"Music is a powerful emotional vehicle for expression of human feelings, and therefore will always be intertwined with all aspects of the human existence."
Sallie Bengtson: A Heart Full Of Blues
Nola Blue, Inc. is owned and operated by Sallie Bengtson, a music aficionado with a heart full of blues. Sallie has a degree in Business Administration and Management from Albright College and more than twenty years of business experience in various administrative, management and ownership roles. The opportunity to combine her business skills with her enthusiasm and passion for music is a dream come true, and shines through in all of her efforts. NOLA BLUE, INC. was established in 2014 with blues legend Benny Turner as its first client. Recognizing the need for Benny's story to be told and music to be heard, work began across three major areas: worldwide distribution of his music, active marketing of him as a world-class performer and collection of photographs and interviews for his autobiography.
Four years, one award-winning autobiography and three critically-acclaimed albums later, label expansion began in 2018. Blind Raccoon, the PR Agency of Record, is led by Betsie Brown, who brings nearly two decades of music marketing experience to her work. When new music is released, she ensures that all corners of the globe are notified and kept updated on all the latest artist news. 2019 marks the establishment of the Lone Star Blues & Heritage Festival. Located in East Texas, not far from the birthplace of Benny Turner, it is the perfect opportunity to honor the inspiration for beginning this business, celebrate the legacy and support the future of Texas blues. The inaugural event will be held October 25-27, 2019 at Salmon Lake Park in Grapeland, TX.
Interview by Michael Limnios Special Thanks: Betsie Brown & Sallie Bengtson
What do you learn about yourself from the Blues people? How has the music influenced your views of the world?
Overwhelmingly, I have gained a much broader life perspective through immersion in the blues and its history. Hearing stories of those whose lives were influenced both directly and indirectly as a result of slavery, racism and oppression in America quickly brings those school history lessons into sharp perspective. It also gives me insights into the ongoing current race-related struggles in America in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise had. I find it both heartbreaking and tragic, and it only makes me redouble my efforts to support and uplift our beloved blues men and women as much as I can.
At the same time, I think that feelings such as sadness, despair and hopelessness are universal emotions of the human experience regardless of race or gender. There are seemingly countless factors that can contribute to those “blue” feelings on an individual level.
What were the reasons that you started a Blues/Roots label? What is the story behind the name NOLA BLUE?
I actually started my company and named it Nola Blue before working in the blues & roots music industry! When forming my corporation, I needed a name, and combining my favorite place with my favorite music had a really nice ring to it. When my original endeavor ended and I found myself at a professional and personal crossroads, I decided to follow my passion and work with the music that I love.
I began my “blues work” with the goal of writing a book about bluesman Benny Turner’s life story, which I had always found to be very interesting and something that should be documented and shared. It was during the course of that research and development process that I became intrigued with the business of making and selling music, and figured it would be an important companion to the autobiography already in progress. Suddenly a whole new world opened up for me; a world in which I could use my business education and experience combined with my passion for blues music and really flourish in an impactful way, both for artists and for my own personal and professional satisfaction. It was a pretty incredible epiphany at a time when I really needed something positive to cling to. Ironically, “having the blues” was and still is a very good thing for me!
"I’m proud to be a female label owner, but at the same time I don’t believe it exclusively defines me. I’m so fortunate that my very first corporate work experience was overwhelmingly positive in this regard, and it laid a strong foundation for my confidence as an individual, rather than exclusively as a woman. Certainly, as a demographic group, women are faced with challenges, barriers and perceptions, but I don’t think they’re unique to the music industry."
What characterizes label's philosophy and mission? What is the hardest part making your label's roster?
My mission seems to be ever-evolving, but at its core is my “heart full of blues” and the desire to be instrumental in creating, preserving and perpetuating the music that is so meaningful, enjoyable and inspirational to me. Having grown up in a very musical family, I’ve always known that it takes so much more than talent to be successful as a musician. Having a strong support system is an equally important piece of the puzzle, and to be able to use my skills and gifts to help provide that to musicians I respect and admire is as much of a blessing as it is a vocation.
Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? Are there any memories which you’d like to share?
Meeting Benny Turner twenty years ago is of paramount importance to my place in the blues industry today. The seeds of friendship that were planted at that time have blossomed into an amazingly rewarding and mutually-beneficial working partnership that has literally transformed my career path.
