Music Maker Staff's Top Five Lists for 2023


Tim Duffy, co-founder and executive director
  1. Witnessing Gail Ceasar at the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival command the stage with her Fender Stratocaster, expertly backed up by Albert White, Fred Thomas and Ardie Dean. She truly owned the stage with her instrument and voice.
  2.  Shelton Powe accompanied by Sam Duffy and the Daniels Family in the back room of the Music Maker Photo Studio: great to create a masterpiece of a Piedmont blues and gospel recording session, and then ease into the next room and make some incredible photographic images.
  3.  To acquire our 3rd building in Fountain, NC, to continue Freeman Vines quest in searching for the sound, and getting construction under way for the first Music Maker recording studio.
  4.  To hear Big Boy Henry’s track as the second song in Raoul Peck’s new film Silver Dollar Road. Amazing that just behind a track recorded by Alan Lomax was a recording I made of Big Boy Henry. It was perfect, & made me realize how timeless the work we do can be.
  5.  To hold in my hand our new box-set, Song Keepers: to read the pages and listen to the music, and have our entire year planned for 2023, our 30th Anniversary. It is coming, and we’re so excited to share with everyone!


Denise Duffy, co-founder and managing director
  1.  New Artist – Aretta Woodruff
  2. Live Show – Gail Ceasar, Jeffrey Scott, Dedicated Men of Zion & Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen at the National Gallery
  3.  Video – UNC intern Bill Moore’s Faith & Harmony album teaser reel
  4. Track – Leonard Lowdown Brown, “Find a Bridge”
  5. New Idea – Music Maker’s new Lifetime Achievement Awards


Gabi Mendick, program manager
  1. Music video: Faith & Harmony, “Friends.” I love how Music Maker intern Bill Moore edited footage from the Memphis recording session alongside archival shots of the Glorifying Vines Sisters (the grandmothers/great aunts of Faith & Harmony).
  2. Album: Gail Ceasar, Guitar Woman Blues. From blues standards to gospel, Gail’s voice and playing warms my heart. Listen through to the end – her take on “The Refuge of My Soul” that closes out the album is a highlight.
  3. Venue with a view: Terry “Harmonica” Bean played a few songs in the gondola in Telluride, CO. A couple of festival-goers hopped in for the ride down the mountain and were in for a real treat.
  4. Performance: The Dedicated Men of Zion tore down the house at the National Gallery of Art in D.C. Hundreds in the audience grooved along to this modern sacred soul group.
  5. Exhibit: Hanging Tree Guitars at Piedmont Arts in Martinsville, PA. Each of Freeman Vines’ guitars are enthralling sculptures and works of art unto themselves, and together the collection tells a nuanced story of the South through Freeman’s perspective.


Tess Stogner, advancement manager
  1.  Joining the Gail Ceasar fan club at her National Gallery of Art performance in February.
  2.  Longtime Music Maker supporter Tony Young visiting the office to share Christmas treats and stories of what Music Maker means to him, stories of Boo Hanks and John Dee Holeman.
  3. Riding in the gondola with Terry “Harmonica” Bean and Gabi in Telluride, CO, listening to Terry’s hill country blues.
  4. Witnessing the immense love and talent between the members of Faith & Harmony during their recording session for I Heard the Voice at Southern Grooves in Memphis, TN.
  5. Working with Freeman Vines to tell his story for the The New York Times’ feature on Freeman’s work.


Max Brzezinski, communications coordinator
  1. Starting work at Music Maker in August. What Tim and Denise has built is inspiring, the musicians are incredible, and Gabi and Tess are amazing co-workers.
  2.  Gail Ceasar’s live show for Between Two Frogs here in our offices in Hillsborough, NC. Her spritely guitar made the melancholy built-in to “Trouble in Mind” temporarily bearable.
  3. Faith and Harmony’s LP I Heard the Voice. I’m a big fan of gospel from the 1970s and ’80s, so to hear a group of younger musicians add something fresh to such a long-running genre is a revelation. It’s slightly poppy, extremely well-rooted in modern soul and R&B, and a sublime listen from beginning to end.
  4.  Trawling the Music Maker archives in preparation for our 30th Anniversary. Going through the history of Music Maker, the newsletters, the videos, the music, and photos has been a great thing. I’m really enjoying tracing all the disparate paths that led to the road we’re travelling today.
  5. The 2.2 earthquake in Hillsborough, October 19. Strange things are happening every day. Uncanny to feel the rumble and hear the boom of a tremor in central NC. Nobody got hurt, so just a fun, weird occurrence.