Marilyn Stringer – Blues In The 21st Century Vol. 3 – The BMA Experience
Hardcover 366 pages
As she describes in the introduction to her latest book, Marilyn Stringer has been taking photos of blues musicians and events for the past 15 years. Her photographs appear regularly in various blues publications. The first volume of her Blues In The 21st Century series focused on the musicians, with interviews punctuated with photos. The second volume was dedicated to a decade of the Waterfront Blues Festival, held annually in Portland, Oregon, switching to format that featured her pictures of over 300 performers who appeared at the festival over the ten year period.
She utilizes a similar format for her new book, offering a photographic montage covering ten years of the Blues Music Awards ceremony and related events held in Memphis, and the surrounding area. Sponsored by the Blues Foundation, the Blues Music Awards show is an annual event featuring many of the best blues artists in the world. While the Awards show is the highlight of the weekend, there are plenty of other sterling, unique musical events that take place over the four day weekend.
The first section of the book pays tribute to some of the blues artists as well as people listed as “Friends of the Blues” who left this planet during the span covered by the book, including Otis Clay, Eddie Shaw, Michael Ledbetter, and Little Charlie Baty.
Subsequent sections start with two pages that list each of the Blues Music Awards for that year, the nominees for each, and the recipient of the award listed first in highlight. Mixed in are small photos of some of the artists accepting their awards, as well as shots of a number of celebrity presenters. The following pages contain larger photos of the artists who performed at the awards show, always some of the best in the business.
Then Stringer adds more vivid photographs taken at various fund-raising events, jam sessions, and showcases throughout Memphis. Also included are photographs of some of the award show attendees and musicians displayed in page after page of colorful montages, with photos of varying sizes vying for your attention, as many as 20 photos to a page, so there is plenty to look at.
Part of the fun of slowly turning the pages is challenging yourself to see how many people you can identify on each page. There are plenty of pictures capturing special moments on the stage, as each musician strives to play their best in front of many of their peers. There is always plenty of music going on in Clarksdale, Mississippi, on the Saturday after the awards ceremony, and Stringer gives readers a taste of what you can expect from that experience, too.
While the book is a treasure trove of memories, it will undoubtedly tug at your heartstrings at some point. When you turn to page 186, you immediately see Little Charlie smiling at you. Then you notice that the photo to his left shows the legendary Otis Clay talking to Bob Sekinger, another noted photographer. And directly below Baty is a picture with another great, Eddie Shaw. All three are no longer with us. Seeing a multitude of photos from 2017-2018 featuring singer Michael Ledbetter sparks memories of a dynamic performer taken just as he was reaching for the stars. A historic photo from Eddie Shaw’s retirement party, held at the Blues Hall of Fame in 2018, has four Hall of Fame inductees with Shaw, Latimore, Eddy Clearwater, and Bobby Rush, along with then Chairman of the Blues Foundation Board of Directors, Paul Benjamin.
The 2020 Awards show was done virtually due to the pandemic restrictions, so that section is two pages of awards, nominees & winners, and photos of most of the recipients with their awards, including Christone “Kingfish” Ingram with his five awards. Following that is eight pages of color-coded spreadsheets that include many of the musicians appearing in the book in alphabetical order by first name, listing the years that they were part of the Awards show or various other key musical events. And as a final thoughtful touch, there are five pages at the end left blank so that book owners have room for autographs. The pages are bordered at the bottom with photos of Memphis highlights like the sign for Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken (yes, it is that good!) and one for the Sun Recording Studio.
Stringer is donating the bulk of the profit from sales of her book to the Blues Foundation’s Emergency Covid Relief Fund, which has already helped many artists deal with the monetary effects of the pandemic on their livelihood, in case you needed one more reason to help you decide to purchase a copy.
For those who regularly attended the BMA weekends during the covered period, this book will surely bring back a flood of memories as you check out each photo to see if you make an appearance. If you have yet to experience the Blues Music Awards, Stringer has now made it possible for you to live vicariously through her fine photographs, which will probably spark your desire to attend next year’s event, when it will hopefully be live and in-person once again.
And don’t forget, buying the book from Marilyn’s website helps make the world a better place for the musicians that speak to our souls. From the shot of Beale Street on the cover, to the photo of a bottle tree at the Hopson Plantation in Clarksdale on the back cover, the BMA experience takes flight through Marilyn Stringer’s loving work in a book that you will refer to time and again. Don’t miss it!
(Disclosure – The reviewer appears in a number of photographs in The BMA Experience.)