These pieces are a tribute to North Carolina Blues artists. Some of these musicians were still playing when I moved to Durham in the late 80s. These were the best of the elder Blues artists in the Durham area. The names painted on the sides of these woodblocks and for some I have added short bios, handwritten on back in charcoal. This art is durable, fixed, and protected with acrylic varnish.
Here is a little history on a few of my personal favorites.
Thomas Burt (1900-1990)
From the 1920s through the ‘40s, Thomas Burt earned his reputation playing music around the Durham tobacco warehouses, at house parties, & at community gatherings. He became a prominent figure in Durham’s flourishing blues community, performing alongside local masters such as Sonny Terry & Blind Boy Fuller. I lucky that I can say that I saw him play several times when I was living in Durham.
Big Boy Henry (1921-2004)
From the 1970s onward, Big Boy was a much loved & respected figure in the Durham & Greenville, NC Blues resurgence. In the 1950s he recorded in NY with Brownie McGee & Sonny Terry. “Mr. President,” a protest song Big Boy wrote in the ‘80s in response to Reagan‘s cuts in social welfare programs, won a W. C. Handy Award. I played guitar with Big Boy at bars and festivals around Durham and at his home in Beaufort, NC.
John Dee Holeman (1929-2021)
John Dee Holeman, was Durham’s last great blues elder. Born in Hillsborough in 1929, Holeman came to Durham to play music as a teenager. By the 1950s, he was living in Durham and playing with Arthur Lyons, an older bluesman who had been part of the Blind Boy Fuller/Rev. Gary Davis scene in the city in the 1930s. He kept the old style of Piedmont blues alive recording with everyone from Taj Mahal in 2006 to The Waifs in 2007. I met John Dee and sat in with him and Fris Holloway in about 1987. He was still playing live shows in 2019 when I saw him for my last time at the Bull Pen in Durham. He sounded stronger than ever.