• Wendy Shreve


Competitions, awards, in the past, have helped artists gain recognition and further their careers. Of late, the standards have become diluted by "popularity" and marketing strategies.

Watching Blues on Beale (2022), taped in 2020 before the pandemic, and originating from the home of The Blues, Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, upholds the above assertion. Along with an introduction to the purpose of the annual event and a quick history of the music's origins, briefly mentioning Muddy Waters, B. B. King and those influenced by the genre, e.g., Elvis Presley, we then meet ten competitors (soloists, bands/groups) the filmmakers plan to follow. We also learn about the criteria used by the panel.

Yes, a nod, a short observation about the pain of black communities in the South that fermented the Blues is presented. Nonetheless, many lapses in the back story occur. For example, one founder (The Blues Foundation sponsors the event) mentions that white audiences flocked to see Blues performers during the sixties in contrast to fewer and fewer black attendees. How could this be? Musicians of color had limited access to venues, even during the sixties. And to make a living, many who did establish their reputation, played at venues where they'd make money, via white audiences.

Second, watching this documentary demonstrates how many musical acts from around the world (seventeen countries for this competition) have strived to be original, notable Blues performers, including a talented singer from Nigeria, the only person of color from overseas based on what we see.

Thus, the majority of those attending, adjudicating and competing in this movie comprise either white or of mixed-race people. Only a handful of acts revived the old school Blues, while those with original, more modern interpretations--lyrics in particular--have some success.

For those with no familiarity or a superficial appreciation for the Blues may enjoy this documentary. In essence however, Blues on Beale Street demonstrates how award ceremonies have lost their original purpose.

Unrated. Swearing, mainly.

Available on VOD February 10th.

Earlier reviews not seen on this website (before May 20, 2021) are available on or my previous blog site,

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