A Foundation Built, From the Beginning, to Tend the Roots of American Music

Our Story

Roots music tells the truth because it comes from the everyday experiences of everyday people. Music Maker was founded to preserve and support this music.



Photo by Tim Duffy.

Roots music tells the truth because it comes from the everyday experiences of everyday people. It crosses divisions of race and class. It brings joy and meaning to the lives of both musicians and their audiences.

Tim and Denise Duffy founded Music Maker in 1994 to preserve and support our nation’s musical traditions by improving the lives of the artists who make them. We concentrate on the essential musical traditions of the South: blues, gospel, string band, folk, Native American, and singer-songwriter. These traditions form the very roots of our nation’s musical culture.

We focus our efforts on the most vulnerable artists: musicians over 55 years of age who live on less than $25,000 a year. If we fail to support them and document their work, our nation and our descendants could lose their music forever.

Music Maker takes a holistic approach to the needs of our partner artists. We prioritize their health and quality of life. We recognize that no two artists have identical needs. To support our artists in both their lives and their careers, we provide a wide umbrella of services. We help them get medical care and access to affordable housing. To make their music accessible to a wider slice of the public, we help them secure recording opportunities and book performances for them around the globe. We create the promotional materials they need to publicize their performances.

“Music Makers clearly dispels the notion that real blues musicians are long gone.” Taj Mahal, Grammy award-winning American blues musician, singer-songwriter and film composer

Music builds the cultures of every community in our nation, and in every community, musicians sustain local and regional cultures. These guardians pass their culture down through the generations. Music Maker’s purpose is to find and serve such musicians. We measure the value of their music by its cultural significance, rather than its commercial success or current popularity. We call it “the best music you’ve never heard.” 

Our work, we believe, makes local cultures resilient and sustainable, because we build cultural equity for artists who have been marginalized because of poverty, race or other factors. Our working relationships with artists are built on respect for them as individuals and for their unique musical expressions. We never ask partner artists for free creative labor and time. 

We believe human interaction and engagements are critical to the creative process and that artists thrive in communities of other artists and listeners. Music is a collaborative art form, and musicians need access to other musicians in order to thrive. That’s why we bring our artists together to meet each other, to record together, to develop their stage shows and tour with each other. We believe that when artists are heard and respected, they become more prolific and aspire to greater artistic excellence. As individual artists thrive, so do their art forms.

As the artists we work with gain broader recognition and respect, it creates a positive ripple effect in their own communities. Empowering artists creates cultural vibrancy, pride, and access to traditions in communities large and small. We seek to sustain artists’ legacies beyond their lives so that their cultural knowledge and artistic gifts will remain available for generations to come.

“The strongest affirmation that blues is alive and thriving, however, may be coming not from Mississippi but from the Music Maker Relief Foundation of Hillsborough, N.C.” Stephen Kinzer, The New York Times
“Music Maker is potentially a model that could extend in a powerful way throughout the nation.” Bill Ferris, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities

Together, all forms of community and regional music comprise the very roots of our nation’s culture. They inform our identities, create social connections, and generate a national narrative that starts with the people. We seek to engage audiences with their cultural heritage in meaningful ways. We enrich their understanding of the talented people around them. We make them aware of the historical context of the music that surrounds them. More importantly, we help people see their role as participants in their own culture and give young musicians open access to the traditions that are their birthright — and their responsibility to carry forward.

Our organization has stood for over 25 years thanks to the support of thousands of individuals who share our beliefs. These supporters are part of our community, and we value their contributions. We include supporters in our planning and programming to maximize interaction and connection between partner artists and supporters.

Thanks to our supporters, Music Maker can tend the roots of American music, and we hope you join us by becoming a supporter today.