He didn’t like to be thought of strictly as a blues singer and frequently pointed out that gospel quartets, country music and pop singers such as Perry Como, Billy Eckstine and Nat “King” Cole influenced his approach as much as blues.
“I’d always wanted to sing, but I had been singing spirituals because the background was a church background,” Mr. Bland told the English magazine New Music Express in 1982. “It wasn’t that big a switchover, because the blues and spirituals have the same sort of phrasing, and you just sing ‘baby’ instead of ‘my lord.’ ”
When ABC records purchased Duke in 1973, the company paired Mr. Bland with B.B. King for a serious of shared live albums and tours. In 1985, Mr. Bland signed with the Jackson, Miss.-based Malaco label, an association with Malaco continued for nearly three decades. A country-flavored ballad for Malaco, “Members Only” (1985), became his signature song in later decades.
Mr. Bland was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and he received a Grammy award for lifetime achievement in 1997.
Robert Calvin Brooks was born near Memphis on Jan. 27, 1930. His father abandoned the family, and Bobby later took the surname of his stepfather. He dropped out of school in third grade to work in the cotton fields.
He initially sang with gospel quartets but quickly shifted into the blues world. He worked as a chauffeur for King, a valet for blues singer Rosco Gordon and won amateur contests sponsored by the local black station WDIA. Drummer Earl Forest hired Mr. Bland for his Memphis band, the Beale Streeters, which also frequently featured pianist Johnny Ace and occasionally King.
Memphis pianist Ike Turner backed Mr. Bland on his first recording in 1951. The following year, he was drafted into the Army and served for two years, mostly in Japan as an entertainer in the Special Services branch. By the mid-1950s, he toured as blues singer Junior Parker’s opening act and served as his valet. Not long after his first hit, “It’s My Life Baby” (1955), Mr. Bland had his own valet.
Survivors include his wife of 40 years, Willie Martin Bland of Memphis; two children, Roderick Bland and Patrice Moses, both of Memphis; and four granddaughters.
Mr. Bland once explained the appeal of his songs: “Blues and soul . . . I think they are just one and the same. They are about facing the facts and seeing that things are as they are. It’s like havin’ a good woman. You got to cherish her, you got to try and see things how she sees them, and feel what she feels. . . . I call that facin’ ‘facts.’ ”