HomePine Bluff newsPine Bluff's blues maestro honored with prestigious blues award

Pine Bluff’s blues maestro honored with prestigious blues award

Pine Bluff, Arkansas – The world of blues music celebrated yet another stalwart this year at the 2023 King Biscuit Blues Festival. Manis “Detroit Johnny” Johnson, a revered blues artist hailing from Pine Bluff, was recognized for his enduring contribution to the genre. This commendation came in the form of the coveted 2023 Sonny Payne Award for Blues Excellence, also lovingly referred to as “The Sonny.”

A Legacy of Blues Excellence

Presented at the Delta Cultural Center’s Miller Annex situated in Helena, Arkansas, the award ceremony was a prelude to Johnson’s highly anticipated performance on the Front Porch Blues Stage. The Sonny Award is a hallmark of respect and acknowledgment, earmarking those who’ve made profound contributions to the blues music emanating from the Arkansas Delta.

Drawing inspiration from the iconic “Sunshine” Sonny Payne, the voice behind the “King Biscuit Time” radio program, this award has historically been bestowed upon musicians who’ve not only had a remarkable career but have also wielded substantial influence over the blues genre. The selection process also holds a preference for artists intricately linked with the Arkansas Delta, resonating with the region’s rich blues heritage.

Detroit Johnny’s story began in 1944. Taking to the world of professional blues in his teenage years, he strummed his guitar alongside the likes of Robert Nighthawk. The moniker “Detroit Johnny” became synonymous with his name during a stint in Michigan. Following his time there, Johnson returned to his roots in Arkansas, specifically Pine Bluff, rapidly cementing his place in the local blues circuit.

Being an integral part of the Port City Blues Society for numerous years, Johnson’s association with the DCC has seen him deliver countless memorable performances. His musical journey is further embellished with hits from his 2012 album, “Calahula Man.” With a lineage of winners like B.B. King, James Cotton, and Mavis Staples, “The Sonny” only solidifies Johnson’s influential stature in the blues community.

In honoring Detroit Johnny with the 2023 Sonny Award, the blues community not only celebrates his remarkable career but also pays homage to the deep-seated blues tradition of the Delta region.

Nathan Kim



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