BMI winners took home an impressive 96% of the awards, including Charlie Musselwhite as Contemporary Male Artist of the Year and Blues Instrumentalist (harmonica), and Solomon Burke as Soul Male Artist of the Year and for Soul Blues Album of the Year (Don't Give Up On Me). Legendary BMI blues man B.B. King repeated as Blues Entertainer of the Year and longtime Chicago favorite Magic Slim & the Teardrops earned Blues Band of Year accolades.
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. The United States Senate passed a resolution last winter declaring 2003 the Year of the Blues in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of when W. C. 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 a Blues Symposium with workshops, the Handy Awards Music Festival, a blues film fest, the Handy Awards Children's Festival and the annual induction of the Blues Hall of Fame. This year's inductees included Fats Domino, Dinah Washington, Handy winner Pinetop Perkins and Sippie Wallace, whose "Women Be Wise" was made popular by Bonnie Raitt. To date, 96% of the performers in the Blues Hall of Fame are BMI songwriters.