Durham’s renowned Piedmont blues has an upbeat, danceable rhythm and a picking style of guitar playing. The city’s most famous and influential artists from the 1930s and 40s include Blind Boy Fuller, Reverend Gary Davis, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee.
Emily Weinstein and community volunteers painted this mural in Hayti depicting bluesman John Dee Holeman (on steps) and friends at a house party. Holeman is one of the last blues musicians still alive who heard the first Durham bluesmen at fall tobacco auctions. (photo by James Hill, courtesy Emily Weinstein)
Sonny Terry blows his harmonica by a local tobacco warehouse, 1974. Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, the first blues artists to tour Europe, influenced future rock musicians including Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, and Jerry Garcia. (courtesy Bill Boyarsky)
Blues singers often performed around tobacco warehouses for tips and at “house parties”—clandestine meeting places where bootleg liquor was sold.
Each fall the Durham Blues Festival celebrates the community’s blues heritage.