Some sad news came into the KOOL 101.7 studios this morning from our friends at the Bayfront Blues Festival, long time Blues Fest performer and regional blues legend Big Walter Smith died at 3:30 this morning.

According to his website Big Walter,  Big Walter’s music career began long before he landed in Minnesota. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1930. He moved to Kansas City, MO. where he met and helped a struggling Albert Collins becoming a life-long friend. He also worked parties with Albert King during the 1960s becoming a life-long friend with him also. He has shared stages with his other favorite’s B.B. King and Bobby Blue Bland, whom Big Walter cites as his chief early influences.

Big Walter moved to Minneapolis in 1970 at the invitation of his friend and past band mate Damon Lee. He met his wife and band manager, Shirley, two months later and they’ve been together ever since. Big Walter sang in Damon’s band The Antares for nearly two years at Papa Joe’s Northern Supper Club in Minneapolis. Big Walter has had several other bands, Cross Roads, Big Walter Smith’s Blues revue, and Brass Magic, before settling on the Groove Merchants in 1985

Big Walter Smith is Minnesota’s most honored and recognized bluesman. In Minneapolis, the legendary “Big Man of the Blues” has been a fixture in the Midwest’s blues scene since 1970. His 300 pound presence and velveteen voice have graced nearly every blues and R&B stage in the Midwest, as well as the finest concert halls, casinos and festivals.

Big Walter has been a mainstay at the Bayfront Blues Festival in Duluth since its inception in 1988. He is so popular in Duluth that the Mayor proclaimed August 8, 1997 to be “Big Walter Smith Day” in the city.

There’s hardly a Minnesota music award that hasn’t been bestowed upon Big Walter Smith both individually and with his band, The Groove Merchants. The Twin Cities Blues News Best Blues Band (1997). Minnesota Blues Society Horn Band (1995). Minnesota Blues Society Male Vocalist (1989). Minnesota’s Black Music Award R&B Horn Band (1987, 1988). Minnesota Blues Society Recognition Award (1988). Minnesota’s Black Music Award Male Vocalist (1983, 1984, 1986, 1987).

He was featured in Living Blues Magazine in 1997. He has been honored by the State of Minnesota for bringing the blues to Minnesota.

Big Walter made history when he became the first blues musician inducted into the Minnesota’s Music Hall of Fame in New Ulm, MN in 1998. In June 2005 the City of Minneapolis’ Mayor, R.T. Rybak, proclaimed a Big Walter Smith Day.