Bringing Comfort & Joy to the Blues

inArtist Storyon November 9, 2020

I first met Freeman Vines in 2015 at his home in the rural town of Fountain, North Carolina. Vines’ work had slowed down considerably as a result of poor health and isolation—both geographic and social. As Freeman began to show me his guitars, I instantly knew that I was in the presence of a great artist.

We began a journey of discovery, creativity, and documentation together. Now 78 years old, Freeman is in a much better situation than he was back in 2015. Thanks to donor support, Music Maker helped him access the health care that he needed, provided him with a car to haul new-found materials, and provided him with studio space for him to continue his art. The entire Music Maker family can now celebrate the success of Freeman’s first book and solo exhibition, Hanging Tree Guitars.

Freeman introduced Music Maker to his family and musical community. Eastern North Carolina is a region dense with talent that has had tremendous impact on American gospel, funk, R&B, soul, and jazz (Thelonious Monk, The Flames, Bootsy Collins, Shirley Caesar). This is a place where the sounds of Saturday night and Sunday morning couldn’t help but jump their lanes.

Freeman Vines

Freeman’s sisters—Dorothy, Alice, Mattie, and Audrey—comprised The Glorifying Vines Sisters. This legendary Sacred Soul group has over four decades of experience tearing up churches and secular venues alike. When we met the Vines sisters, their notoriety was mostly limited to Eastern North Carolina. They can now proudly say that they have toured throughout the U.S. and around the world, including Switzerland’s annual Blues to Bop Festival.

But the past few years have taken their toll: First, Dorothy and Mattie both suffered strokes, and now the pandemic has shut down all their performances. Thanks to donor support, Music Maker is able to provide these out-of-work musicians with monthly stipends until it is safe for them to spread their musical ministry again or retire with the dignity they so well deserve.

The Vines family led Music Maker deeper into the artistic talent of their community this year. In February, Alice helped us bring together 11 of Eastern North Carolina’s finest gospel artists together to record a “Sacred Soul” project for Bible and Tire Records. Inaugurating Music Maker’s new studio facility in Fountain, North Carolina, were Marvin Earl “Blind Butch” Cox, Dedicated Men of Zion, Little Willie and the Fantastic Spiritualaires, Faith & Harmony, Bishop Albert Harrison and the Gospel Tones, the Johnsonaires, Johnny Ray Daniels, Big Walt & the Faithful Jordanaires, Big James Barrett & the Golden Jubilees, Melody Harper, and The Glorifying Vines Sisters. The resulting album and video will showcase both the torchbearers and emerging artists of these gospel traditions.

Ray Mitchener with his new car.

Guitarist Ray Mitchener has played music in church nearly every Sunday since he was 14. That was when his mother bought him a six-string electric guitar and he petitioned the church to let him accompany the choir. For the past 20 years, he’s played behind Bishop Albert Harrison of Ahoskie, North Carolina. Several months ago, Ray told us his car had been stolen with much of his equipment. When a generous Music Maker donor offered to donate a Scion XD with low mileage to a worthy musician, we had a match!

Ray and his wife came to Music Maker headquarters in October to sign over the title and take their new car home in October. Because of his new ride, it will be much easier to get to the job sites where he works as a carpenter. Ray is hopeful for the time to come when he can once again safely play music on Sundays.

The Eastern Carolinas are among the most exciting pan-African artistic communities in the world, and the region could never receive enough recognition. Since the launch of the Hanging Tree Guitars project, Freeman’s work has been celebrated by NPR Weekend Edition, The Rolling Stone, Smithsonian Magazine, and many others. Freeman has brought much pride to his rural community. There is so much for us to learn from this community that has been so welcoming and supportive of Music Maker’s mission and the celebration of Freeman Vines’ artistic journey.

Please consider purchasing a book or CD for your friends or family, or support our mission with a contribution this holiday season.

– Timothy Duffy, Executive Director

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