A Brief History of the Toronto Blues Society

Guy on Porch


Formed in 1985 by a group of enthusiasts who saw legendary blues nightclub Albert’s Hall spike blues interest and wanted to protect the stability of Toronto’s blues with an organization. This group included Derek Andrews, David Barnard and John Valenteyn, who wanted to ensure that blues music, an indigenous North American art form, was guaranteed a continued presence in Toronto. Although the blues scene at the time was thriving, it had almost disappeared during the late 1970s disco era. This suggested the need for an organization that would work to create a climate in which the opportunities for live performances, radio airplay and national touring that can make a career in music viable were being made available to blues musicians. Interest in the organization was immediate, and a paid membership of over 500 was established within two years. The membership has heald strong around that number ever since.


The Toronto Blues Society (TBS) is governed by a working Board of DirectorsStaff positions include an Office Manager and Office Assistant, Event Coordinator, Grants Officer, Bookkeeper, Sponsorship and Advertising Coordinator, Newsletter Editor as well as additional contract services and a large core of volunteers that is continually renewing. Self-generated revenue from memberships, advertising and fundraising has been supplemented by funding from government, foundations and corporate sponsorship.


Since the organization’s inception, the TBS has experienced tremendous growth in terms of its structure, services and programming. The Toronto Blues Society’s monthly publication, Maple Blues, is well known throughout the international blues community. The TBS website is an indispensable portal for blues fans, with an online edition of the newsletter and links to hundreds of other Canadian blues artists and resources. The TBS created the on line Blues Book directory and the Maple Blues listserv, an email discussion group for the Canadian blues community. A weekly email broadcast called Where It’s At promotes events and social media such as Facebook and Twitter are now all used to reach out to blues fans.

Willie Dixon and Derek Andrews, Albert Hall 1984. Photo by Barry Thomson.

Willie Dixon and Derek Andrews


The Toronto Blues Society began a Blues in the Schools program in 1992 and successfully secured Trillium Foundation funding for three years in 1999 to expand the program. Since then, the TBS has managed a program of outreach to the Toronto area school system that has placed concerts, workshops and intensive sessions in both elementary and secondary schools. The TBS holds this initiative in high regard and looks forward to expanding Blues in the Schools in cooperation with teachers. We also value the education workshops we have staged to help musicians find their way in a competitive creative industry. This includes collaborations with Folk Music Ontario (FMO), Songwriters Association of Canada and Worlds of Music Toronto such as Music Money. These panels led to the creation of a national biannual conference called the Blues Summit where artists showcase for talent buyers, seminars address the evolving music industry landscape and some very social networking takes place.


The Maple Blues Awards has become a must attend blues event with an annual gala at Toronto’s Koerner Hall. The TBS Talent Search has attracted up-and-coming blues bands from across the country and provided a launching pad for many new artists. The TBS programs a diverse array of activities that includes performance workshops (guitar, harmonica, etc), a Blues in the Schools program, the annual Women’s Blues Revue, concerts, showcases and community outreach events, provides consultation to musicians and the music industry, and advocacy on behalf of the blues community.

As the community grows, the Toronto Blues Society continues to find new ways to promote this music that is so deeply connected to the North American spirit.

For more information about the history of the Toronto Blues Society, check out the TBS Archive.

Click here to join The Toronto Blues Society


Jodi Drake, Toronto 1987. Photo by Barbara Isherwood.

Jodi Drake, Toronto 1987


Derek Andrews
Jon Arnold
Lucie Dufault
Carol Flett
Sarah French
Sarah Gardiner
Jamie MacDonald
Lori Murray
Ed Parsons
Paul Sanderson
Mike Smith
Earl Tucker
John Valenteyn
David Walker


Brian Blain
Gary Kendall
Samantha Martin
Lily Sazz
Mark Stafford
Jenie Thai
Suzie Vinnick
Ken Whiteley


Office Manager: Alice Sellwood (info@torontobluessociety.com, 416-538-3885)
Office Assistant/Membership Services: Ivy Farquhar-McDonnell (ivy@torontobluessociety.com, 416-538-3885)
Event Coordinator: Jordan Safer (events@torontobluessociety.com, 416-538-3885)
Grants Officer: Barbara Isherwood
Sponsorship and Advertising Coordinator: Dougal Bichan (dougal@dougalco.com)
Webmistress: Janine Stoll Media


Publisher & Editor-in-Chief: Derek Andrews
Managing Editor: Brian Blain
Contributing Editors: John Valenteyn, Alice Sellwood, Erin McCallum
Advertising Coordinator: Dougal Bichan | 416-645-0295
Distribution: Ed Parsons
Printing: Gullons Printing | 416-531-7999 | www.gullonsprinting.com

Click here to subscribe to the Maple Blues Newsletter


Salome Bey, Women's Blues Review, Toronto 1987. Photo by Barbara Isherwood.

