Music Maker Relief Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of the Blues gain recognition and meet their day-to-day needs. Our blog is dedicated to keeping the conversation about these artists alive & thriving.
Monthly archive July, 2013

Center for Documentary Studies: Teresa Mayer’s “Wildflower”

Most of the material that came out of the class with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University was video, true, but we also got some insightful photos, snippets of audio and art projects. In today’s piece, graduate student Candice catches a moment in the life of Ms. Puddin’s social club in Winston-Salem, where Teresa Mayer (daughter of MMRF artist Captain Luke) sings one of her favorite songs. I’ve heard Teresa sing this song a few times and there’s nothing quite like the magic of silence falling over a crowded living room when she starts it.


Listen to the song here. 

Wildflower is the song that best sings the life of Teresa Mayer.

When Teresa was twelve years old, the American band of rhythm and blues, New Birth, released this single in 1973, which the Canadian group, Skylark, originally sung one year before.

But New Birth’s version captured Teresa’s heart as a young girl from Winston Salem. Little did she know then it would be the first song she performs for an audience in a small 52nd street club in Philadelphia almost two decades later.

It was the first song her father ever heard her sing. Teresa is the youngest daughter of Captain Luke and his closest confidante – his very own wildflower.

-Candice Jansen

Center for Documentary Studies: From Rocks to Blues

We’ve got another one of the side-project pieces from the class at the Center for Documentary Studies. This one is a snapshot of Ironing Board Sam during his interview; Ironing Board Sam doesn’t own many things, but the things he does own have a special significance to him. One of the students noticed a large rock sitting on his floor and asked him what it meant, so he told them.

On another interesting note, I’d never heard of Sam’s hometown of Rock Hill, SC. But at his gig the other night, the announcement of Rock Hill, SC was met with an enthusiastic cheer and a “GO ROCK HILL!” so the Rock Hill diaspora is alive and thriving.


Music Maker Instrument Grant: Harvey Arnold


Musicians need instruments. Without them, they cannot fully realize their potential. It’s pretty straightforward. Sadly, the poverty that many Music Maker artists live in, does not afford them the luxury of owning a working instrument. In the past few years, Music Maker has been able to replace stolen instruments for Ron Hunter, Pete Whicher, Cedell Davis and get much needed new instruments to Ironing Board Sam, Robert Lee Coleman, Major Handy, Dr. Burt, Lakota John, Cary Morin, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Alabama Slim, Guitar Slim, Jr, Guitar Lightnin’ Lee, John Dee Holeman and as you see in this video, Harvey Arnold enjoying his new custom Gibson Firebird Studio donated by Music Maker supporter Zak Alistair.

Having an instrument that works is as important to an artist’s stable and sustainable existence as adequate transportation, good nutrition, and a roof over their head. Check out Harvey tearing up his new guitar.


Center for Documentary Studies: A Ben Payton Performance

A part of the learning process when picking up a camera is when you get surprisingly beautiful, unexpected shots. It seemed like a consensus among the other CDS students and MMRF staff when we saw these shots of Ben Payton in the group video that this was one of those moments when the light looked right, Ben was performing for the camera and the angles added something new and interesting that was artful without even really intending to be.

Check out the video below:

Hannah Nemer is a junior Peace, War, and Defense and American Studies double major at the University of North Carolina. Hannah loves working with film, and can often be seen with camera in hand. After graduation she hopes to study visual and material anthropology so that she can better explore how the use of narrative filmmaking in conveying the stories of distinct communities.

Roots and Leaves

One thing that I can say I did not learn until I came to Music Maker – there is nothing like planning a concert series outdoors. Attending them, well, I’d done my fair share before joining the MMRF team in 2011. When planning our Roots and Leaves Series for 2012, I remember thinking, “Yes, weather might intervene, but it’s worth the risk! Besides, NC is always in a draught. We’ll have no problems.“ Hah.

This past June we put on the second Roots and Leaves Series, with assistance from Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, Strowd Roses Foundation and Bryan Properties. I was so happy to see this program thrive for the second time – but didn’t welcome the second year of weather-related anxiety. Staying up late checking Accuweather (disclaimer: this is not a plug for Accuweather), refreshing weather radar obsessively the day of the show, choosing which local meteorologist seemed the most competent and throwing things at the TV when their report was less than ideal…

Our first show had an untimely run-in with Tropical Storm Andrea, which dumped a good deal of rain on our region in North Carolina and forced us to move our concert indoors. We had a small, dedicated crowd that ventured out despite the gloomy skies and squishy ground.  Ben Payton and Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen played an awesome show, and with the intimate setting they were able to have a lot of fun.

Our next two shows were what the series is all about – outdoors, beautiful weather, and reaching an audience that wanted to learn about music steeped in North Carolina’s history. We saw many of the same faces, week after week, who always stopped by to say hello and thank us for putting on the free series. And then, there were the new faces, equally fun to see, many of whom were walking by when the music stopped them in their tracks and guided them over. That is the beauty of taking Roots music outdoors – you can reach new people without even trying!

