Equipped with video cameras, audio recorders, and notebooks, thirteen students worked with four North Carolina-based blues musicians to document their stories.
“We often see them as performers on stage, or we listen to their music, but you don’t see them every day in the day-to-day, in their homes, with their families, things they struggle with…. I connected with Captain Luke first as a person and not as a revered and important blues musician in this Piedmont area… And that’s not something you often experience in classrooms.” –Candice Jansen
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“You couldn’t even give me an electric guitar no matter how valuable it is… because my heart is in that wood vibratin’.”
Ben Wiley Payton, an acoustic blues artist and blues historian, was born in 1948 in Coila, Mississippi, just east of the Mississippi Delta. As a teenager Ben moved with his family to Chicago, where he began to sing and play guitar in soul music groups with artists such as Bobby Rush and Joe Evans. In 1970, Ben was invited to join jazz pianist Randy Weston for a seven-month sojourn to Morocco, where he was inspired by the acoustic sounds of Moroccan street musicians.
After taking a break from guitar during the ‘70s and ‘80s to marry and raise his family, Ben returned in the ‘90s to Mississippi and resumed studying blues legends such as Robert Johnson and Charley Patton. His 2006 debut album Diggin’ Up Old Country Blues showcased his deep vocals and creative take on the Delta blues picking style. Payton currently lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina and often plays gigs with the support of Music Maker Relief Foundation.
Dillon, Hannah N., and Stephani spent an afternoon with Ben Payton at his home in Hillsborough.
Ben Wiley Payton plays his acoustic blues like a painter uses color on canvas; he brings passion and creativity to every note. In this clip, Ben speaks about his duty to keep his art alive in a modern world that doesn’t know how to appreciate the beauty of the blues.
Produced by Hannah N., Dillon & Stephani
As a young musician, Ben Payton dreamed of writing a song worthy of Willie Nelson. Though Willie never performed it, we still think it’s worth a million bucks. Ben played his beautiful original song, “Now That You Gone” in his home studio.
Produced by Hannah N.
When she first met Ben, Stephani was charmed by one of his anecdotes – about the first time he was ever served filet mignon at a club in Morocco. Later, the students took Ben out for a celebratory lunch in Chapel Hill for a different special dish.
Listen and read about two of Ben’s most memorable meals.
“I’m not a leader, I’m a backgrounder.”
Captain Luke, a versatile singer with a rich natural baritone, was born Luther Mayer in 1927 in Greenville, South Carolina. As a teenager working the junkyard in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Captain Luke’s singing talent was discovered by Otis King, who gave him formal voice training. Soon Luke was touring as the “basser” in King’s Gospel Quintet. While working and raising a large family, Captain Luke gradually became a cornerstone of the social drink-house (known as “juke joints” in other areas of the South) scene in his longtime home of Winston-Salem. He often teamed up with his friend Guitar Gabriel and other local artists. He sings a variety of blues forms reflecting the experience of the African-American working-class family in the Carolina Piedmont.
Since 1991, Captain Luke has toured throughout Europe and the United States with the support of Music Maker Relief Foundation. In recent years, Captain Luke’s creative talents have extended to homemade crafts– his recycled-beer-can lamps, cars, and ashtrays are collected by his Winston-Salem neighbors and folk-art enthusiasts alike.
Candice, Gabriela and Lorrie joined Captain Luke and his friends at one of their casual social gatherings at Ms. Pudding’s house in Winston Salem.
Teresa Mayer is the youngest daughter of Captain Luke and his closest confidante — his very own wildflower.
In 1973, when Teresa was twelve years old, the American rhythm and blues group New Birth released the single “Wildflower.” The song captured Teresa’s heart as she grew up in Winston-Salem. Little did she know then it would be the first song she performed for an audience in a small Philadelphia club almost two decades later. Wildflower was the first song her father ever heard her sing, and has become Teresa’s personal anthem.
