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The Music Maker Relief Foundation - Preserving the Soul of American Music / HuffPost

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Public folklorists like Stephen D. Winick, the author of this article often advocate for traditional arts, and for individual traditional artists. They try to increase funding, support, and participation in the art forms we work with, and they recommend artists for gigs, awards, grants, and other recognition. Advocates have great respect for the folks in those trenches, battling the forces of indifference and cultural homogenization in their attempt to preserve and present traditional folk arts. It's a tough job, and it requires a rare blend of idealism and street smarts, artistic sensitivity and practical life skills.

The Music Maker Relief Foundation has two catchphrases, neatly summing up the double impulse of advocacy for the arts and support for the artist: "Preserving the Soul of America's Music" and "Helping Artists Make It." While they're based in the South and mostly support Southern styles like blues and old-time, their mission statement is more basic: "Supporting American roots music." Their programs include stipends to help struggling folk and blues musicians pay the bills for food, utilities, and medicine; support to help artists build their skills and advance their careers; mentorship programs to pass the arts on to the next generation; concert tours that take great unsung artists to places as prestigious as Lincoln Center and as far away as Australia; photography exhibits that raise awareness of traditional musicians and their work; and (of course) a label that has released over 150 albums.

One of the label's best known acts, Dom Flemons, who won a Grammy Award with his former band, The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Now mostly a solo act, Dom most recently released Prospect Hill. He proudly claims the label of "The American Songster," establishing himself in the lineage of artists like Lead Belly, Mississippi John Hurt, and Henry Thomas, and Prospect Hill lives up to that promise. It presents a varied selection of old pieces, some traditional and others from commercial 78s. Highlights of the old repertoire include "But They Got it Fixed Right On," which Flemons covers with exhilarating abandon, and "Sonoran Church Two-Step," a laid-back but infectious fiddle tune from his native Arizona. Like the old songsters he so admires, Dom also creates fantastic original songs that fit right into the traditions he loves. His brand new piece "Hot Chicken" is destined to be a new classic of hokum blues. His originals "San Francisco Baby" and ""Til the Seas Run Dry" might fool you into thinking you're listening to an old piece from Gus Cannon or Frank Stokes, but with a more modern flair for arrangement. (See a video of "'Til the Seas Run Dry" below.) Flemons even bravely tackles compositions in some of the more archaic styles of African American folk music, showing his chops on "Grotto Beat," a piece in the fife-and-drum style collected by Alan Lomax and others in the Mississippi hill country. He's joined by a number of guests, including Guy Davis, himself a revered figure in folk music and a masterful proponent of the songster style. It's a telling partnership, and rewards the listener with several tunes that couldn't have been done by anyone else. They're joined by a banjo belonging to the late Mike Seeger and the guiding spirit of the late Pete Seeger, both of them mentors to Dom and Guy alike. You can feel the presence of both Seegers in every note of this brilliant work, which is easily one of my favorite albums of recent months.  READ THE FULL HuffPost ARTICLE