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Remembering Bobby "Blue" Bland

Photo by Masahiro Sumori

Part crooner, part blues howler, the great Bobby “Blue” Bland had a voice that influenced the entire genre of soul music. “The Lion of the Blues” died at his home in Germantown on June 23, 2013. He was 83.

His memorial service was held at First Baptist Church – Broad on Thursday, June 27. The funeral procession, en route to Memorial Park Cemetery, made a detour down Beale Street, where Bland’s storied career began.

A group of musicians joined in playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” as the coffin and a string of Limousines passed the onlookers.

Bland was born in 1930 in Rosemark, a small town in northern Shelby County. His mother brought him to Memphis when he was 17.

“My mother wanted me to have a little more than what Rosemark had to offer,” Bland told Peter Guralnick in an interview for the author’s 1979 book “Lost Highway.” “I always would tell her that some day I would make a lot of money and be able to take care of her.”

Early in Bland’s career he was part of a loose knit band of musicians called the Beale Streeters. He was also a chauffeur and opening act for his friend B.B. King.

Bland recorded a few songs with Sam Phillips at Sun Studio before getting drafted in the army in 1952. Five years later and back in Memphis, Bland found his signature style, influenced in part by velvety crooners like Nat King Cole and gospel belters like the Reverend C.L. Franklin -- Aretha’s father.

His best selling tunes include “I Pity the Fool,” “Farther Up the Road,” and “Turn On Your Love Light.”

Though many of Bland’s tunes didn’t have the popularity of some of his contemporaries’, 23 of his songs rose to the Top 10 on Billboard’s R&B charts. The “Sinatra of the Blues” was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and earned the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award five years later.

At Wednesday’s memorial service, a number of dignitaries paid tribute. Among them were Jesse Jackson, Memphis mayor A.C. Wharton, Stax songwriter David Porter and his old friend B.B. King.