In early 2020, when Music Maker Foundation co-founder Tim Duffy took the Memphis producer Bruce Watson to rural eastern North Carolina to hear sacred soul music, he wasn’t sure what to expect. Days later, Watson left with an album and a documentary film of the quartet singing from the region, a tradition which traces its roots in the region back to the 17th century.
The “Sacred Soul of North Carolina” compilation will come out October 15, and the documentary film about the album’s making begins streaming today on Folkstreams and YouTube. And anyone who’s curious this week can now on HBO
As is often the case here at Music Maker, meeting one artist leads us to meet others, spawning new projects all the time. Duffy says “Sacred Soul of North Carolina” would never have happened without us meeting the eminent artist and guitar maker Freeman Vines.
“Freeman introduced me to his sisters, the Glorifying Vines Sisters,” Duffy says. “And we built a relationship with them. We sent them on tour to Switzerland. We did many shows with them in Durham, North Carolina. We took them to [the] Telluride [Blues & Brews Festival]. We just became friends.
“Then Alice Vines invited Denise and me to the Glorifying Vines Sisters’ annual Christmas concert at the church where Alice is the pastor, the Believe in Jesus Ministry in Farmville, North Carolina. We went, and it was just three and a half hours of just pure rock ’n’ roll from all these incredible musicians.
“And I realized that the sacred soul, this gospel music of eastern Carolina, is much different from the gospel music in Memphis, or what I had heard in New Orleans or Mississippi or anywhere else.”
But what Tim didn’t know was how broadly the sacred soul tradition spread across that region of North Carolina. He needed help, so he called on Alice Vines.
“We asked Alice to be the musical director,” he says. “We didn’t know really who should be picked, so we just trusted her.”
Vines invited 11 singing groups from across the region to be part of the project, and 11 answered the call. For one week, Freeman Vines’ art studio in Fountain, North Carolina, became a temporary recording studio.
“In five days or six days, we recorded all those groups,” Tim says.
“The film really explains how all these family bands stuck together,” he adds. “A lot of these bands come from a small area around Greene County in North Carolina, which during the ’60s was the biggest concentration of Ku Klux Klan members in the nation. And these guys will tell you, this is resistance music, it’s faith music. You can imagine the circumstances in which this music was created, but they believed faith would bring them through. It will take down mountains.”