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David Evans

U of M Recording "Blues in Black & White" Benefits Music Maker Relief Foundation

For release: January 3, 2011
For press information, contact Gabrielle Maxey (901) 678-2843

The University of Memphis' blues, jazz and gospel record label High Water Records and student-run Blue T.O.M. Records have collaborated for a rare blues album benefiting needy local musicians - some of the same musicians who originally recorded the songs.

"Blues in Black & White," which was released on December 1, 2010 and features 10 cover songs managed by the University's Music River Publishing company (BMI), was recorded and produced by Music Industry Program students and local musicians. The CD, which benefits the Music Maker Relief Foundation (MMRF) is also intended to raise awareness for the High Water catalog and bring attention to the plight of elderly musicians throughout the region.

Music Maker Relief Foundation (MMRF) is a public charity that provides support for Southern musicians who are 55 or older and have an annual income of less than $18,000. People who donate $10 or more to the Foundation will receive "Blues in Black & White" as a gift.
MMRF offers three programs: Musician Sustenance grants to meet basic life needs and emergency relief, Musical Development grants for artist professional development and career advancement, and a Cultural Access program which supports the preservation and growth of American musical traditions.

The project began in the spring of 2010, when Tonya Butler, assistant professor and area coordinator of Music Business and faculty adviser for Blue T.O.M., realized that the U of M holds the copyright to a large catalog of blues songs that weren't being effectively promoted or sold. Her idea, U of M music students should cover, market, and revive the songs by artists like Chicago Bob, Hammie Nixon, Jessie Mae Hemphill and The Pattersonaires, with music written by songwriters such as Robert Lee Nelsen, Albert Wilson, George Walker and Ranie Burnette.

While the High Water recordings have been distributed for the past 20 years, they didn't always get maximum exposure. Recently the songs have spiked in popularity, appearing in Craig Brewer's "Black Snake Moan" as well as in international films and commercials.

"A few CDs in the catalog were being sold through a third party distributor, but nothing was being done with the rest of the songs," says U of M senior music business major Nick Black, who was president of Blue T.O.M. during the project. "Some of the songs are absolutely amazing, too."

"About halfway through the recording of everything, which was done entirely by students, we all realized that this could be something big, and we all agreed to find a cause that our new album of covers could stand behind," Black notes. "After a while we stumbled, almost by fate, onto the Music Maker Relief Foundation. What a perfect match. We're doing a bunch of old blues covers, and MMRF actually supports some of the musicians we were covering."
In addition to its grants, the MMRF sponsors mini-tours for some of the musicians. "They don't want to retire, they still want to perform," Butler notes. "This offers more than just professional support. It gives them an opportunity to continue their craft." For more information, visit

High Water Records was founded in 1979 by David Evans, U of M professor of musicology, and Richard Ranta, dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts. The label was created with the goal to record the indigenous music of Memphis and the Mississippi Delta. "If you were a blues musician who played the jug or kazoo, you were not getting studio time at Sun Studio or Stax," Butler says. "The music was in danger of becoming extinct."

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