After a singing career that spanned more than five decades, soul-blues vocalist and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Bobby "Blue" Bland passed away on June 23, 2013, in his home state of Tennessee. He was 83. Bland was one of soul music's greatest singers. His vocals were grainy, but, at the same time, warm and intimate. He played a major role in transforming the blues and gospel into a sound that became soul music.
"To me, there is no better singer that sings any kind of song than Bobby Bland," said B.B. King during his induction of Bland at the 1992 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. "Bobby Bland is one of a kind." As a young man, Bland served as a chauffeur for King and Roscoe Gordon, and as a valet for Junior Parker. He eventually became part of a loose-knit group called the Beale Streeters – so named for the Memphis street where they congregated – which included King, Gordon, Parker, Johnny Ace, Billy Duncan and Earl Forrest.
In the latter half of the Fifties, after returning to Memphis following military duty, Bland matured into a masterful singer and assured entertainer. His hallmark was his supple, confidential soul-blues delivery. As a singer, Bland projected a down-to-earth quality, punctuated with guttural growls and snorts that would come to be known as the “chicken-bone sound.” Yet his voice was simultaneously smooth as velvet, allowing Bland to bring audiences under his hypnotic spell as he walked a fine line between passionate expression and exquisite self-control.
Bland recorded straight blues such as 1957’s “Farther On Up the Road" and “Little Boy Blue" a year later, before evolving into more of an intimate soul-blues stylist. “I’ll Take Care of You,” which reached Number Two on the R&B charts in 1960, marked the beginning of "the Bobby Bland sound." It was also the first of a dozen straight Top 12 R&B hits, including “Lead Me On,” “I Pity the Fool,” “Stormy Monday Blues,” “That’s the Way Love Is” and “Turn on Your Love Light.” As a measure of his considerable appeal to black audiences, Bland placed an amazing 51 singles on the R&B Top 40.
Across his impressive recorded catalog, Bland's vocals were the centerpiece. In the Seventies, His California Album and Dreamer as well as a series of duets with B.B. King introduced Bland to white audiences and were among the most popular albums of his career. Then, in the early Eighties, Bland signed with Malaco Records, and the label reinforced his Southern soul connections.
Bland released Memphis Monday Morning in 1998, a potent reminder of his inimitable soul-blues vocal style. As a septuagenarian, Bland recorded Blues at Midnight, released in 2003, and the blues troubadour continued performing well into the aughts.
Watch B.B. King induct Bobby "Blue" Bland into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and Bland accept his award.