BMI blues artists Shemekia Copeland and Magic Slim & the Teardrops top the list of nominees with five each. Copeland, the daughter of late blues guitarist Johnny Copeland, counts among her nominations Entertainer of the Year and Album of the Year. Longtime Chicago favorite Magic Slim received nods for Entertainer, Male Artist, and Guitarist, as well as a Traditional Blues Album nomination for Blue Magic. Other nominees include Charlie Musselwhite who earned four mentions, and Deborah Coleman, Otis Taylor, Marcia Ball, Etta James and Anson Funderburgh with two nods each. In addition, legendary BMI blues man B.B. King earned an Entertainer of the Year nomination.
For over two decades, the Handy Awards have celebrated excellence in performance and recording of the blues and is the highest honor bestowed upon artists in the blues industry. This year's Handy Awards are particularly noteworthy since the United States Senate passed a resolution last winter declaring 2003 the Year of the Blues in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of when Handy first heard the blues in a train depot in Mississippi. The year will be marked by numerous events and projects celebrating the blues, including last February's star-studded concert at Radio City Music Hall in New York and the debut in September of a seven-part documentary series on PBS entitled "The Blues," executive produced by Martin Scorsese and featuring segments directed by Clint Eastwood and Wim Wenders. Named for the "Father of the Blues," the W.C. Handy Blues Awards are produced by the Memphis-based Blues Foundation, a non-profit organization established to "preserve, celebrate and support" the blues.
The awards ceremony is the traditional opener to the Handy Weekend, a series of events for blues musicians, industry members, and fans. Handy Weekend events include the Blues Hall of Fame induction ceremony, a Blues Symposium with workshops, the Handy Awards Music Festival, a blues film fest, and the Handy Awards Children's Festival.