Minnesota Blues Society

Honoring the Musicians, Composers, Authors and Individuals Who Have Made a Historical Contribution, Impact and Overall Influence on the Blues in the State of Minnesota.


July 5, 2011
CONTACT: Marilee Blake, Director
Co-Chair Hall of Fame Committee
Minnesota Blues Society


(Minneapolis, MN) Internationally renowned singer/songwriter, Big Walter Smith will receive the 2012 Blues Hall of Fame top honor as "Blues Performer." Other 2012 honorees include “Legendary” singer/keyboardist James Samuel "Cornbread" Harris, guitar wizard, Dan Schwalbe; the eclectic Electric Fetus record emporium, author Cyn Collins; the venerable singer/musician Pat Hayes and late songwriter/musician Will Donicht. The 2012 Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame Ceremony takes place on Sunday, October 14, at Wilebski's Blues Saloon in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Big Walter Smith
Big Walter Smith

The Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame honors musicians, people and businesses that have significantly contributed to the promotion and tradition of the Blues music genre in Minnesota over the past 20 or more years. Besides this year’s awards being bestowed in the six customary categories of Blues Performer, Blues Sideman, Non-Performer Supportive of the Blues, Blues Art & Literature, Blues Recording and Blues Song from which nominations were collected from the general public and then voted upon in May by Minnesota Blues Society members-of-good standing, the Minnesota Blues Society’s Hall of Fame Nominations Committee exercised the option to endorse the "Blues Legend" category this year.

The 2012 honored inductees are:

Big Walter Smith — "Blues Performer"

Big Walter Smith has been a fixture in the Midwest blues scene since 1970. His substantial presence and velveteen voice have graced almost every Blues and R&B stage in the Midwest. He has been in the music business for over 56 years, appearing on stage with Albert Collins, Albert King, BB King and Bobby Bland. In 1998, Walter became the first Blues musician to be inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in New Ulm, MN. Other honors that he and his band, The Groove Merchants, have received include: The Twin Cities Blues News Best Blues Band (1997). Minnesota Blues Society Horn Band (1995). Minnesota Blues Society Male Vocalist (1989). Minnesota's Black Music Award R&B Horn Band (1987, 1988). Minnesota Blues Society Recognition Award (1988). Minnesota’s Black Music Award Male Vocalist (1983, 1984, 1986, 1987).1

Big Walter Smith has been a popular favorite at Duluth, Minnesota’s International Bayfront Blues Festival every year since its 1988 inception, and although many bands and musicians have played there multiple times, Big Walter is consistently welcomed back year after year to grace the big stage. Big Walter is scheduled to perform there in 2012, as well, which would total 24 years. Not only has Big Walter received accolades for his musical accomplishments; he and his wife, Shirley, have been honored for their community service work, as well.

1Facts taken from Big Walter Smith's website, www.bigwaltersmith.com.

James Samuel "Cornbread" Harris, Sr. — "Blues Legend Award"

The Minnesota Blues Society is pleased to announce that James Samuel "Cornbread" Harris, Sr. has been selected by the Nominations Committee of the Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame as its first recipient of the "Blues Legend Award."

Cornbread Harris
"Cornbread" Harris

The "Blues Legend Award" was created to honor an artist, who has made significant, timeless and historical contributions to the Blues genre in Minnesota. Unlike most other Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame categories, this award is determined by committee selection rather than by a vote of the membership of the Minnesota Blues Society.

Orphaned at the age of three, Cornbread moved to St. Paul, Minnesota to live with his grandparents before the age of 12. He has been playing the piano and singing around the Twin Cities area for more than 60 years. In the mid-1950's, he teamed with St. Paul's, Augie Garcia, to write the hit tune, "Hi Yo Silver." He still performs regularly on Friday nights from 6 to 10 pm at the Loring Pasta Bar in Dinkytown.1

In 2007, Harris was the Road To Memphis Challenge winner in the "solo" category and represented the Minnesota Blues Society at the 2008 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN. It was his first trip to Memphis and as fate would have it, Andrew "Cadillac" Kolstad and his band accompanied Cornbread as the "band" act from Minnesota. Cornbread has been a mentor to Cadillac for years.

1Excerpted from Riemneschneider, Chris (April 20, 2006). "Past is present for Cornbread Harris." The Star Tribune.

Dan Schwalbe, Guitar — "Blues Sideman"

Dan Schwalbe, 2012 Blues Sideman, is a consummate Bluesman through and through. A sideman, yes, but also a "destination" performer. Blues enthusiasts flock to hear Dan’s tasty guitar licks and melodic runs regardless of who headlines the band. His guitar handiwork will prove to move and groove!

