Co-commissioned by SMF, this rare music and multimedia presentation explores an important era and region in the history of southern music.
Piedmont Blues is a live concert project inspired by the musical style that grew up around the tobacco factories and warehouses of Durham, North Carolina in the 1920s and 30s, when the Bull City was the largest cigarette manufacturer in the world. A collaboration between celebrated jazz pianist, educator, composer and bandleader Gerald Clayton and award-winning theater director Christopher McElroen, the show features original Piedmont blues-inspired compositions written by Clayton for The Assembly, a top-tier nine-piece jazz ensemble, with singer René Marie and tap dancer Maurice Chestnut. Entwined with the music is an assemblage of film, new and archival photography and southern folklore celebrating the rich cultural landscape of the Piedmont region.
With help from partner organization Music Maker Relief Foundation of Hillsborough, NC, Clayton and McElroen have been able to spend time—trading songs and stories—with the last of the original Piedmont blues musicians: NEA National Heritage Fellow John Dee Holeman, Boo Hanks (who passed away in April 2016) and Algia Mae Hinton. Returning to SMF after an eight-year hiatus, Clayton says that his goal with this project “is to describe the singularly African-American path from pain to triumph through the expression of the Piedmont blues.” This original project was co-commissioned by Duke Performances, Modlin Center for the Arts at University of Richmond, Strathmore, and Savannah Music Festival.
Duke Performances / Duke University is lead commissioner of Piedmont Blues; co-commissioners include the Modlin Center for the Arts at University of Richmond, the Savannah Music Festival, and Strathmore.
Critical support for Piedmont Blues has been provided by the Music Maker Relief Foundation—a 501(c)3 non-profit based in Hillsborough, NC—founded to preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who make it, ensuring their voices will not be silenced by poverty and time.