Four Cups of Love in Carolina
inArtist Storyon December 15, 2020
“My great-grandparents and grandparents were not educated because state laws prohibited the education of slaves; but they developed their own language, music, and other means of communication. My family has always been talented. That’s where my girls got some of their talent.”
— Arie Gay Vines Artis
Walking in the Shadow of My Past, 2016
For the last several months, Music Maker has focused much of our attention on the work of Freeman Vines, the amazing luthier and artist whose work was the source of our latest book release, Hanging Tree Guitars. But Freeman is just part of a larger musical story, one that extends to his singing sisters Alice Vines, Dorothy Vines Daniels, Audrey Vines, and Mattie Vines Harper — known collectively as the Glorifying Vines Sisters. And it’s a story that moves on through the larger community of Greene and Pitt counties in North Carolina, where they live and go to church, and ultimately through the musical legacy of the entire South.
I first became aware of the broader Vines family — and the legacy it carries — through Freeman. On one of our first visits together, he told me his sisters had an incredible singing group and that I should visit them. Not long after, I loaded up the truck with a couple of other Music Maker staffers and traveled to meet the Vines Sisters at their church, the Believe in Jesus Ministry, which Alice pastors.
The joy and the celebration of faith we heard in their voices were infectious, and that day began a long partnership with the Vines Sisters that continues today. Our meeting led first to a series of gigs at a bar called the Bullpen in Durham: The sisters are happy to take their message into secular settings, too. Then it was on to a 2017 gig for them at Switzerland’s prestigious Blues to Bop Festival and other gigs at festivals around the United States. All this work brought the sisters greater support in their community. People in the surrounding community rallied to put a new roof on the church, new rugs inside it, and to help with their small food bank operation. And when Music Maker reached its 25th anniversary, the Vines Sisters helped us celebrate it as part of a five-day run of shows, exhibitions, and panel discussions for the Duke Performances series.
The Roots Always Run Deeper
But what you learn when you run an organization like Music Maker for more than a quarter-century is that the roots always run deeper than what your first discovery shows you. Arie Gay Vines Artis, the mother of Freeman and the Vines Sisters, documented her family’s legacy and history in her book Walking in the Shadow of My Past, beautifully telling the story of how her enslaved ancestors created their own language and music to uphold their faith throughout their trials. The gospel music legacy of their area of eastern North Carolina, I learned, is also documented more fully in a book by Alvin G. and Ellijah Woods Jr., called When You Bow in the Evening, Say a Prayer for Me: A Salute to Ellijah Woods Sr. and His Gospel Quartet Musical Journey: 1945-2007. In that book, you can learn the names of hundreds of quartets, most of them family-based, that have held up the gospel music tradition in Greene County for decades, a tradition that’s 200 years deep.
And the tradition is not fading away. You should pay attention to Faith & Harmony, a group of six young women, all members of the Vines and Daniels families. You should pay attention to the Dedicated Men of Zion, led by Anthony “Amp” Daniels. Families like the Vines and the Daniels are, in my opinion, harborers of one of America’s oldest musical traditions. All in just two rural counties in North Carolina.
I could never forget traveling to Greene County for the Vines Sisters’ annual Christmas concert at their tiny cinder-block church, the Believe in Jesus Ministry. I bore witness that night to a long tradition being upheld, to an almost otherworldly sense of celebration, one with the power to conquer any trial or tribulation.
I’ve had many great nights of music in life; this was one of the best.
Arie Gay Vines Artis’ daughter, Audrey Vines, had to write the final chapter of her mother’s book, Walking in the Shadow of My Past, after Arie herself passed away in October of 2015. Audrey ends the book with “Mom’s Recipe for a Happy Life.” It goes like this:
- four cups of love
- two cups of loyalty
- three cups of forgiveness
- one cup of friendship
- five spoons of hope
- two spoons of tenderness
- four quarts of faith
- one barrel of laughter
- Take love and loyalty. Mix it thoroughly with faith.
- Blend it with tenderness, kindness, and understanding.
- Add friendship and hope.
- Sprinkle abundantly with laughter.
- Bake with sunshine.
- Serve daily with generous helping.
To be part of such traditions — of such joy and generosity — does my soul good. And we remain, as always, grateful to everyone in the Music Maker Family for helping us help artists like these to keep thriving.
— Tim Duffy