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.
When Music Maker’s Executive Director, Tim Duffy, heard that partner artist Albert White’s laptop had “died,” Tim realized it was an issue that required an immediate solution. Thanks to Music Maker’s Musician Sustenance program, a refurbished laptop was immediately in-the-works for Albert.
“The motherboard went out and they told me it would be cheaper to replace it than repair it,” explained Albert.
Albert, a Music Maker partner artist, is known for wowing audiences with his guitar performances. His stamina and unstoppable energy does not reveal that off-stage, mobility can be an issue for him. As a result, online payment of bills and communication by email is a critical service to him.
Now here’s a gritty yawp of angst and regret combined with a soulful rhythm of resolution and wisdom. Two Trains Runnin’ by John Dee Holeman will grab you and get you rolling to its strong and hypnotic spell.
Tim and Susan Wells, a married couple who also perform as a folk duo, released this album as part of Music Maker’s Next Generation program. Listening to Cedar Grove always feels like spring to me – most likely because Tim and Susan Wells have been frequent performers at our various outdoor shows throughout the past several years. “Black Eyed Susie,” in particular, is a favorite of mine. It’s hard not to tap your feet, drum your hands on your knees, or at the very least bob your head to this jaunty tune.
Give “Black Eyed Susie” a listen – in fact, listen to the whole album. I think you’ll find yourself in a springtime frame of mind, no matter what the weather.
Clarksdale began to rumble with energy as all of the bands plugged in their guitar amps at 9am last Saturday, the start of Juke Joint Festival. Every year Music Maker travels down to Mississippi for the Juke Joint to play for blues enthusiasts from all over the world. This year, Albert White, Sam Frazier Jr., Harvey Arnold, and Ardie Dean brought down the house.
The second that Albert plucked his first note there was already a crowd around our tent. For the duration of the set, a full eight hours, the crowd never dissipated. We had the sidewalk fully blocked. Folks were dancing, cheering, and coming back to our tent over and over again throughout the day.
The Music Maker artists were the most seasoned group at the festival, but they were still kicking it long after the younger artists were wilting, totally exhausted. In fact, when their set ended at 5pm, they still wanted to play two more songs before packing up and recuperating over some barbecue.
After a well deserved and much needed plate of ribs, we all retired to the hotel to get some rest before the long journey home the next day. Within a half hour, however, we had all congregated in a hotel room to play some more music together. Once you’re on a roll, why stop? So we played and sang until we could play and sing no more, a perfect end to a very successful Juke Joint Festival!
Earlier this week beloved Music Maker artist passed away. Boo Hanks, a descendant of Abraham Lincoln on his mother’s side, is the greatest Piedmont Blues rediscovery in many years. He sings and plays guitar in the style of the legendary Blind Boy Fuller. At the age of 79, he made his first recording and at 82 he has enjoyed performances around home as well as Lincoln Center and Belgium.
I met Boo in the summer of 2006. I came into the music maker studio as a session musician for an undiscovered talent. I met Boo Hanks that day. He came with Tony Young and his grandson Poo. From the moment that we sat down and played “Trouble in Mind” and Keep on Truckin’ Mama” we became the best of friends. To fully describe how Boo affected my life would be impossible. That’s how it goes when you meet someone older than you. The ways an elder affect your life, don’t present themselves until after they are gone.
Yet, the reason I feel great joy in being able to write this eulogy is that in the 10 years I knew Boo, I got to see him perform all over the country and the world with his music. To say that it brought him great joy would be the biggest understatement I could ever write.
Not only did he get to perform in front of numerous audiences, he got to teach his music to a variety of younger musicians and enthusiasts, who desired no more than to sit at his feet and learn.
I’m going to miss him so much! Though I will miss him, I know that he is with me whenever I play the songs he taught me. And… The jokes he might have told me in passing. I know he has found his peace. I can see him now jitterbugging in the clouds because he stood by the banks of the river and his captain had gone on before.
Robert Lee Coleman is the distillation of the cool 70s soul style that born out of Macon, GA. Playing for James Brown and Percy Sledge for many years, Robert has all the chops and deep groove of a genuine pro. In January the Music Maker Blues Revue (including Robert Lee) played a showcase at Webster Hall for globalFest. I recall Bob Boilen, the creator of NPR’s premiere music show All Songs Considered being in the front row when Coleman stepped out to play his set wearing a bright red pin striped suit. When Coleman comes on stage he has the look of a prize fighter entering the ring with only one thing on his mind, a 1st round knockout. Bob Boilen recognized this Coleman’s intensity and getup and immediately exclaimed,”Whoa!”. If there was one word to describe Coleman’s performance Mr. Boilen nailed it. That performance garnered a feature on All Songs Considered’s review of globalFest.
