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Algia Mae Hinton

‘A hard life of bad luck and trouble’ by David Menconi at April, 2017.

It’s been a while since Algia Mae Hinton was on a stage, but she’s still a dancer. That
hasn’t changed, even though she’s wheelchair-bound nowadays. “The reason I can’t
walk, I danced so much and told so many stories, I wore out my legs,” she says and
laughs. “But I’m gonna walk again, dance again. Ain’t giving up.” A recent Sunday
afternoon found the 87-year-old Hinton holding court in the living room of her modest
country house, decked out to entertain visitors. She wore black-velvet finery with jewelry
to accent bright red nails, her eyes hidden behind rock-star shades.
Hinton used to perform for festivals with crowds in the thousands – even once at
Carnegie Hall in New York City. Now as one of the last surviving Piedmont blues players
from the old days, she performs mostly for family and friends. But even without a guitar
in hand, she still draws a crowd of those near and dear to her. A steady stream of
relatives passed through – grown children, younger grandchildren, younger-still great-
grandchildren – to give a hug and a kiss and hear a story or a song.
Every adult man got the same treatment: Hinton looking at them askance and clucking in
mock-disapproval, “He got so many women.” It brought down the house every time.
Among the visitors was one of Hinton’s longtime music friends, Mike “Lightnin’ ” Wells,
who sat on her couch picking Piedmont blues on a guitar. Hinton swayed to the music,
doing a little soft-shoe dance in her wheelchair – a version of the thunderous, full-body
buck-dancing she used to do in her prime.

“Algia Mae,” Wells finally spoke up in mild exasperation, “you gonna sing or not? I’m
here playin’!” Hinton smiled, muttered about Wells’ “many women” and began to sing.
…I’m goin’ down this road feelin’ bad
Lost the best friend I ever had…

A lot of the songs Hinton sings are the traditional blues, folk and gospel tunes she
learned growing up on her family’s farm in the 1930s and ’40s. But this is one she wrote
herself, inspired by harsh real-life circumstances – the night in 1984 when her house
burned down. “Lost everything I had,” she said matter-of-factly, then paused. “Lost a lot
of things in this life.” In 1996, Wells produced an album for Hinton called “Honey Babe:
Blues, Folk Tunes and Gospel From North Carolina.”
The title track was the first song Hinton ever learned, and the serial number they gave
the album was 82929 – Hinton’s birth date of Aug. 29, 1929. Born to a farming family,
Hinton came along at the end of her parents’ 14 children. They had her out working in
the fields almost as soon as she could walk. “I have done some work in my day,” Hinton
said. “In the field picking cotton, cucumbers, tobacco. Housework and schoolwork, too.
Cutting wood for the woodstove, did that, too.” As she spoke, her son Williette Hinton sat
nearby. At 61 years old, he is the eldest of Algia Mae’s four children who are still living.
“The snow was this deep, and mama’d go out there in it to get wood to keep us warm,”
Williette said of his mother. “We were old enough to go out and do that, but she wouldn’t
let us. She felt like we might get sick, and she could handle it better than us. That
woman taught me how to work, that’s for sure.”