Salome Bey


Aurora Winter Blues Festival
Boris Totev
Choose the Blues Productions
Grand River Blues Society
Longshadows Music Ltd.
Music by the Bay Live
Orangeville Blues & Jazz Festival
Stony Plain Records
True North Records
Violet’s Venue


Brian David Johnston
Dana Clarence
David Owen
Joel Goldberg
Kirk Baert
Lawrence Zimmering
Raymond Rupert


Derek Andrews
Jon Arnold
Raymond Rupert
Noah Blackstein
Sue Bracken
Gord & Debbie Brown
Sharon Evans
Carol Flett
Joel Goldberg
Michael Malone
Donald Orr
Ed Parsons
Elizabeth & Ron Sellwood
Sarah French
Suzie Vinnick
Trynie de Vries
Chelsea Hotel



Andrew Galloway, Donnie Walsh, John Valenteyn, Holger Petersen, Gary Kendall, Derek Andrews, Barbara Isherwood, Richard Flohil, Ken Whiteley, Brent Staeben, Brad Wheeler, Bruce Iglauer, Rob Bowman, Dave Booth, Liz Sykes, Michael Pickett, Mako Funasaka, Jack de Keyzer, Danny Marks, Elaine Bomberry, Ed Torres, Fred Litwin, Chuck Jackson, Morgan Davis, Rita Chiarelli, Mark Monahan, Brian Slack, Gord MacAulay, Chris Whiteley, Amos Garrett, Curley Bridges, B.B. King, Jackie Richardson, Nanette Workman


Al Lerman, Andre Chevarie, Andria Simone, Angel Forrest, Angelique Francis, Anthony Michael Brancati, Robin Banks, Bobby Stagg, Brandi Disterheft, Brandon Isaak, Brian Dhari, Brooke Blackburn, Carlie Howell, Carrie Chesnutt, Chris Antonik, Colleen Allen, Conor Gains, Craig Teeter, Ria Reece, Darran Poole, Dave Kirby, David Gogo, David Vest, Dawn Tyler-Watson, Dennis Gomo, Derek  Cochrane, Diana Braithwaite, Divine Brown, Drew Nelson, Duane Blackburn, Emily Burgess, Gary Greenblatt, George Nikolov, Greg Morency, Guy Belanger, Harpdog Brown, Irene Torres, Jake Chisholm, Jen Gillmor, Jenie Thai, Joel Dawson, Joel Johnson, Johanna Pavia, John Mays, Jon Knight, Jordan Officer, Kat Danser, Kelly and Michael Authier, Ken Kawashima, Lance Anderson, Leigh-Anne Stanton, Liam Melville, Lily Sazz, Madagascar Slim, Mark Stafford, Mark Wilson, Martin Laporte, Matti Temiseva, Maude Brochu, Michael Archer, Michael McCallum, Michael Schatte, Michael  Fonfara, Michael Jerome Browne, Mike Sloski, Mike Weir, Morgan Doctor, Murray Kinsley, Pat Carey, Paul DesLauriers, Paul James, Paul Teeter, Peter Griffin, Peter Jeffrey, Randy Cassidy, Raoul Bhaneja, Rebecca Hennessy, Riley O’Connor, Robbie Antone, Robert Harris, Rod Williams, Ross Neilsen, Roxanne Potvin, Sam Harrison, Samantha Martin, Sarah Kirkpatrick, Selena Evangeline, Shakura S’Aida, Sherie  Marshall, Sokhna-Dior Cisse & Shawn Caissie, Stacie  Tabb, Steve Dawson, Steve  Hill, Steve, Jimmy & Stephanie Bowskill, Stuart Patterson, Suzie Vinnick, Sylvain Lamothe, Tara & Trevor MacKenzie, Teddy Leonard, Tobin Spring, Tom Bona, Tyler Burgess, Tyler Yarema, Wayne “Shakey” Dagenais


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