By Max Brzezinski
It has arguably never been harder to be a musician than it is today. Unless you are one of very few mega-celebrities, it’s impossible to make a living as just a performer. Even most who try to “sell-out” fail. For those that can’t or won’t, it’s a cold world out there. Streaming pays artists fractions of pennies, live music attendance still hasn’t bounced back from COVID, and the internet has convinced the general population that all music should be free. Rather than an integral cultural essence (and product of human labor), songs, shows, and recordings are now too often treated as optional, marginal, and just plain cheap.
You know how Music Maker feels about this sorry state of affairs. And if you’re reading this, you probably share our sentiments. Now, the whole system can’t be fixed in a day, but we are doing what we can to remedy some of its problems. That’s why in the Spring of 2023, we decided to send out over one-hundred Lifetime Achievement Awards to artists long-committed to the vocation (and not just the profession) of the American roots musician.
These awards went both to well-known artists like Taj Majal and Dickey Betts, and unsung legends, to the young(ish) and veteran, choristers of celestial gospel and gut-bucket blues, folklorists and folk-legends, women and men, and individuals of many races. Despite the diversity of the group, however, what each winner shares is a decades-long dedication to the terminal origins of American music.
Charles “Sugar Harp” Burroughs has been playing blues and other music, mind-bending harp and guitar, since he was eight years old. But he says that the LAA was “the first award like that I ever received.” Sugar Harp was the guest on Songbirds Radio Hour when MM linchpin Ardie Dean sprung the LAA plaque on him: “It was an absolute surprise,” Sugar Harp says. “Beautiful. He stopped the whole show, and I was wondering what was going on. He presented it to me and I had a few tears.”
Lifetime Achievement Award winner Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen commands the stage in brightly-colored wigs and boas. She sings both blues ballads and belters with equal force. And whether she’s onstage at a club or entertaining the residents of a retirement community, she gives it her all. She compares the life of a musician to that of a monk:
“We go out and do what we love, and we don’t get paid a whole heck of a lot of money. Sometimes we get lucky [and are paid well], but I do it for the people. It gives to them, it gives to you. I’ve left out of places where people have said, ‘Mother Blues, we love you.’ And sometimes when people say that, you can feel that they really mean that, and it can’t be bought.”
Pat sees each LAA winner as contributing something “different” but worthy of “acknowledgment,” and we couldn’t agree more. Folk guitarist Jake Xerxes Fussell, one of the younger recipients of the award, perhaps captured the sentiment of the LAA inductees: “I’m honored to be alongside some of my heroes and the people that Music Maker has helped out.”
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Complete List of LAA Winners:
Alabama Slim, Albert White & The Rockers, Alice Vines, Andy Edmonds, Ardie Dean, Aretta Woodruff, Audrey Vines, Betty Sue Journey, Big James Barrett & The Golden Jubilees, Big Ron Hunter, Bishop Albert Harrison & The Gospel Tones, Jerron Paxton, Bruce Watson, Carmen Yvonne McGee, Cary Morin, Chad Locklear, Chuck Cotton, Clarence “Bluesman” Davis, Cool John Ferguson, Corey Hooker, Darrell Young, Dave Gallaher, David Bryant, David Locklear, David Scott McGrew, Dedicated Men of Zion, Della Mae Wright, Dickey Betts, Dom Flemons, Drink Small, Earl Williams, Effie Mae Burt, Elnora Spencer, Eric Deaton, Ernie Vincent, Essie Mae Brooks, Ester Mae Wilbourn, Faith and Harmony, Fantastic Spiritualaires, Fred Thomas, Freeman Vines, George Mitchell, George Stancell Jr., Grace Horton and The Gospel Savior Seekers, Hansel “Sol” Creech, Harvey Dalton Arnold, Hermon Hitson, Ironing Board Sam, Jake Xerxes Fussell, James “Bubba” Norwood, Jeffrey Scott, Jimbo Mathis, Joe Daniels, Joe Lastie, Joe Troop, John Locklear Sr., Johnny Ray Daniels, Jontavious Willis, Joseph Major Handy, Justin Robinson, Kelvin Ray Mitchiner, Lakota John, Larry Bellorin, Larry Garner, Larry Shores, Lee Allen Zeno, Legendary Singing Stars, Lena Mae Bennet Perry, Leonard “Lowdown” Brown, Leroy Williams, Leyla McCalla, Lightnin’ Wells, Lil Jimmy Reed, Little Freddie King, Little Pink Anderson, Long John & The New Silver Stars, Lonnie Holley, Mark Deese, Martha Spencer, Mary Lane, Mel Melton, Mudcat, Pat Thomas, Pat Wilder, Patricia Cohen, Pura Fe, R.L. Boyce, Rhiannon Giddens, RIP Lee Pryor, Rob Harris, Robert Finley, Robert Lee Coleman, Roger Parham-Brown, Sam Duffy, Shelton Powe, Shirley McNeil & Singers of Faith, Sugar Harp, Super Chikan, Tad Walters, Taj Mahal, Terry Harmonica Bean, Kelley Breiding, The Comforters, Thomas Rhyant Jr., Tim Wells, Tonya Locklear, Will Sexton, Willette Hinton, Willie Cris Farmer
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