Algia Mae has always been been self-sufficient, and that’s fortunate because she had to
fend for herself as a single parent after her husband died more than 50 years ago. In her
telling, the circumstances of his death were more than a little sordid. “I got married in
1950 and my husband was killed in 1965,” she said. “Murdered. Got killed in New York,
over that rock dope. He died and he had so many women! I tell you what, I did ask the
Lord to forgive him. He come back here, I was gonna bust a cap in him. But I’m glad I
didn’t do it. “I don’t even know where he’s buried at,” Hinton added, with a shrug. “Never
married another man. One was enough. Married a family, that’s what I did.”
Hinton started learning music at age 9, primarily taught by her mother (an expert finger-
picking guitarist). She learned to dance, too, and that came from her father. Show-off
tricks like playing guitar behind her back while dancing, she figured out pretty much on
her own. By her teenage years, Hinton was an accomplished 12-string guitarist playing
Piedmont blues – an uptempo, clattery style of acoustic music with elements of
bluegrass and ragtime. The best-known first-wave women players of North Carolina
Piedmont blues were Elizabeth Cotten (author of the enduring genre classic “Freight
Train”) and guitar virtuoso Etta Baker, who have both been gone for more than a
decade. Hinton ranks behind Baker and Cotten, and she’s pretty much the last survivor
of the generation after theirs.
It’s actually hard to fathom how Hinton found the time or energy for music over the
years, given the mammoth amounts of labor involved in tending to seven kids. But she
never stopped playing, dancing, performing. “I played at camps, jailhouses, rest homes,
lotta places,” Hinton said. “In jail, people in there killed somebody. They’d tell me,
‘C’mere, you.’ No, uh uh!”
For most of Hinton’s first four decades, playing music was almost strictly for family and
friends. That changed in 1978. Glenn Hinson, a folklorist from UNC-Chapel Hill, was
putting together an album to accompany a museum exhibit about 19th-century African-
Americans in North Carolina, and he’d heard about a hotshot female guitarist in the
vicinity of Zebulon.
Asking around took him to Hinton’s front door, but she was deeply suspicious of a white
stranger coming around to ask about her guitar-playing. Complicating things further,
she’d just been playing at a house party where someone had been stabbed. “She was
sure I was the law, there to get her in trouble,” Hinson said. “As I learned later, when she
saw me through the door, she ripped the strings off her guitar. Then she showed it to
me: ‘See, no strings. I clearly haven’t played in a long while.’ ” Eventually, he earned
Hinton’s trust by mailing her a new set of guitar strings. After recording her for the
museum project, Hinson helped get her booked into festivals.
On the festival circuit, Hinton’s dazzling guitar, irrepressible spirit and wry kitchen-table
wisdom (“When You Kill The Chicken Save Me The Head” is just one of the culinary
songs in her repertoire) made her an instant hit. For good measure, she was a killer
dancer as she played tunes like the old Rev. Gary Davis number “Buck Dance.” While
music would never amount to a full-time career, it earned Hinton acclaim and honors
including a North Carolina Folk Heritage Award. In 1983, the noted folklorist Alan Lomax
came to North Carolina and filmed Hinton, Durham bluesman John Dee Holeman and
friends on a porch, playing and doing “Flat-Foot” tap-dancing. A year later, in 1984,
Hinton played Carnegie Hall in New York City. It was the gig of a lifetime, but the good
feelings would be short-lived.
“Literally the night she returned from that, her house burned down,” Hinson said. “The
night before, she’d been sleeping in New York City. Then we brought her back, dropped
her off at home, it was a cold night and the wood heater caught the front room on fire. It
just went up, and she had nothing. That’s very much been her life, a very hard one in
every dimension – occupational, family, you name it. She’s had a hard life of ‘bad luck
and trouble,’ as she’d say.” Back in Hinton’s living room, Wells was still playing and she
was still singing. Occasionally, she’d tap out a beat on an old drumhead bearing
autographs of some of the many people she’s played with – fiddler Joe Thompson,
folklorist Mike Seeger and former Carolina Chocolate Drop Dom Flemons.
Thompson and Seeger are both gone now. So is most of the rest of Hinton’s musical
generation, whose numbers are dwindling. “Algia Mae,” Wells said between songs, “you
and John Dee are about the last two old original Piedmont blues players still out there.”
Seemingly lost in thought, Hinton didn’t answer. She has survived not just musical peers
but all 13 of her siblings, and even three of her seven children.
One of the hardest losses was Hinton’s youngest daughter, Elgia Mae Hinton, who died
of heart troubles in 2008 at age 46. “There aren’t but a handful like Algia Mae left,” said
Tim Duffy of Music Maker Relief Foundation, which gives financial support to elderly
blues players in need (including Hinton). “But what a life she’s had. Billionaires haven’t
had a life as rich as hers. She’s funny. Kind of a genius, even. At first, she might seem
like this kind of obtuse old lady. But she’s got a very sharp wit, and she’s one of the
funniest songwriters. ‘Cook cornbread for your husband and biscuits for your outside
man’ – who comes up with poetry like that?”
Nobody except Hinton. But she seems at least as proud of her family as her music. “I
raised my kids up, salt and pepper and switch,” she said. “I bet you whip yours, too.
Right? You’ve got to. If you don’t, there’ll be trouble.” At that moment, she realized that
her son Williette was grinning broadly as he listened. She paused, gave him a stare and
a dramatic shake of the head. “He got,” she pronounced solemnly, “so many women.”
==

