George Higgs, one of the finest musicians performing in the Piedmont blues traditions and a North Carolina Heritage award recipient, passed away on Tuesday, Jan. 29. He was 82.
The Edgecombe County native received the North Carolina Folklore Society’s Brown-Hudson Award and he collaborated with the Music Maker Relief Foundation to release his debut album, Tarboro Blues, in 2001, which was followed by Rainy Day in 2006.
Tarboro Blues was named Best Blues Album of the Year by Living Blues, and Higgs was one of the keynote performers at Tarboro’s 250th birthday celebration in 2010.
His harmonica playing features clearly articulated melodies laced with subtle improvisations, all carried by the powerful rhythms that he coaxes from a small, Marine Band harp. Like the more melancholy Mississippi Delta blues, his songs have an intensely personal side. “When you sing the blues,” he says, “you’re singing from experience–what you feel.”
Born in 1930, he grew up near Tarboro, the son of a farmer. He worked alongside his father in his youth and later earned a living as a carpenter in that same community. There also he and his wife Bettye reared their six children. The Higgs’s home has always been a place of extraordinary musical vitality. Ever since Mr. Higgs can remember, he says, he has been “blowing the harp.” Like most blues musicians, he learned his playing style and techniques by listening to family, friends and other musicians.
Higgs converts personal experiences into a self-affirming art form to share with a community of friends and sympathetic listeners. “Well, I’ll tell you, for as long as I’m alive, I think I’ll always have this urge for this old music. I know I will. I’m gonna try to carry it just as long as I’m able, you know, . . . because it’s like history to me.”
He will be deeply missed.
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