Over the years, Music Maker has had many incredible interns pass through our doors, helping us with a wide array of projects from graphic design to event support and helping to find community services for our artists in need. Their hard work and dedication allows us to accomplish so much more than we could otherwise achieve on our own. Music Maker interns walk away from their time with us armed with many skills and experiences from having spent time with our incredible American artists. Thanks to Abby for all she has done for us this past six months!
Gail Ceasar, of Pittsville, VA is Music Maker’s newest Next Generation Artist partner. A country blues phenom and distinct singer, in her playing she honors and celebrates the music of her family and South Central Virginia. We are thrilled to be partnering with her. This past week she introduced Music Maker Communications Coordinator Corn Lewis and myself to her Uncle Joe, one of her earliest influences and a wonderful gospel musician who has been playing for nearly 80 years.
“When I played blues, I played like this,” Uncle Joe made an ‘E’ chord shape on the guitar, “when I got saved, I started playing like this,” Uncle Joe then made a ‘C’ chord shape on the guitar. He never went back to ‘E.’
Uncle Joe, also known as Joe Witcher, is an 83 year-old retired sawmill worker from Pittsville, Virginia. The oldest of 15, he grew up looking after his younger siblings, pouring concrete and playing guitar any chance he could get. Later, when he had his own family of 12 children to care for and feed, he traveled around the South looking for the best pay to send home to his family. Along the way, he also performed at churches and radio stations.
Lucille Lindsay was the first artist page on the Music Maker website I clicked on. I had just been invited to interview for the position of Development & Communications Coordinator in 2011, and while I’d heard of Music Maker before, I really didn’t have familiarity with the artists they served and wanted to know what they were all about. Being a graduate of a women’s university, I of course gravitated towards the female artists listed and Lucille caught my eye.
I saw on Lucille’s artist profile she was Guitar Gabriel’s sister, and so through her I learned about Music Maker’s founding artist. I also clicked the link to listen to one of the songs she performed on, and so this is the first Music Maker recording I ever listened to. Five years have passed since then, and now my journey is taking me away from Music Maker to new challenges. I have listened to countless Music Maker songs, albums and live performances since that winter day in 2011, and I am a better person for those musical experiences.
Please enjoy this track, which includes both Guitar Gabriel and his sister, Lucille Lindsay. Tim says Guitar Gabriel wrote this spiritual after their mother died, and it was the first song they sang together when the siblings found each other after many years apart. I’m sure we’ve written Diggin’s on this track before, but it’s worth a new listen; it will always be a special memory for me.
Music Maker is a small organization that does big things. As a result, the bond that Music Maker’s small team share with one another and our talented artists is strong and deep. We are saddened to announce that Corinne Everett Belch, Music Maker’s Communications and Development Coordinator for the past five years, is relocating to New Bern, NC with her husband. Music Maker’s staff and artists will miss Corinne dearly.
Jessica Roy recently joined Music Maker as Advancement Coordinator. Jessica was formerly the Community Engagement Fellow for the United Way of the Greater Triangle and received a BA in Anthropology and Biology from UNC Chapel Hill. Music Maker is thrilled to have Jessica on the team!
Tim recently suggested that Aaron and myself go visit guitar player, Gail Caesar in Pittsville, VA. Gail is the niece of Music Maker artist Pete Witcher, an incredible guitar player in his own right, he taught Gail how to play. Gail was also mentored by some other musicians in her community giving her a unique and versatile style. Gail flows seamlessly between bluegrass and blues with incredible precision and feeling. We are excited to be headed back to Pittsville tomorrow, Gail is going to introduce us to her Uncle Joe who is 82 years old and plays electric gospel music. So stay tuned for another post about Gail and her Uncle Joe!
As a newbie here at Music Maker, one of my first assignments was to learn the Music Maker story by watching our documentary “Toot Blues”. As I was watching, one character in particular caught my attention – Willa Mae Buckner. I immediately recognized her as “the lady with the snakes” from photographs around the Music Maker office. What I did not know, until I watched Toot Blues, was what a fascinating and talented woman she was.
In her youth, Willa Mae traveled with an all-black tent show and performed as a blues singer, burlesque dancer, and snake woman (just to name a few). Her lyrics and musical style are both playful and risqué. She was a woman singing, unapologetically, about female sexuality, which would have been especially bold at that time in the rural South.
I am always a fan and champion of strong women so, especially during Women’s History Month, lets take a moment to enjoy the fierce lady that was Willa Mae Buckner.