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February 12: Charlotte Folk Society Presents
Blues Master John Dee Holeman

The Charlotte Folk Society is honored to present John Dee Holeman, master bluesman, storyteller, and buck dancer, in concert at our next Gathering on Friday, February 12th. John Dee possesses an expressive blues voice and is a wonderful guitarist, incorporating both Piedmont and Texas guitar styles. The concert begins at 7:30 PM in the Great Aunt Stella Center, 926 Elizabeth Avenue, in the edge of Uptown Charlotte. Doors open at 7 PM.

John Dee was born April 4, 1929 near Hillsborough in rural Orange County, North Carolina. Raised on a small family farm, he first heard blues at country gatherings in the African American community. John Dee began singing blues and picking the guitar when he was fourteen years of age, quickly learning the Piedmont tunes he heard his uncle and cousin play. "I'd sit around the barn, keeping the fire to cure the tobacco," he remembers. "For my entertainment--with this guitar, you know -- I'd bang on it. I kept on doing that and picked up a few chords. He has been "kind of apt," he says, at "catching on." He soon began entertaining at birthday celebrations, corn shuckings, wood choppings, and house parties.

Durham is a tobacco town that has long attracted talented and influential bluesmen such as Blind Boy Fuller, Reverend Gary Davis, Arthur Lyons, and Thomas Burt. The music that John Dee plays is rooted in the distinctive Piedmont blues tradition created by these local musicians. String-band music thrived in the Piedmont -- performed by both blacks and whites -- and the blues arose in the area, probably reflecting an earlier musical tradition than the Mississippi Delta blues, shaped by the sound of the banjo and by still-remembered African plucked instrumental techniques. As a young man, John Dee also listened to traveling bluesmen from other areas of the South, to recordings from Chicago and the Delta, and to black and white musicians on the radio. After a move to Durham in 1954, he began incorporating more modern blues into his repertory. John Dee has updated the older Durham blues tradition with his own touches of urban blues, jazz, and rhythm-and-blues.

John Dee Holeman

At country dances, John Dee learned the tradition of "patting juba." Juba, the use of complex hand rhythms to provide timing for dancers, is a centuries-old tradition among Africans and African Americans. Where John Dee grew up, it was customary when party musicians took a break for males to engage in competitive solo dancing accompanied only by hand or "patting" rhythms. "Juba" refers to both the complex hand rhythms and the dance traditionally done to them. The dance done to the juba rhythm is also called "buckdance," "bust down," and "jigging." "Patting" produces percussive sounds of varied pitches on the musician's own body -- cheeks, arms, chest, and legs. These sounds are as subtle and complex as those of master drummers.

As John Dee's dancing skills developed, he teamed up with the late Fris Holloway, an experienced "patter" and blues piano player. Together, and independent of each other, the two were able to produce complex rhythms -- John Dee on the floor and Fris on his own body. The pair performed at local house parties before taking their work on the road throughout the South. Their somewhat different repertories, each one a mix of urban and rural music, complemented one another perfectly.

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Not a full-time professional musician, John Dee Holeman has an extraordinary musical expertise that has put him in demand outside of Durham. He and Fris Holloway traveled the state as a participant in North Carolina's "Black Folk Heritage Tour," worked throughout the South in a highly successful "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" tour, and twice traveled overseas when the Arts America Program of the United States Information Agency them as part of a folk music tour in Southeast Asia and Africa. John Dee received a Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1988 and a North Carolina Heritage Award in 1994. He recently retired from a career as a heavy machine operator and continues to tour both in the states and abroad.

Our Gatherings are made possible, in part, with funding from the Arts & Science Council and the North Carolina Arts Council, an agency of the Department of Cultural Resources, and the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art.