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VOL. 129 | NO. 5 | Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Blues Foundation Nearing Fundraising Goal for Hall of Fame

By Andy Meek

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The Blues Foundation is about 80 percent of the way toward securing its $2.5 million budget for construction of the Blues Hall of Fame, which will be housed at 421 S. Main St.

The foundation, which bought the physical space for the hall of fame in December 2010, is wrapping up the effort now to raise money for construction and to create the necessary exhibits to accommodate visitors.


Jay Sieleman, the foundation’s president and CEO, said the organization has raised about $1.7 million from blues fans and an additional $325,000 from Memphis – for a total of a little more than $2 million raised so far.

Construction on the space, intended to serve as physical focal point that exposes people to the foundation and to blues music year-round, would start around June 1, provided the remaining $500,000 is raised.

“Our mission is to celebrate blues excellence, preserve blues history, support blues education and help promote this art form,” Sieleman said. “We have a membership base around the world, we put on the big events here in Memphis each year – the Blues Music Awards and the International Blues Challenge – and we have a Web presence. What we don’t have is a day-to-day walk-in presence. And if we had something like that, it would help facilitate the mission.

“So, in thinking about this, we were looking for a physical presence that would add to our ability to serve our mission. And in the process of thinking about it, it became kind of obvious that the way to do that was to construct the Blues Hall of Fame.”

The foundation has used some of the space on Main for office use. Once renovation work is done, interactive exhibits will fill some of the area, with the rest sectioned off for offices.

Sieleman said the architect – archimania – and contractor Grinder, Taber & Grinder Inc. are ready to proceed. The major work left in addition to raising the rest of the money involves securing content for the hall of fame like audio, video, art, artifacts and memorabilia, among other things.

“The Blues Foundation has been inducting performers into the Hall of Fame every year since 1980,” Sieleman said. “So the Hall of Fame exists already in terms of a one-night ceremony. What there hasn’t been is a physical manifestation – a museum with exhibits. The goal of this is to bring people into the Blues Foundation and expose them to blues music on a daily basis throughout the year.”

“We were looking for a physical presence that would add to our ability to serve our mission. ... The way to do that was to construct the Blues Hall of Fame.”

–Jay Sieleman
The Blues Foundation

Construction of the hall of fame, meanwhile, is far from the only thing on the organization’s plate at the moment, at the beginning of what’s shaping up to be a busy 2014. The International Blues Challenge, for example, happens later this month and will bring more than 225 blues acts from 40 states and 16 countries to the area, performing at venues up and down Beale Street.

When that wraps up, the foundation will head straight into preparing for the Blues Music Awards, which will be held in May at the Cook Convention Center and broadcast on the Sirius XM channel “B.B. King’s Bluesville.” Nearly 100 nominees are expected to attend, according to the foundation, and their appearances and performances will take place in a cabaret and dinner setting in the convention center’s ballroom.

The foundation also undertakes social service programs whereby it pays medical bills for blues musicians and funds young musicians’ scholarships. In 2013, it funded about 15 people under age 21 attending summer blues camps, and in fiscal 2013 the foundation paid out about $60,000 in medical, dental and funeral expenses.

The foundation thus makes its presence felt.

“We have a board member who’s a business professor, and he’s pegged the economic impact of our two big events at over $6 million,” Sieleman said. “Construction of the hall of fame is about a six-month project, and if everything goes well, we’ll have a Blues Hall of Fame before the end of the year.”

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