Singer Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland Dies at 83

Singer Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, who blended Southern blues and soul in songs such as “Turn on Your Love Light” and “Further on up the Road,” has died from complications from an ongoing illness. He was 83.

Bland was sometimes referred to as the “Lion of the Blues”. Along with such artists as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and Junior Parker, Bland developed a sound that mixed gospel with the blues and R&B. An imitator of Frank Sinatra, he was also known as the “Sinatra of the blues”, his music being influenced by Nat King Cole.

Bobby Bland was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.

Bland was born in Rosemark, Tennessee. Later moving to Memphis with his mother, Bland started singing with local gospel groups there. Eager to expand his interests, he began frequenting the city’s famous Beale Street where he became associated with an ad hoc circle of aspiring musicians named the Beale Streeters.

Bland’s recordings from the early 1950s show him striving for individuality, but any progress was halted by a spell in the U.S. Army. When he returned to Memphis in 1954 he found several of his former associates, including Johnny Ace, enjoying considerable success, while Bland’s recording label, Duke, had been sold to Houston entrepreneur Don Robey.

In 1956 Bland began touring with Junior Parker. Initially he doubled as valet and driver, a role he reportedly fulfilled for B. B. King and Rosco Gordon. Simultaneously, Bland began asserting his characteristic vocal style. Melodic big-band blues singles, including “Farther Up the Road” (1957) and “Little Boy Blue” (1958) reached the US R&B Top 10, but Bobby’s craft was most clearly heard on a series of early 1960s releases including “Cry Cry Cry”, “I Pity The Fool” and the sparkling “Turn On Your Love Light”, which became a much-covered standard. Despite credits to the contrary, many such classic works were written by Joe Scott, the artist’s bandleader and arranger.

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