How COVID-19 is affecting aging roots and blues artists
living in poverty & what nonprofit is doing to help.
In response to the COVID-19
outbreak, a generous team of Music Maker supporters pledged to match all
gifts, dollar for dollar up to $60,000. That’s $120k for musicians in need.
Since 1994, Music Maker Relief Foundation (MMRF) has helped over
500 musicians and has been featured on ABC, PBS NewsHour, NPR Weekend Edition,
and many more. Through its sustenance program, elderly roots musicians living
in poverty are given critical support in the way of monthly grants and
emergency funding when needed, all the more acutely during the COVID-19 crisis.
MMRF’s staff has been in daily
contact with artists and is working hard to provide grocery deliveries so that
this vulnerable population can stay at home and keep a physical distance from
others, per CDC guidelines. Many artists live in rural areas where grocery
deliveries are unavailable. To reduce exposure, MMRF is providing artists with
preloaded Visa cards so that they don’t have to go to the bank to cash a
In addition to its Sustenance
Program, MMRF also books performances for their artists, all of which have been
canceled for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, as a working musician,
there is often little in the way of a retirement savings or safety net to carry
you through uncertain times.
Partner artist Pat “Mother Blues”
Cohen is trying to
keep a positive mindset about the situation. She was supposed to return to her
hometown of New Orleans for the first time since being relocated by Katrina as
part of the Music Maker Blues Revue
during Jazz Fest as well as play a festival in
Portugal. Both have been canceled and the nursing home at which she plays a
weekly gig is on lockdown, further cutting her income. Music Maker’s Sustenance
Program is helping
Pat get by during these difficult times.
“Katrina taught me how to
deal. I cried for a year straight after that. So, I’m trying to keep my head up
and stay positive.”
Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen was born in Monroe, N.C., and eventually found her way
to New Orleans where she was dubbed the unofficial Queen of Bourbon Street. She
performs with a confidence and regality reminiscent of blues pioneers like
Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey.
While many musicians are
hosting live stream performances to make up for canceled shows, this elderly
population doesn’t necessarily have smartphones or the ability to set up a
Facebook live stream to connect with fans.
“The sad reality of this
situation is that most of the artists we work with were already in crisis.
These are the musicians that shaped our collective culture and they need us now
more than ever.”
Bluesman Alabama Slim, age 77,
is particularly worried about the outbreak. Based in New Orleans, Slim was hospitalized this past December with a severe case
of the flu. New Orleans has been identified as a hotspot for coronavirus so his
fear of going out is heightened. Furthermore, Slim was slated to release a
third album and do a small tour to promote it. That has also been postponed due
to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Alabama Slim was born Milton
Frazier in Vance, Alabama on March 29, 1939. In ‘65, Slim came to New Orleans
after Hurricane Betsy and had already carved out a living playing juke joints
and quickly became a regular on the New Orleans blues scene with the help of
his cousin, well-known bluesman Little Freddie King.
Jr. is another artist struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic. He has dialysis
appointments three times a week that he can’t miss and just received word that
he could get a new kidney. But that could change if the healthcare systems are
“Right now, I
have no idea what I would do without Music Maker and the support they are
providing me.” – Sam Frazier, Jr.
Sam Frazier, Jr. can play the
harp like Sonny Boy Williamson or sing a country tune like Charley Pride. A
versatile and rare bluesman, Sam was born in Edgewater, AL in 1944 and has been
a fixture on the Birmingham, AL music scene for decades.