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, an Event Coordinator and a Grants Officer, 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, Twitter, Myspace and Flickr 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 become a member of Toronto Blues Society



Jodi Drake, Toronto 1987. Photo by Barbara Isherwood.

Jodi Drake

Derek Andrews
Jon Arnold
Gordon Brown
Lucie Dufault
Sharon Evans
Sarah French
Jamie MacDonald
Michael Malone
Ed Parsons
Norman Robinson
Paul Sanderson
Mike Smith
John Valenteyn

2014 Musicians Advisory Council

Chris Antonik
Brian Blain
Gary Kendall
Lily Sazz
Mark Stafford
Suzie Vinnick

Office Manager:

Alice Sellwood (info@torontobluessociety.com, 416-538-3885)

Office Assistant:

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


Janine Stoll Media


Publisher & Editor-in-Chief: Derek Andrews
Managing Editor: Brian Blain
Distribution: Ed Parsons
Advertising Coordinator: Dougal Bichan, 416-645-0295
Printing: Gullons 416-531-7999
Regular Contributors: John Valenteyn, Razani Fulwell, Rita di Ghent

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 Fest
Canal Bank Shuffle Blues Festival
Choose the Blues Productions
Dan Aykroyd Wines
Dee’s Deeds
Eaton Chelsea Hotel | Monarchs Pub
Linus Entertainment | True North Records
Music By the Bay Live
Stony Plain Records


Rick Barber
Dana R. Clarence
Joel Goldberg
Brian David Johnston
Michael Malone
Dr. Scott Peaker


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

















Folk Music Ontario

Blues Foundation



European Blues Union







Folk Alliance International