Bobby “Blue” Bland was born Robert Calvin Brooks on January 27, 1930, in Millington, Tennessee. Some sources state that his birthplace was Rosemark, Tennessee. His biological father left when Bobby was a child. His mother, Mary Lee, raised him by herself until she married a man named Leroy Bridgeforth (a.k.a. Leroy Bland) when Bobby was six years old.
Brooks attended elementary school until the third grade. At that age, he dropped out in order to earn money by working in the cotton fields. Despite his lack of a formal education, he learned a great deal about music. He attributed his musical knowledge to one of his main influencers, T-Bone Walker.
By 1947, Brooks had moved to Memphis, Tennessee. There he began his music career and adopted Bland as his stage name. He first joined a group called the Miniatures. He then co-founding The Beale Streeters alongside fellow future musical legends, B. B. King and Johnny Ace. During this time, he also recorded for several labels, including Chess, Duke, and Modern.
In 1952, Bland had to place his music career on hold. He was drafted into the U.S. military. By 1954, he was discharged. From there, he began pursuing his music career more diligently. He ultimately signed a contract with Duke Records. In 1957, he released his first No. 1 hit, Farther On Up The Road.
Bland earned the nickname, “Blue,” from two main contributing factors. He recorded a song, titled Little Boy Blue, which was inspired by one of Reverend C.L. Franklin’s–Aretha Franklin’s father–sermons. The nickname, “Blue,” was also given to Bland because he sang numerous songs about heartache.
Shortly after releasing his first No. 1 hit, Bland headlined a tour. He faced challenges, however, due to his alcohol abuse. Nevertheless, he persisted and had a successful tour. Bland continued recording and performing throughout the remainder of the 20th century. He created such hits in the ’70s, like Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City and Goin’ Down Slow.
Bobby “Blue” Bland died from an unknown illness on June 23, 2013. He was 83 years old. Bland received numerous honors and accolades for his contribution to music. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. In 1997, he was granted the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. Finally, he was later inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2012.
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