Friday, February 8, 2013

How 5 Gallons of Kerosene Saved a Blues Legend

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (February 8, 2013) — Tim Duffy, Founder of Music Maker Relief Foundation, an organization dedicated to assisting elderly Roots musicians and preserving American Traditional music, frequently thinks of his early days helping artists in Winston-Salem, NC, especially as winter is in full effect.

In 1995 a severe ice storm left many Winston-Salem residents without power as temperatures plunged. "The first day after the storm Music Maker partner artist Willa Mae Buckner, who lived in an old drafty house, was struggling to keep herself and her two giant pythons alive with blankets. The news reported that there might be outages for some days yet, and I knew we had to do something for our artists."

Tim and a friend headed to the closest hardware store and purchased several artists kerosene heaters and gallons of kerosene. Tim says, "I needed my friend John to help – driving was very hazardous, so with John along one of us could push the car when we got stuck."

"When we arrived at Music Maker artist Mr. Q's after some difficulty navigating the icy roads, we found he had been trying to drag an old wood stove into the house, and was happy to see we had brought him a safe source of heat. Willa Mae was also happy to see us, though she was more concerned about keeping her pet snakes warm."

That night the temperature dropped severely and power was still not restored to the artists Tim was working with at the time. He went to check on Willa Mae the next afternoon. "I noticed an ambulance parked in front of her neighbor's house, and Willa Mae was noticeably shaken. She told me the woman next door also had not heat and had frozen to death."

"The realization that the simple gift of a heater and kerosene might have saved Willa Mae's life gave me the inspiration to formally create Music Maker's Sustenance Program, to help artists in need, who often have nowhere else to turn."

This Holiday Season, nearly 20 years after the organization’s beginning, Music Maker is hoping to raise $25,000 in support of their Emergency Relief Fund, a part of the Sustenance Program that steps in when artists have a sudden need, such as during a natural disaster. With Music Maker’s assistance, artists can get back on their feet and continue sharing their musical talents with the world.

To find out more about Music Maker Relief Foundation, please visit


About Music Maker Relief Foundation:

Music Maker Relief Foundation, Inc. is a tax exempt, public charity under IRS code 501(c)3. Music Maker aims to keep our Southern culture vital by directly supporting senior (over 55) American roots musicians in need, expanding their professional careers, and providing with basic life needs so they can focus on their art. Music Maker also assists Next Generation (under 55) artists in the development of their professional careers. Since the organization’s founding in 1994, Music Maker has assisted hundreds of musicians who represent the traditions of Blues, Gospel, Old-Time String Band, Jazz and more. Music Maker’s programs ensure the talents of these cultural treasures are accessible so that our rich musical heritage can be shared with the world and preserved for future generations.

Living Blues Magazine writes, "North Carolina's Music Maker label has been digging up obscure and blissfully eccentric blues and traditional music characters for most of their 17-year existence."

Willa Mae Buckner was born on June 15th, 1922 in Augusta, Georgia. In her days as a touring performer, she was known as "The Wild Enchantress," "Princess Ejo," "The Snake Lady," and "The World’s Only Black Gypsy." During her decades-long stage career she performed as a blues singer, burlesque stripper, contortionist and fire swallower. Willa Mae was among the first recipients of aid from Music Maker Relief Foundation. We were able to provide her with funds to purchase medicine, heating oil, and placed her in a nursing home when she broke her hip. We transported her to numerous gigs including a performance at Carnegie Hall, where she received a standing ovation. We provided comfort in her final days and most sadly arranged her funeral.

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