A Brief History of the Toronto Blues Society
Formed in 1985 by a group of enthusiasts who saw legendary blues nightclub Albert’s Hall spike blues interest and wanted to protect the stability of Toronto’s blues with an organization. This group included Derek Andrews, David Barnard and John Valenteyn, who wanted to ensure that blues music, an indigenous North American art form, was guaranteed a continued presence in Toronto. Although the blues scene at the time was thriving, it had almost disappeared during the late 1970s disco era. This suggested the need for an organization that would work to create a climate in which the opportunities for live performances, radio airplay and national touring that can make a career in music viable were being made available to blues musicians. Interest in the organization was immediate, and a paid membership of over 500 was established within two years. The membership has heald strong around that number ever since.
The Toronto Blues Society (TBS) is governed by a working Board of Directors. Staff positions include an Office Manager and Office Assistant, Event Coordinator, Grants Officer, Bookkeeper, Sponsorship and Advertising Coordinator, Newsletter Editor as well as additional contract services and a large core of volunteers that is continually renewing. Self-generated revenue from memberships, advertising and fundraising has been supplemented by funding from government, foundations and corporate sponsorship.
Since the organization’s inception, the TBS has experienced tremendous growth in terms of its structure, services and programming. The Toronto Blues Society’s monthly publication, Maple Blues, is well known throughout the international blues community. The TBS website is an indispensable portal for blues fans, with an online edition of the newsletter and links to hundreds of other Canadian blues artists and resources. The TBS created the on line Blues Book directory and the Maple Blues listserv, an email discussion group for the Canadian blues community. A weekly email broadcast called Where It’s At promotes events and social media such as Facebook and Twitter are now all used to reach out to blues fans.
Willie Dixon and Derek Andrews
The Toronto Blues Society began a Blues in the Schools program in 1992 and successfully secured Trillium Foundation funding for three years in 1999 to expand the program. Since then, the TBS has managed a program of outreach to the Toronto area school system that has placed concerts, workshops and intensive sessions in both elementary and secondary schools. The TBS holds this initiative in high regard and looks forward to expanding Blues in the Schools in cooperation with teachers. We also value the education workshops we have staged to help musicians find their way in a competitive creative industry. This includes collaborations with Folk Music Ontario (FMO), Songwriters Association of Canada and Worlds of Music Toronto such as Music Money. These panels led to the creation of a national biannual conference called the Blues Summit where artists showcase for talent buyers, seminars address the evolving music industry landscape and some very social networking takes place.
The Maple Blues Awards has become a must attend blues event with an annual gala at Toronto’s Koerner Hall. The TBS Talent Search has attracted up-and-coming blues bands from across the country and provided a launching pad for many new artists. The TBS programs a diverse array of activities that includes performance workshops (guitar, harmonica, etc), a Blues in the Schools program, the annual Women’s Blues Revue, concerts, showcases and community outreach events, provides consultation to musicians and the music industry, and advocacy on behalf of the blues community.
As the community grows, the Toronto Blues Society continues to find new ways to promote this music that is so deeply connected to the North American spirit.
For more information about the history of the Toronto Blues Society, check out the TBS Archive.