Aging Southern Musical Artists Celebrate 25 Years of Music Making

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The life of an aging blues or folk musician is not always pretty. A lot of those old soulsters haven’t been able to retire with dignity. Over the past 25 years, the Music Maker Relief Foundation has worked to improve the lives of these musicians. He literally saved the lives and music of over 400 artists.

Many of these artists are African-American and are well beyond the normal retirement age. One of them is Freeman Vines, who lives in eastern North Carolina, between Greenville and Farmville.

“I am Freeman Vines. And that’s about it. That’s exactly it, “Vines said as he sat in his work shed, with an unlit cigarette in his mouth, which appeared to be rolled in his hand.

I played music here, and I played music there. I did gospel music. I did a bit of everything like that, but I never considered myself a retired guitarist. -Free man vines

His only companion these days seems to be an old dog named Mudd, who barks little and doesn’t leave him.

” Mud ! He has a problem. When he sees white people, he goes crazy! Vines said as his shed filled with people. “His mother and father are fighting dogs. “

Vines is 77 years old, but looks a bit older. His mostly gray and black hair is wild, as is his bushy beard. His clothes look like he’s worn them more than twice.

“I played music here and I played music there. I did gospel music, “Vines said.” I did a bit of everything like that, but I never considered myself a retired guitarist. “

Vines mainly played in homes and front porches in the 1960s. He also repaired cars. This is how he made his living. But he loves the guitar.

“I don’t know if I was sitting there or if I was watching there, and if I had a drink too, you know.” And I heard that sound, and I started playing with wood and different sounds, and sounds, and sounds, “said Vines.” And then I never found the sound again, and then I found out that I could build a guitar, doing all that and all.

Credit Madeline Gray / For WUNC

Freeman Vines holds a guitar he hand-carved in his workshop in Fountain, North Carolina. Some of the wood he used is believed to come from a “hanging tree” used for lynchings.

Vines’ poor health prevented him from playing the guitar and working. He has diabetes, which has affected his eyesight. But on good days, Vines designs and builds guitars, made from meaningful parts that have been used before.

“Tim was the cause, because I almost gave up,” Vines said. “He took an interest in them. And I just tend to do them.

Vines talks about Tim Duffy, Founder and Chairman of the Hillsborough-based Music Maker Relief Foundation. Duffy is fascinated by Vines guitars.

“The way he spoke was just great and he was a great conversationalist. And then he started to take out all these guitars and I found guitars like under batteries, ”Duffy said. “There were bodies underneath. They would be here. Since then we have released over 80 guitars and 135 pieces in the collection.

And most notably, some of Vines’ guitars are made from what they call “hanging tree” wood, wood from a nearby tree where it was said that a black man was lynched there. has many years.

Guitar parts hang in the Freeman Vines workshop in Fountain, North Carolina.  Vines hand carves several of his guitars, including a few that are made from wood believed to have come from a tree that was used as a "hanging tree" in lynchings.

Credit Madeline Gray / For WUNC

Guitar parts hang in the Freeman Vines workshop in Fountain, North Carolina. Vines hand carves many of his guitars, including a few which are made of wood believed to be from a tree that was used as a “hanging tree” in lynchings.

The mission of the Music Maker Relief Foundation is to preserve the musical traditions of the South by ensuring that the voices of musicians “are not silenced by poverty or time”.

“When I first met him he was very sick,” Duffy said as he watched Vines. “You have to meet artists where they want to be met and do what they want to do.”

And that could include everything from re-issuing songs and touring to buying diabetes medication. Most of the musicians supported by Duffy and Music Maker are African American and over the age of 60. They include Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, Ironing Board Sam and the Freeman Vines sisters, known as Glorifying Vines.

Alice Vines has been singing with her sisters and other family members for 42 years.

“I stay away most of the time. My other two sisters are the leaders,” said Alice Vines, preparing to perform at an event at The Regulator bookstore in Durham earlier this year.

As well as carving guitars by hand, Freeman Vines also plays music, but he says the drop in his hands now makes things difficult.

Credit Madeline Gray / For WUNC

As well as carving guitars by hand, Freeman Vines also plays music, but he says the drop in his hands now makes things difficult.

She says her family’s gospel band has also benefited from Music Maker.

“They put us on the road. We weren’t going anywhere,” said Alice Vines, 69. “We just love family, I’ve never met anyone like them (Music Maker) before.”

A new book titled “Blue Muse – Timothy Duffy’s Southern Photographs” was published this year. It features photographs of blues, jazz and folk artists taken using the tintype method, popular in the 1860s and 1870s. A photo of Freeman Vines and his unique guitars is included.

And while Vines doesn’t like straying too far from his North Carolina home, his guitars will be included in a 2020 exhibition at Turner Contemporary, one of the UK’s leading art galleries. Vines says he wants a passport so he can attend.

This story was supported by a Journalism Fellowship from the Gerontological Society of America, Journalists Network on Generations, and AARP.

ADDITIONAL PHOTOS:

Guitar parts can be found in every corner of the Freeman Vines workshop in Fountain, North Carolina.  Vines hand carves several of his guitars, including a few that are made from wood believed to have come from a tree that was used as a "hanging tree" in lynchings.

Credit Madeline Gray / For WUNC

Guitar parts can be found in every corner of the Freeman Vines workshop in Fountain, North Carolina. Vines hand carves many of his guitars, including a few which are made from wood believed to be from a tree that was used as a “hanging tree” in lynchings.

A sculpture by Freeman Vines sits in his studio in Fountain, North Carolina.  The wood comes from a tree thought to be used as "hanging tree" in lynchings.

Credit Madeline Gray / For WUNC

A sculpture by Freeman Vines sits in his studio in Fountain, North Carolina. The wood comes from a tree believed to be used as a “hanging tree” in lynchings.

Freeman Vines holds a guitar sketch in his workshop in Fountain, North Carolina.  Vines hand carves several of his guitars, including a few that are made from wood believed to have come from a tree that was used as a "hanging tree" in lynchings.

Credit Madeline Gray / For WUNC

Freeman Vines holds a sketch for a guitar in his workshop in Fountain, North Carolina. Vines hand carves many of his guitars, including a few which are made of wood believed to be from a tree that was used as a “hanging tree” in lynchings.

The workshop where Freeman Vines makes guitars is behind his home in Fountain, North Carolina.  Vines hand carves several of his guitars, including a few that are made from wood believed to have come from a tree that was used as a "hanging tree" in lynchings.

Credit Madeline Gray / For WUNC

The workshop where Freeman Vines makes guitars is behind his home in Fountain, North Carolina. Vines hand carves many of his guitars, including a few which are made of wood believed to be from a tree that was used as a “hanging tree” in lynchings.


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