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.
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Music Maker Relief Benefit

It’s been a busy month for us here at Music Maker – then again, any given month is a busy month. A couple of weeks ago, we were pleased to hold an extremely successful benefit show at The Hamilton in Washington, DC.  The Carolina Chocolate Drops and Ironing Board Sam packed the house full and put on a fun and energetic show for all of our supporters. I was happy to be a part of the action while manning the merchandise/information table. It was a great way to meet many of our D.C.-based supporters and greet folks new to the Music Maker mission, whether they were Chocolate Drops fans or coming in blind for a night of good music and good food.

Check out some photos from the event, taken by Aaron Greenhood, below:




Roots music, Top 40 Radio and Music Maker’s Mission

I was driving home from work the other day and was feeling a bit worn out by the CD that’s been sitting in my car’s CD player for the last two months, so I did the unthinkable: I turned on Top 40 radio to keep myself company. “Cups,” by actress Anna Kendrick, has been floating around the airwaves now – despite her version having originated in the movie Pitch Perfect, which was released in 2012. It was a catchy song and, besides that, I was confused by the fact that an actress had a Top 40 hit, so a little bit later I looked the song up and happened to run into this article over on the NY Magazine entertainment blog, Vulture. (And, later, this story on NPR’s All Things Considered.)

It wasn’t until later, when I was talking about it in the office, that Corinne pointed out the direct link between the origin story of this Top 40 pop song and our mission as a non-profit to keep roots music alive and relevant. It’s not a new idea that there exists a popular canon in American music and that sometimes these songs leak into what’s hip and top-grossing – but sometimes you find it in the least expected of places, like a song sung by an actress from a movie released a year and a half ago based on a youtube video inspired by a hand game added to an old appalachian tune inspired by a song about death. (Whew.)

Whether it’s as innocuous as preserving our artists’ music so that maybe one day it will go on to inspire continued reinterpretation (a staple of oral tradition, a kind of telephone game of song) or as straight-forward as pairing developing next generation artists with mentors steeped in the tradition,  the bottom line is that the music remains important and alive. And sometimes it’s still just catchy as all get out.



Sometimes the link between traditional tunes and top hits isn’t much of a surprise and sometimes it’s buried beneath such a saga of origination that it’s almost impossible to see. Are there any other top 40 hits with old-time, folk, or blues roots that are hidden by the glitz and glamour of the Billboard charts? Share them with me in the comments – I’d love to know!


Center for Documentary Studies: Ben Payton and Filet Mignon


The last piece from our collaboration with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University is an audio snippet captured by the students who worked with Mississippi blues man Ben Payton, who recently relocated to Hillsborough, NC to work with Music Maker.

“honey almond salmon”

Ben Payton fondly remembers a celebrity moment in Morocco, where he toured during his first career. Ben and Humphrey Bogart might just have a little something in common.

Listen to the audio clip here


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.

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.

Center for Documentary Studies: Lakota John and Kin

The first time that I saw Lakota John play was at the Fall edition of Shakori Hills, a local music festival that’s held out in the middle of nowhere, North Carolina. He was on stage in a tent in the middle of the day, but a crowd had already gathered. When he started playing, I was knocked flat by the sounds coming out of his guitar and out of his mouth – the kid’s got talent, and I can see his passion for the music when he plays.

Corinne wrote a bit about the Locklears for our blog not too long ago – here’s a nice accompaniment, the final major piece from our collaboration with students from Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies. If you’re in Chapel Hill, make sure to go out to Southern Village tonight and catch the Locklears at Roots and Leaves!


Center for Documentary Studies: Ironing Board Sam at the Depot

Part of the privilege of working with our artists is the opportunity to broker relationships with venues that help them establish a regular and reliable source of income. For Ironing Board Sam, that means pretty regular gigs at The Crunkleton in Chapel Hill, NC and The Depot in Hillsborough, NC. Since I’ve been a part of Music Maker, Sam has had these gigs as solid bedrocks that are there even when he’s not traveling to Australia or all over the US. They allow him to keep playing his music and to keep making a living doing it.

The next piece from our collaboration with the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies is another cut from the team of students that worked with Ironing Board Sam. The video features a lot of footage of Sam performing at one of his gigs at The Depot – if you’re in the area, you should definitely come check him out sometime! He actually plays tonight, 6/14, at 8:00 pm.

Message from the student who created the piece, Amy Huang:

As a second year pre-med student majoring in Biology, I have relatively little experience with multimedia documentary. Last semester was my first time taking a documentary studies class, Documenting Obesity, a decision made on almost a complete whim. However, because of the positive experience I had, I decided to take another documentary studies class. I chose to take Multimedia Documentary in particular because of its musical component. As a trained classical pianist, I had very little exposure to blues music. However, after reading about the origins of blues working with Ironing Board Sam, I have come to appreciate the genre much more. I find that the service-learning component of this class, developing a piece that promotes both the artist and the Music Maker Relief Foundation, removes students from the confines of a college campus and encourages them to interact with people they would not otherwise encounter.

Center for Documentary Studies: Captain Luke

The first time that I met Captain Luke, we were getting ready to sit in a car together for the 6-hour haul up to Washington, DC. I had this idea of him that was heavily influenced by the materials I had encountered at Music Maker: videos of him singing bass, his albums, a particularly interesting (and not very safe for work) video about drinking beer. He didn’t really disappoint; for such an unassuming figure, Captain Luke has a big presence that fills the room he’s in.

The next piece of work from our collaboration with the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies is a great portrait of an artist at home in his surroundings. It also takes us back to Winston-Salem, NC – where Music Maker began.

Check it out (skip to ~30sec):


Meet the Students:


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.


Gabriela is an international student pursuing a Masters degree at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.  An avid travel from Ecuador, Gabriela’s interest has always been peeked by cultural diversity. This class offered her the opportunity to experience a new aspect of North Carolina’s culture through the blues. She is excited to use her new skills to relay messages of environmental and cultural importance in the future.


Candice Jansen

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February 2017
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