Blues Foundation. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Under Sieleman’s leadership as President & CEO, the Foundation has achieved a solid financial position with annual revenue that exceeds $1,000,000. The Blues Challenge was nurtured, growing into a truly international event with participating affiliates from countries around the globe. The Youth Showcase was added, giving aspiring musicians a chance to be heard. The Blues Music Awards have grown in stature to be recognized as one of the top honors that a blues musician could receive. The HART fund was established to aid musicians and their families with health issues. In 2010, the Foundation implemented the Generations Blues program that provides financial support for young musicians who are interested in attending workshops or camps focused on Blues music.
For many, Sieleman will be remembered for his leadership in developing the Blues Hall of Fame. After years of planning, raising the necessary funds, and purchasing a building to house the Hall of Fame as well as the Foundation offices, Sieleman’s vision came to fruition in May of this year when the Hall of Fame opened to the public in its new home in Memphis, devoting over 12,000 square feet to the legendary performers who created the Blues music legacy.
For his passionate advocacy and inspired leadership of the Blues Foundation over the last twelve years, Publisher Bob Kieser and the staff of Blues Blast Magazine proudly present Mr. Jay Sieleman with the 2015 Blues Blast Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award.