Statue erected to honor Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland

Placed at the intersection of South Main Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard, in front of MLGW headquarters, the statue was cast by local artist Andrea Lugar.

Tony Jones, Special to The New Tri-State Defender | 5/19/2017, 10:49 a.m.
Placed at the intersection of South Main Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard, in front of MLGW headquarters, the ...
Members of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s family were on hand for the dedication of the statue erected at the corner of South Main Street and Martin Luther King Drive, in front of MLGW headquarters. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

As one of his biggest hits Further On Up The Road describes, the late, great blues singer Bobby “Blue” Bland may have gone on to a better place than this earthly realm.

But at the emotional dedication of a statue permanently honoring his legacy, friends and fans told stories about his impact and influence in building Memphis’ reputation as the Home of the Blues.

Placed at the intersection of South Main Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard, in front of MLGW headquarters, the statue was cast by local artist Andrea Lugar. The statue shows him as he was best known: mic in hand, elegantly and passionately capturing imaginations as he painted word pictures with that one-of-a-kind voice.

Bland’s real name was Robert Calvin Bland. His son Rodd Bland told The New Tri State Defender that his father was such a loving presence for him that he communes with his spirit “every hour, every day.” The statue only adds to the memories.

“To have this so near Beale Street, where my father got his start, is truly an honor,” Rodd Bland said. “It’s another way for me to be near him physically and my family and I are tremendously grateful.”

Bland’s countless classic performances earned him a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. The blues legend also scored mainstream recognition as an inductee into the Blues Hall of Fame, as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, marking the unforgettable decades of performances captured on his many hit records and amazing live performances.

The effort to fund, create and erect the statue was led by former Blues Foundation President & CEO Jay Sieleman, with help from Paul Benjamin and Roger Naber. Donations topped $50,000 to accomplish the honor. Sieleman was clear about his own love of Bland, too.

“Bobby Blue Bland is the greatest blues singer of all time,” Sieleman said at the statue’s dedication on May 12.

While Naber acknowledged Bland’s commercial success, he also solved a mystery that blues lovers have enthusiastically discussed for decades: Bland’s signature growl, which punctuated his mellow tenor like thunder follows lightning.

“I asked him where did you get that guttural choke in your throat, how did you come up with that idea?” said Naber, a Kansas City native who said he named his own son after Bland. “He said it was Curt Franklin, Aretha’s father who told him he had to have his own style, his own image. We had a lot of great times together.”