I met Benny because of my friend, Debra Clark, who introduced me to the music of his first, self-produced CD, “Blue And Not So Blue.” My friendship with Debra began because of our mutual love of blues music and New Orleans, and it has come full circle because we now work together in support of the music we love so much. Her graphic design work provides the professional visual impact of our projects. She puts forth great effort and gets paid blues wages in return, so she is an angel among us, for sure!
Lastly, I cannot overstate the importance of my friendship and work partnership with Betsie Brown of Blind Raccoon. When I hired her to promote my second Benny Turner release, “When She’s Gone,” I had no idea that I would find such a kindred spirit in so many ways. Joining forces with her organization has been a huge blessing and a valued mentorship as well. I’m very fortunate to have a team of individuals who have grown to become close friends and invaluable business partners. Everything works together synergistically for a grand result!
"I would make sure that music is inherently valued so much that people are inspired enough to be willing to buy it. There’s a social media post titled “Respect the Artist – Buy The Music” that is very impactful." (Photo: Sallie "Blue" Bengtson, Benny Turner & Cash McCall)
What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
I grew up during the MTV and new British Invasion era of the 1980’s and that was my first real exposure to popular music when I was with friends. Since my entire family is filled with classically-trained musicians, that was the only music played in our house. So, having cut my teeth on what I call “intellectual” (classical) music, and then turning to heavily-synthesized pop music, when I discovered the blues in my early adulthood, it turned my world upside down and it hasn’t been the same since. The depth and breadth of emotional expression in the pure blues form is an incredibly powerful force, and one that resonates deeply within me. As technology continues to “improve” our lives, it can also simultaneously interfere with genuine, authentic musical expression. That is actually a big inspiration for our establishment of the brand-new Lone Star Blues & Heritage Festival. When Benny Turner was given the opportunity to produce a festival in East Texas that would kick off during the weekend of his 80th birthday (October 25-27, 2019), there was no question about whether we would do it! The park atmosphere is like taking a walk back in time to old East Texas, which is the perfect backdrop for the acoustic performances to be held on the porch stage. Unplugged and without effects, we’ll be honoring the tradition of raw musical expression, straight from the heart and soul of the performers.
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
I would make sure that music is inherently valued so much that people are inspired enough to be willing to buy it. There’s a social media post titled “Respect the Artist – Buy The Music” that is very impactful. It presents a $5 cup of coffee and a group of performing musicians, and highlights the disposable nature of coffee versus the enduring benefits of music, and the time and costs of creating it. The same could be said for people who are turned off by paying a cover charge to see a band or tipping them for their performance. Musicians are sharing their artistic gifts in ways that touch others emotionally, yet somehow music gets taken for granted as being as much of our atmosphere as the air we breathe, rather than a result of the artists hard work and dedicated efforts to earn a living. Somehow the perception of musical value needs to be renewed.
I’m proud to be a female label owner, but at the same time I don’t believe it exclusively defines me. I’m so fortunate that my very first corporate work experience was overwhelmingly positive in this regard, and it laid a strong foundation for my confidence as an individual, rather than exclusively as a woman. Certainly, as a demographic group, women are faced with challenges, barriers and perceptions, but I don’t think they’re unique to the music industry. (Photo: Sallie Bengtson, Frank Bey & Nola Blue family)
What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?
Blues music was born out of the struggle and suffering of the African American community during a very disturbing period in American History. Sadly, we continue to experience new and different disturbing periods in our history, and that will continue to fuel protest songs as well as songs of hope and inspiration. Music is a powerful emotional vehicle for expression of human feelings, and therefore will always be intertwined with all aspects of the human existence.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?
That’s easy! I would go back to the late 60’s and early 70’s and instead of just entering this world, I would be old enough to be immersed in all of the incredible music of the time. I can listen to it and appreciate it now, but to be in the moment, experiencing it live at iconic events and venues I’ve read and heard so much about would be an amazing experience. I would especially love to have seen Benny Turner and Freddie King on stage together and witnessed the intense musical energy of those shows that inspired so many and have remained such powerful experiences for them to this day. I can’t count how many emails I’ve received or personal stories I’ve heard from fans who are so excited to connect with Benny and relive their favorite memories of his brother and him from those days. I soak it all in, while secretly jealous that I will never have those memories. Thankfully, the emergence of Benny’s career as a solo artist and my management role have given me the opportunity to make my own inspirational musical memories!
(Photo: Sallie Bengtson, Benny Turner & Bobby Rush)
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