President and CEO, The Blues Foundation
Photography by Larry Kuzniewski
The first time Jay Sieleman set foot in Memphis was in 1996 to attend a Blues Foundation event, The Blues Award. At the time, he had no idea that his love of this soulful genre of music would play a huge role both in his personal and professional arenas. A native of Iowa, he joined the Peace Corps after completing law school. From there, he worked for the Panama Canal Commission where the island life slowly transformed his taste in music and culture. “I lived in Panama for 13 years, and it's Latin and Caribbean. That means it's fun, and people and are important. [In that way,] Memphis is like a Caribbean country because food, fun, and music are a very important part of the culture here — it's not just work, work, work.” When asked what's so special about the Blues, he says, “It's important to know that rock-and-roll is based in the blues.When you listen to rock-and-roll, you're really just listening to souped up blues. That's what I liked all along whether I knew it or not. In addition to the music, it's the people. I've often said being a blues fan says more about you than just your taste in music. If you reject pop music and become a blues fan, you might also reject mass-marketed beer and like craft beer. Obviously if you're enamored with African American music, you have to also be a person who appreciates diversity. If you put all these things together it creates a certain type of person; so if you both like blues you'll probably have more in common than just music.” It's easy to see why everything about the music, the Foundation, and our city tug at your heartstrings. “I'm one of the lucky ones because where I work, people come to Memphis on purpose and love everything about it.” For that reason, Sieleman and the Blues Foundation are giving fans a brick and mortar place to celebrate this art-form, which broke ground on June 1.