Anyone involved in live music is feeling the pain of this pandemic. Music venues, crew, and musicians alike are all in a moment of crisis. For those that have the means, there are many great causes to support in order to ensure musicians can endure this troubling moment in history.
One such cause is the Music Maker Relief Foundation. Started by Tim Duffy in 1994, the foundation seeks to “preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who make it, ensuring their voices will not be silenced by poverty and time. Music Maker [gives] future generations access to their heritage through documentation and performance programs that build knowledge and appreciation of America’s musical traditions.”
The Music Maker Relief Foundation helps the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern music gain recognition and meet their day-to-day needs. They present these musical traditions to the world so American culture will flourish and be preserved for future generations. Their criteria for recipients are that they are rooted in a Southern musical tradition, be 55 years or older, and have an annual income less than $18,000. Music Maker Relief Foundation, Inc. is a tax exempt, public charity under IRS code 501(c)3.
Please consider donating to the cause if you are able by clicking this link. Whether it is $5 or $50, any amount will go a long way.
Your greatly appreciated donation will go to supporting these artists in the following ways:
- Musician Sustenance – Grants to meet basic life needs and emergency relief during this pandemic.
- Musical Development – Grants and services for recipient artist professional development and career advancement.
- Cultural Access – Supports the preservation and proliferation of American musical traditions.
Who are some of the artists you will be supporting? See some background and photos below of just some of the wonderful musicians (as provided by the Music Maker website.)
Many elderly artists are socially-isolated and lonely with no gigs to come by right now, so efforts are made to reach out to call and check in with artists during the pandemic. In this time, “our Partner Artists have told us that the most important thing that Music Maker does is call to check in.” The cover photo of the article features the late Georgia piano legend and former Music Maker artist, Eddie Tigner.
Please go to this link to support these artists that are vital to the musical fabric of this country. They need us now more than ever.
Robert Lee Coleman:
Robert Lee Coleman is a living legend. From Macon, Georgia, Coleman played guitar for Percy Sledge from 1964 to 1969. In 1970, James Brown hired him for his new band, “the JBs.” Robert’s guitar is featured on Brown’s album “Hot Pants”, including the songs “Revolution of the Mind,” recorded live at the Apollo Theater & “Make It Funky” from the “Soul Classics” LP.
Music Maker helped Robert Lee Coleman obtain a passport, move into a new home, and pay utility bills. In addition, Music Maker introduced him to Paul Reed Smith, who granted him a guitar, and recorded his Robert’s first CD!
Photo by Owl Music and Media
Sugar Chile Robinson:
Frank “Sugar Chile” Robinson was one of the first African American child stars to become a household name. Born in Detroit in 1938, he was a self-taught piano prodigy by the age of three. At age seven, Sugar Chile performed for President Truman at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. He was the first African American artist to ever be invited. Only a kid, Sugar Chile had a record deal, Billboard chart spots, a gig with Count Basie’s orchestra, and movie appearances at a time when few African Americans were seen on the big screen.
Sugar Chile returned to school in the ‘50s and his fame faded, but his legacy remained. In 2016, President Obama invited him back to the White House Correspondents Dinner to celebrate 70 years since his first groundbreaking appearance there. But by that point, Frank was struggling with his health and finances, and had little left to his name after a devastating house fire. The small apartment he shares with his niece had no beds, let alone a piano.
In 2017, Music Maker got word that Frank was days from eviction and struggling to get by. Dedicated to preserving American roots music by supporting its elderly artists, Music Maker immediately added Frank to their monthly sustenance program and began work to set up his disability benefits. They shipped two beds to his home, and put the word out to get a keyboard donated to Frank. After all these years, Sugar Chile plays again.
Brother Theotis Taylor is a gospel singer and pianist from Fitzgerald, Georgia, where he has lived since 1943. Taylor’s parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were all turpentine farmers, part of the now vanished industry that was the livelihood of many farmers in the southeast until the 1970s. Taylor followed in their footsteps, harvesting turpentine for 35 years. Among the stand of 3,000 pines behind his home, he could chip up to 2,000 trees each day. Work, music, and the church have traveled side by side in Taylor’s family for generations. His father was not only a farmer but a church deacon, and his grandfather could play guitar and piano.
Taylor began singing professionally in 1946 with the Georgia Harmoniers, playing guitar with them for five years until one night when the rest of the band didn’t show up for their program at a holiness church. Brother Taylor decided to split with the band to play alone. Although there was never much money to made playing gospel programs, and turpentining remained his livelihood, Taylor went on to record singles with Savannah’s Pitch records in the ‘70s, and play on stages from the Georgia Grassroots Music Festival to the Apollo Theater. The highlight of his life came in 1990, when Taylor was invited to play the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall as part of a “Black Gospel Styles” show. Now in his 90s, Taylor preaches, but he will still sing if he can find a good person to handle the music. The right spirit can only come from the right person. “You’ve got to be anointed to do it right,” Taylor believes. “Anointed. It’s got to come from above.”
The Como Mamas:
The Como Mamas sing the get-you-through kind of gospel. These three women from Como, Mississippi—Ester Mae Smith, Angelia Taylor, and Della Daniels—are just a vocal trinity delivering the encumbered message of good news, the gospel.
Music Maker has helped the Como Mamas through our Musical Development and Sustenance Programs. Through Music Maker’s support, the Como Mamas have been able tour the world and share their unique form of Mississippi gospel music.
Cool John Ferguson:
Taj Mahal stated that Ferguson ranks “among the five greatest guitarists in the world. He is a force to be reckoned with in the music industry. He is with the ranks of Jimi Hendrix, Wes Montgomery, and Django Reinhardt.” At various times, Ferguson has played the guitar backing Taj Mahal, B.B. King, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne, Beverly Watkins and the Stylistics.
Music Maker Relief Foundation has provided Cool John Ferguson with guitars and recorded 3 records for him. Cool John has backed up multiple Music Maker artists and performed throughout Europe and the United States.
Known in a big way for his long-time association with Ike and Tina Turner in the ’60s, drummer James “Bubba” Norwood has anchored the rhythm section for a veritable “who’s who” of blues, soul, and R&B greats. Raised in Chapel Hill, his driving drumbeats have supported artists including Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, and Curtis Mayfield.
Music Maker welcomed Norwood as one of its artists in 2009, since which time James has performed 15-20 times per year with a wide range of Music Maker artists around North Carolina. Some of his gigs have included Warehouse Blues and the Havelock Blues Festival in N.C., and Capitol Blues Night in Washington, D.C.
Pee Wee Hayes:
Chicago has always been the epicenter of much of the world’s greatest electric blues, but its satellite cities with substantial African American populations also boast underground scenes that offer amazing musical discoveries when some searching is done. Among the hidden gems blues fans will find in Racine, Wisconsin, is veteran guitarist/singer Pee Wee Hayes.
Music Maker Relief Foundation has given Pee Wee a brand new guitar and has been helping him with career development.