He grew up in a family filled with musical talent. His maternal grandmother played the piano in a trio (piano, drummer and trumpet) for silent movies and barn dances. Grandma Lusso and her two step brothers also played organ. Dan's father played piano.

Dan had many mentors including Lazy Bill Lucas, Sonny Rodgers, Mojo Buford, Percy Strother, Baby Doo Caston, Steve Kilbride and Joel Johnson. More than anything else, these guys eased Dan's way into professional musicianship with their encouragement and by giving him opportunities to play. Now Dan is the mentor. He performs regularly with Javier and the Innocent Sons and he’ll pop up in many other bands, too.

The Electric Fetus (Record Store) — "Supportive of the Blues (Non-Performer)"

Founded by Keith Covart, Dan Foley, Ron Korsh and Roger Emalie, this one-of-a-kind music retailer first opened its doors in 1968. Headquartered in Minneapolis, with additional locations in Duluth and St Cloud, the "Fetus" is the "go to" store to find Minnesota's most complete collection of Blues music. It has been at its current 2010 4th Ave S. Minneapolis location, for the past 39 years. Keith Covart still co-owns the Electric Fetus, along with his daughter, Stephanie Covart-Meyerring, who he is "grooming" into the business.

In 2007, the Blues Foundation honored the Electric Fetus with a "Keeping the Blues Alive" Award for "Retailer of the Year." The "Fetus" is involved with various festivals, including the Duluth Bayfront Blues Festival, where it hosts in-store performances and a retail tent on the festival grounds.

Cyn Collins, West Bank Boogie (Book) — "Blues Art & Literature"

Cyn authored West Bank Boogie in 2007 and it contains forty years of music, mayhem and memories from the West Bank scene featuring Minneapolis artists who did so much to influence the soul of American music. From the legendary roots trio Koerner, Ray and Glover and R&B innovator Willie Murphy to folk music icons Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson, bluesman Lazy Bill Lucas, and bebop legend Eddie Berger, West Bank Boogie recalls the local folk, blues, jazz, and R&B scene that helped revive these musical genres nationwide.

Lamont Cranston Blues Band, Tiger in Your Tank — "Blues Recording"

Tiger in Your Tank was originally issued on vinyl in 1988 by Cold Wind Records featuring ten "Blues" tracks including the audio sample, "House Party." The band for this recording consisted of Pat Hayes on vocals, harp and slide guitar, Bob Bingham on guitar, Danny Rowles on keyboard, Bill Black on upright bass, Jim Novak on drums, Joe Chandler on saxophone, Paul Scher on saxophone, Pete Masters on trombone and Tony Moen on trumpet. Produced by Pat Hayes and engineered by Jeff Bjork, Tiger in Your Tank was recorded at Control Sound Studios, Minneapolis, MN. In 1999 the recording was remastered and re-released as a CD.

Will Donicht, "Blues on the Bank" — "Blues Song"

If the West Bank Blues scene ever wanted an anthem, this could well have been it! Will Donicht’s well-crafted lyrics paint a colorful and a bit outrageous image of a classic era in Minnesota Blues. The Donicht lyrics float above the classic Blues sound that made the Joel Johnson Band a local favorite, featuring their Hall of Fame line up of local Blues talents. The Joel Johnson band includes Joel on Rhythm guitar and vocals, John Franken on lead guitar and vocals, Will Donicht on Bass and vocals, Jon Norstad on drums and Tom Burns on Harmonica. While "Blues on the Bank" might serve as grounds for indictment if not for the expiration of the Statue of Limitations, there is no expiration on the way this song can induce your feet to tappin’ and your face to smilin’. This song is from the CD, Turnin’ Heads, recorded on the Blue Loon Records label in 1995.

The Minnesota Blues Society is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in August 2002. If you would like to help sponsor the Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame, please contact Melody Jacobson, Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame Ceremony Committee Co-Chair at 651-771-1958, or Marilee Blake, Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame Ceremony Co-Chair at 612-721-5512, .

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Your help and support enables us to continue to pay tribute to and honor our local blues musicians through our various programs. See www.mnbs.org or contact us: (mail) MnBS, PO Box 580704, Minneapolis, MN 55458-0704 (e-mail) (phone) 612-721-5512. Our "Blues for Kids" program has introduced young people to the joy of playing a musical instrument in the hope that it will inspire them to become future musicians or at least help them to appreciate this musical genre called the Blues. Musicians: Please volunteer to teach a "Blues for Kids" session by contacting Joe Byrnes: .

This Page Last Updated: Tuesday, July 10, 2012

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