Artist Spotlight: Music Maker Elders
inTheir Musicon November 22, 2017
If there are a matriarch and patriarch of Music Maker, they must be Algia Mae Hinton and Eddie Tigner.
Algia Mae Hinton is a Piedmont blues guitarist and buckdancer who, at 87, is as legendary for the musical community that continues to form around her, like moths to a brilliant flame, as she is for her own career. Eddie Tigner is the keyboardist of Ink Spots fame, who has lived through every twist and turn in the history of R&B and the blues and still, at 91, is one of the smoothest keyboardists in Atlanta. Music Maker has been honored to work with Algia and Eddie for over twenty years.
That’s the idea—to be there with each other. It’s the thing that makes Music Maker’s mission unique. Algia and Eddie are among our oldest friends, and our commitment to them as partner artists is more than a commitment to them as musicians. It’s a commitment to them as people.
When the touring stops, or when the hands and feet can’t do what they once could, important figures like Algia and Eddie continue to be mainstays of their communities, purveyors of knowledge, and respected elders. Music Maker pays tribute to these matriarchs and patriarchs of southern music by committing to supporting them throughout their lives. People who have worked so hard and created so much for all their lives should be able to sit down and take some well-earned rest.
Algia has been with Music Maker since its very first year, when she was one of the core group of founding partner artists. She says she’s danced so much and told so many stories in her 87 years that she wore out her legs, but she promises she’ll dance again. As one of the last surviving members of her generation of the old Piedmont blues players, Algia is an important link for artists from across the country who come to her side and her home to be a part of the tradition she nurtures. Algia never made a full career out of music, but her stature as a buckdancer, guitarist, and songwriter is legendary. For followers of the Piedmont tradition, going to Algia’s place is like making Hajj. More creative life has sprung from Algia than from most any other person, both from herself and from the kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids she continues to teach. The days of festival stages and album recordings are over, but Algia is surrounded by friends and family. She still makes music for them.
“Algia Mae is a great example of what is called throughout the African diaspora “Original Joe:” an innovative character who survives and creates anew under all circumstances,” Taj Mahal once said of her. Tim Duffy says, “She’s one of the most strongest and most rock-solid musicians I’ve ever worked with, period.” She grew up working hard for her farming family in Johnston County, NC, then picked cucumbers to raise seven kids alone. But if her family gave her work, they gave her music and dance first. She’s lost a lot in life—a husband, a home—but she knows how to make life and medicine out of music. This is the kind of knowledge we turn to our elders for.
Eddie Tigner, still tickling the ivories at 91, knows a similar truth. Things are changing and slowing down for Eddie, but although he no longer tours, he still holds court at the piano stool. Health issues took him away from the road, but he kept up a regular presence around Atlanta playing at Northside Tavern and Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. Alzheimers pulled him away from his job working in a school cafeteria, but still nothing has stopped the music. He’ll be ringing in 2018 with a New Years Eve concert. How does Eddie stay well in his winter years? His answer is pretty simple: By keeping the faith, and doing right by others so that they will do right by him.
Eddie learned to play the piano in the military, where talent abounded among the enlisted men. In 1947, he was asked to join the Ink Spots, one of the most popular groups of the ‘40s that produced a number of touring “Ink Spot” bands. He toured the vaudeville circuit with Snake Anthony too, hitting 48 states on the road between Snake and the Ink Spots. When Tim met Eddie, he was the youngest artist to join Music Maker. Now, he’s the oldest. Music Maker has supported him staying active in music, recording his solo work, arranging tours, and keeping important needs met. In these later years, Eddie tells us that our sustained support has enabled a good life for him.
We support folks like Eddie and Algia because we honor our elders, and value what they’ve taught us: Music is medicine. Treat each other well. What you have, give it to your neighbor.
— Zoe Van Buren