Buddy Guy Receives 2012 Kennedy Center Nod
Posted 9/18/2012

On Sept. 12, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced that bluesman Buddy Guy is among the 2012 Kennedy Center Honorees. Guy and the other honorees—actor Dustin Hoffman, talk-show host David Letterman, ballerina Natalia Makarova and rock band Led Zeppelin—will be officially recognized at a gala at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 2.

The three surviving members of Led Zeppelin—bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones, guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant—will each receive the Kennedy Center Honor.

In keeping with tradition, the 35th edition of the event will be attended by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Prior to the gala performance, the honorees will be invited to a celebratory dinner at the White House.

“With their extraordinary talent, creativity and tenacity, the seven 2012 Kennedy Center Honorees have contributed significantly to the cultural life of our nation and the world,” said Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein. “Buddy Guy is a titan of the blues and has been a tremendous influence on virtually everyone who has picked up an electric guitar in the last half-century.”

Guy, who was born in 1936 in Lettsworth, La., has influenced multiple generations of musicians, thanks to his work as a leader and as a collaborator with artists such as Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Known for his signature staccato attacks and unsurpassed showmanship, Guy was also a significant sideman during his tenure at Chicago’s Chess Records, where he recorded from 1960 to 1968. In addition to releasing the hit single “Stone Crazy” on Chess, Guy was the resident in-house guitarist on many of the label’s most significant recordings, including Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” and Koko Taylor’s “Wang Dang Doodle” as well as records by Waters, Willie Dixon and Little Walter.

Guy left Chess in 1968 and moved to Vanguard Records, where his recordings included A Man And The Blues and Hold That Plane! Other titles from that era include Buddy & The Juniors (Blue Thumb), an acoustic 1970 release featuring pianist Junior Mance and harmonica player Junior Wells; Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Play The Blues (1972); and the concert album Live In Montreux (1977).

Guy’s recording career quieted in the ’80s, but a turning point was a performance with Clapton during the guitarist’s multi-night run at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1990–’91. His appearance with Clapton led to a new recording contract with Silvertone Records, and he became one of the top blues artists of the ’90s. His groundbreaking 1991 album, Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues, included appearances by Clapton, Jeff Beck and Mark Knopfler. The album earned Guy five W.C. Handy awards and a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album, and it became one of the best-selling blues albums of the past 25 years.

Guy was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. In May, Da Capo Press published his autobiography, When I Left Home: My Story.

“I am a simple man blessed to be able to make a living at what I love, and I am a fortunate man to have learned from the best—from men like Muddy Waters—who made me promise to keep the blues alive,” Guy said. “I cannot begin to describe my feelings of deep gratitude to be receiving the Kennedy Center Honor. I am even more humbled because this award was beyond my wildest dreams in 1957 when I left home and my mother and father to pluck my guitar, promising to return to them one day with a polka dot Cadillac. This Louisiana, and now Chicago, man respectfully thanks the Kennedy Center for such high praise and especially for recognizing and helping to keep the blues alive today.”

Guy is one of several jazz and blues musicians honored by the Kennedy Center’s Board of Trustees for a lifetime of artistic achievement. Previous Kennedy Center honorees include saxophonist Sonny Rollins (2011), pianist Dave Brubeck (2009), singer Tony Bennett (2005) and guitarist B.B. King (1995).

The Kennedy Center Honors medallions for the 2012 artists will be presented on Dec. 1, the night before the gala, at a State Department dinner hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Dec. 2 gala will be recorded for broadcast on the CBS network as a two-hour prime-time special on Dec. 26. For more information on this year’s honorees, visit the Kennedy Center website.

—Hilary Brown


Buddy Guy (Photo: Paul Natkin)

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