The Music Maker Relief Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit, was founded 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 will give future generations access to their heritage through documentation and performance programs that build knowledge and appreciation of America’s musical traditions.
Since our founding in 1994, we have assisted and partnered with over 300 artists, issued over 150 CDs and reached over a million people with live performance in over 40 states and 17 countries around the globe.
How Music Maker Began
Music Maker started by helping a small group of blues musicians in Winston-Salem, NC including Guitar Gabriel, Willa Mae Buckner, Preston Fulp, Mr. Q, Macavine Hayes and others. In the early 1990’s, we were amazed to meet elderly artists still performing the musical traditions of the nineteenth and early 20th century America. They lived in abject poverty but when we asked how we could help, they didn’t ask for money, they wanted a gig.
Through our humble efforts to secure bookings, record and promote their careers, these artists were soon performing on national stages at Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center, and first-rate European festivals.
It became apparent to us very quickly that due to age, poverty and educational constraints, these elderly artists would need a strong support structure to perform their music beyond their home communities and be documented for posterity. Some generous music lovers offered to help and we formed the nonprofit.
The musicians we worked with are rooted in the Southern musical traditions of blues, gospel, string band, and Native American. We target our programs to serve the most vulnerable musicians, those 55 years and older with incomes under $18,000 a year. The sad reality is that many of these musicians are scraping by on annual incomes of $7,000 to $10,000.
We believe that when a musician is living under the stress of dire poverty, they cannot possibly concentrate on their music. So, our Musician Sustenance program provides grants to help with monthly bills for medicine, food and housing or with emergency funding in times of crisis.
Our Musical Development Program assists musicians develop their talents, stage shows and record their works to enhance their artistic excellence while increasing artists’ earned income from performances and royalties.
Most of the artists we work with carry on archaic musical traditions that have long been discarded by their own communities, and leaving the musician feeling isolated and alone. But when we introduce these musicians to each other and the world through touring and other gatherings, they begin to form deep fellowship and become part of a new musical community. This inspires them to spend more time practicing and honing their craft.
When artists return from playing a prestigious venue like the Apollo Theater, often an article will appear in their local paper. People in their communities develop interest in their newfound “hometown celebrity” and pride in their musical heritage. Thus our work not only lifts the spirits of individual artists, but of their local communities as well.
Music Maker’s Cultural Access program brings concert tours and educational programs to audiences across America and around the world. We have built an extensive archive containing thousand of hours of audio and video recordings and tens of thousands of still photographs to document the work and life stories of these cultural treasures for posterity.
We have taken to heart what our founding artist Guitar Gabriel told us early on, the blues is a spirit and it will never die. Thus we feel our mission to promote and preserve American traditional music has just begun.
Watch the Music Maker story told on the documentary “Toot Blues,” available for streaming on FolkStreams.