The culture of the South is rich with history and influences from around the globe. This culture is often expressed through music, but in a rapidly expanding and merging world, there is a danger that this precious expression of unique histories may be lost.
The Music Maker Relief Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 1994 to “preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who make it.” Their main fights are against poverty and time. So rather than just offering money, they offer artists opportunities and document their performances. They create the space to revitalize the people so that the music can come freely.
The foundation has numerous programs to help struggling artists in every way imaginable. The most vulnerable, and in some ways most valuable, are often elderly musicians. They carry fading traditions. Through the Musician Sustenance program the MMRF provides grants to help with medical bills, food, housing and emergencies.
The Musical Development Program focuses on increasing artist’s earned income by providing opportunities for growth like shows and recordings. This not only helps the artists, but also often revitalizes interest in the community when artists perform at prestigious theatres.
The work the MMRF does affects the community on a very personal level and on a larger scale. It brings culture and tradition to the forefront of people minds for exploration, appreciation, self-reflection and preservation. Artists under 55 or Next Generation artists are also assisted in developing professional careers to keep the traditions alive.
This year the Givens Performing Arts Center is partnering with MMRF to present the We Are the Music Makers photography exhibit from September through October. This exhibit has traveled around the nation after debuting in 2014 at the New York Public Library and at the Lincoln Center. Photos of musicians and Southern musical culture are joined by stories of Southern musicians and the culture they live and perform. The exhibit opens on Sept. 19, and is accompanied by a live performance from the Music Makers Blues Revue including artists John Dee Holeman, Pure Fe, Ulali Project, Deer Clan Singers and Lakota John and Kin.
Pura Fe, who performs solo as well as with the Ulali Project, is a Tuscarora singer and slide guitarist. When asked what inspires her unique mix of contemporary and native music she says, “Everything! I was raised around music and singers, many generations on my mother’s side. It is like my first language. It includes everything going on in the world and traditions — musical traditions from around the world. Blues or native music. Everything, I grew up around, my mother was an opera singer. My grandmother sang the blues and I grew up around native music.”
For her, music is a way to connect with others, a bridge into other lives and histories.
“Music is the spirit of a culture. It speaks to you. It is a language. Every culture speaks and records their history through their music,” she explains. And that is why it is so desperately important to preserve it.
The exhibit is on display from Sept. 19 through Oct. 16 in the GPAC lobby open to the public from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. The Blues Revue Concert is Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. The GPAC is located at 1 University Dr. Tickets for the concert are $10 and are available by phone at 910-521-6361, by mail or in person at the GPAC Box Office. For more information visit www.musicmaker.org