Listen to Teresa sing a verse from Wildflower with friends & family:
Produced by Candice
“I watch their feet, I watch their expressions… and then I can select my tunes accordingly until I can make them respond. And if they respond then I really wanna keep it hot for ‘em. Keep it groovy…”
Ironing Board Sam has earned many titles over a 50-year music career; he’s an electric keyboardist, singer, songwriter, inventor, philosopher, and all-around showman. Born Samuel Moore in 1939 in Rock Hill, South Carolina, he began playing gigs on organ and piano at age 14. He earned his moniker early on by strapping his legless keyboard to an ironing board for performances. Throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s he wandered the country developing his energetic blues style, living in Miami, Memphis, Chicago, Iowa, Los Angeles. In the mid-‘60s he performed on the TV variety show Night Train. His performances of the ‘70s and ‘80s increasingly involved elaborate stunts, including playing underwater in a giant aquarium and appearing as a “human jukebox.”
After retiring to New Orleans for a few years, Sam reappeared on the Carolina scene and was discovered by Music Maker Relief Foundation in 2010. He now resides in Hillsborough, North Carolina, playing local gigs and occasionally traveling for national and international blues festivals.
Amy, Hannah, Natalie and Tabria visited Ironing Board Sam at his sunny home in Hillsborough.
Ironing Board Sam’s energetic music and gregarious personality make him a local favorite in Hillsborough and the surrounding towns.
Produced by Natalie
One warm day, Ironing Board Sam drove out on Highway 11 in Mississippi. He stopped by a stream to play a recording for the local fauna, and discovered that humans aren’t the only species to enjoy his music and his message.
Produced by Hannah C.
As a young man, Ironing Board Sam dreamed of becoming either a scientist or a professional musician. In this clip, Sam reflects on his career and why music was the right choice for his life.
Produced by Amy
Sam shared this special artifact from his childhood in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Produced by Tabria
“A lot of other music came from the blues. When you hear rock and roll you can hear the blues in it… And it’s just there, it’s attached to you, you don’t really know where it came from, but you just love the sound of it. I’ve always liked it. I took to it.”
John Lakota Locklear, a Native American artist with ties to the Lumbee and Oglala Lakota tribes, was born in Pembroke, North Carolina in 1997. He picked up his first guitar at age 9, and soon after he started learning bottleneck slide guitar. Lakota John is often accompanied by his mother Tonya on washboard, his sister Layla, a vocalist, and his dad “Sweet Papa” John on guitar. Joined by several other local musicians, the dynamic crew is known as “Lakota John & Friends.”
In 2009, through an introduction by Native American artist Pura Fe, Lakota John joined the Music Maker Relief Foundation’s Next Generation Artists program, which provides mentorship for young artists performing Southern roots music. He also released first solo album, Old Bluez That’z Newz to Me, in 2009. Lakota John lives with his family in Pembroke and gigs all around the state of North Carolina.
Emily, Nikki, and Stephanie caught up with the Locklear family at the April 2013 Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival.
Lakota John shared what it’s like to be a young Native American blues artist in a family of musicians.
While getting to know the Locklear family band, Stephanie Chen took an interest in the washboard, Tonya Locklear’s instrument of choice.
Check out what she learned about the history of this simple percussive instrument:
Image compilation (below) by Emily
(click here to view full resolution image)
In the spring semester of 2013, thirteen students enrolled in Multimedia Documentary course, taught by Christopher Sims at the Center for Documentary Studies. Having been introduced to blues artists through the Music Maker Relief Foundation, the students worked in groups and individually to interview and film artists, edit their footage, and create multimedia pieces to tell about the lives of these musicians.
Music Maker Relief Foundation
Whitney Baker, Community Coordinator
Corinne Everett Belch, Communications and Development Coordinator
Denise Duffy, Co-Founder and Managing Director
Tim Duffy, Founder and Executive Director
Aaron Greenhood, Artist Services Coordinator
Tom Ciaburri, director/filmmaker
George Johnson, Television Engineer/Instructor, UNC Pembroke
Stanley Knick, Ph.D. Associate Professor of American Indian Studies, UNC Pembroke
Duke University Service-Learning
Amy Anderson, Faculty Consultant
David Malone, Faculty Director
Kristin Wright, Assistant Director
Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, 1317 West Pettigrew St. Durham, NC, 27705