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A Wave of Blues Interest Hits Industry

ACCORDING to the Blues Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and perpetuating "America's original indigenous musical art form," the Blues numbers are up:

Record labels devoted to the blues have increased 26 percent since 1990; blues clubs have proliferated by 52 percent in two years; the number of organizations dedicated to the music is up 39 percent; and new artists, blues festivals, attendance, and blues publications are all on the rise.

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But while those in the industry say the blues is enjoying its biggest revival yet, not everyone is tuned in. "White folks are the ones spending money on it," says Paul Averwater, president of the Beale Street Blues Society in Memphis.

Jerry Washington, 16-year host of a blues radio program in Washington, agrees. "Without [whites] you wouldn't have a large audience for your concerts and your shows."

However, many in the industry also say young blacks aren't listening. What pulls them away, they note, is that - unlike jazz or rap - there's no room for musical exploration in 12-bar blues and their parents listened to it, so it's not cool. It's also a reminder of segregation and poverty, with undercurrents of oppression.

"Blues is something associated with our older generation," says Bobbie Banks-Reid from the Blues Foundation in Memphis. "It isn't something we have gone through ... it's not something that we can readily relate to."

Also, when the foundation organizes blues events and concerts, they "try to make things as inexpensive as we can to allow it to be patronized by people of all colors," says Banks-Reid.

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