Rufus McKenzie, Bitter With A Reason

inArtist Storyon February 10, 2016


I met Rufus McKenzie in Georgia, in a tiny town called Perry, just outside of Macon. This is one of the most magical musical spots in America; folks like James Brown, Otis Redding, Emmit Miller, the Allman Brothers, Riley Puckett and so many more musical pioneers sprung from this area.

Rufus grew up sharecropping and plowing a mule, listening to members of his community singing in the field. They sang field hollers, beautiful melodies that are sung a capella. One of the most well known field hollers is Percy Sledge’s huge hit, “If A Man Loves a Woman.” Percy says that was a melody he learned out working in the fields as a child.

Rufus was a musical genius in the field holler tradition. This is a music without set forms, sung with a verse, refrain, back to verse and to refrain. It is an improvised melody that just goes on and on, rarely repeating. Rufus was a master of this.


Rufus was a very bitter and angry man. Obviously a very gifted individual, he resented his upbringing; he had no access to school and was denied so much from society. In this song he tells of how he was treated by the wife of the farmer his family had worked for, for generations.


We work at Music Maker to give artists opportunities, recognition and respect. We work to heal some of the hurt that has come before. Artists like Rufus McKenzie deserve to have their stories told, their music heard, and their talent recognized. In doing this, we can uplift entire communities.


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