The week of the last show found me displaying a high level of rain-anxiety; since it was so hot the “probability” of a storm forming was high, but my trusted weather sites and meteorologists couldn’t say for sure it would impact my show. They couldn’t even be half sure. Of course, by the afternoon that day we had severe thunderstorms approaching and were unable to take refuge in our rain location. With gathering clouds, Lakota John asked to start the show twenty minutes early, so the fifty people already gathered could enjoy the music before lightening started. We got about a half hour in before we had to run for cover, but it was a GREAT half hour!

Sometimes, when you’re struggling to break down sound equipment in a sudden downpour, having music outside seems like a bad idea. But then the rain passes, and I remember the wonderful people we meet, and the new fans of Roots music we lure in, when we bring the music out into the sun and set it free. So, hope to see you there next year!

Check out some photos our intern Thomas Heisler took at the Roots and Leaves shows where the weather held:

Aaron and Tim’s Wet Plate Photography

Aaron Greenhood and I have been working hard on photo shoots of Music Maker artists for the last couple of years. Lately, we have been learning and practicing the art of wet plate photography. We’ve written about this before, but it is most often recognized by the photographs taken in the time of the Civil War. Modern master photographer Sally Mann has used this process extensively. Aaron went to school with one of Sally’s kids, and her work has had a profound effect on me. As a young photo student we were drilled in the works of Ansel Adams: all about clarity, symphonic previsualization of the photograph. Sally prays for the beautiful mistake when she does wet plate. She is such a master photographer, so at times I wonder if this is just a sales pitch, as I think she is complete control as an artist. Leaving that aside, getting into wet plate, Aaron and I are attempting to master the art, so we are making lots of mistakes constantly. In every step of the process there are 100s of mistakes that can be made, and we seem to find new ones to make with every plate.

This past weekend, Aaron and I got together and practiced our wet plate and got some fascinating images. Our plan is that by the end of the summer we will have gotten better, and be able to really get more control of what we are doing. We were jumping up and down this weekend as we got an image on every plate, and that was fun. Here are the results from our weekend testing:


-Tim Duffy

About the Music Maker Quick Hits

If you step into the Music Maker office on any given day, it’s usually abuzz with a million different things: phone calls for Aaron from artists or agents looking to book artists, meetings with donors being arranged, partners and donors visiting, artists being recorded or photographed, tweets being twitted (as Tim would say) and the newest release being played over the speakers on repeat. We have our hands in a lot of pots, working tirelessly to figure out the best and most interesting way to deliver results to our donors while fulfilling our core mission of keeping roots music alive. I’ve been working on figuring out new ways to communicate – among which are this blog (and everything on it) as well as photo blurbs, videos and partnerships with area institutions.

One of the challenges we’ve always faced is a limited amount of manpower to complete the ambitious projects we dream up. With a dearth of video editing interns in the office (as Tom is busy working on his documentary about Ironing Board Sam), the turn around for professionally recorded and edited videos for our YouTube channel has morphed into something nigh unmanageable. But while we work away at those projects (like a video for Major Handy that is in the works, which would be a way to help sell him to booking agents in addition to introducing him to you), I’ve been wanting to take advantage of the growing ubiquity of mobile recording media and the relative ease of getting something on YouTube to bring you shorter, dirtier updates with a minimal turnaround time: thus, the Music Maker Quick Hits.

The idea is to catch video portraits of Music Maker staff and artists to promote transparency and to include you in our every day workings – whether it’s a slow moment where Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops pulls out his bones to play a bit or recording Tim saying thank you for our donors’ support. Check some of them out below:


I would love to hear your feedback on these videos – are they useful to you, or do they just add to the noise? Is there something in particular you would like to see?


Center for Documentary Studies: Singing with Captain Luke

There are many remarkable things about Music Maker artist Captain Luke, but the most identifiable – and usually the first you notice – is his deep bass singing voice. It rumbles in tracks like “Old Black Buck” and is memorable even before you meet the Captain and his many other charms. The most exciting part of pairing up with the Center for Documentary Studies, to me, was introducing students to local legends like Captain Luke, who are very much a part of the fabric of the culture in their communities but frequently go unheralded. I watched as each of the students got to know these artists and become fans – and in this instance, collaborators.

A group of graduate students covered MMRF artists based in Winston-Salem, NC. In addition to the larger piece completed by the group, the class required each student to complete a smaller ancillary project; Lorrie cut together a great video of her participation in singing with Captain Luke:

Lorrie Guess is a Master of Art and Design candidate in the College of Design at North Carolina State University. She received a Bachelor of Art in journalism and mass communication from UNC-Chapel Hill.

She is a video editor and motion graphics designer. Her recent credits include MAKERS, a PBS documentary production by Ark Media and Storyville Films.

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July 2013
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