By David Menconi, February 2018 for newsobserver dot com


Algia Mae Hinton, one of the last surviving Piedmont blues greats, has died. Hinton
played music and buckdanced since childhood, and she became a regular on the blues-
festival circuit starting in the late 1970s. Eventually Algia Mae Hinton came to rank
behind her better-known peers Elizabeth Cotton and Etta Baker as the best old-school
Piedmont blueswomen.
Tim Duffy described himself Thursday as “torn up” about the news of her death. He had
worked with Hinton since the early 1990s through the Music Maker Relief Foundation, a
nonprofit he founded that seeks to preserve Southern musical traditions by giving
financial support to musicians. “I’ll miss Algia Mae,” Duffy said. “She was a great major
artist of Piedmont blues and gospel, and an incredibly powerful woman. Hard worker,
too. She must have picked a million cucumbers while supporting seven kids alone,
raising them up right.”
Hinton’s life wasn’t easy. She was one of 14 children born to a farming family in 1929.
She married in 1950 and had seven children, becoming a single parent after her
husband’s death in 1965. “I raised my kids up, salt and pepper and switch,” she said in
an interview last year. “I bet you whip yours, too. Right? You’ve got to. If you don’t,
there’ll be trouble.”

One of Hinton’s career highlights came in 1984, a gig at New York City’s fabled
Carnegie Hall. But as soon as she returned from New York, Hinton’s house burned
down after her wood heater caught on fire. She lost everything. “That’s very much been
her life, a very hard one in every dimension,” said Glenn Hinson, a UNC-Chapel Hill
folklorist, in 2017. “Occupational, family, you name it. She’s had a hard life of ‘bad luck
and trouble,’ as she’d say.”
In recent years, Hinton’s health declined, and she no longer could perform. Even
confined to a wheelchair, however, she’d still perform a little soft-shoe dance for visitors
while singing sly songs like “Cook Cornbread For Your Husband (And Biscuits For Your
Outside Man).”
==

Algia Mae Hinton, Middlesex, North Carolina (2015). Photo by Tim Duffy.
“I can’t be still myself!”: a tribute to
Algia Mae Hinton by Nic Gareiss
(Michigan State University).

Photo by John Gallagher


Algia Mae Hinton, buck dancer and blues musician passed away February 8th, 2018 at
age 88. While I’ve been an admirer of her music and dancing from afar since I was an
adolescent, I regret that I never had the chance to meet Algia Mae. I’ve spent the last
month reaching out to those that worked with her to get some sense of her incredible
contribution to the story of American traditional music and dance.
Algia Mae Hinton was born in 1929 in O’Neal Township in Johnston Co., North Carolina.
Her parents, tenant farmers, taught her how to play the guitar and buck dance. Algia’s
mother played blues guitar in a style unique to the North Carolina Piedmont. Algia Mae
learned the distinctive Piedmont finger-picking technique from her. Algia Mae had seven
children and spent several years spent living in Raleigh, North Carolina but returned to
Johnston Co. in 1965 after her husband passed away. Upon relocating to her home
community, Algia Mae worked as a field laborer and played music at local parties and for
her children.
Unlike many masters of traditional arts, I was glad to learn that Algia Mae Hinton
received some recognition during her life for her playing, singing, songwriting, and
dancing. She performed at the North Carolina Folk Festival in 1978 and later at the
National Folk Festival, the University of Chicago Folk Festival, and even at Carnegie
Hall. Alan Lomax recorded her dancing, singing, and playing on her porch in Johnston
County, North Carolina for Eleanor Ellis’ film Blues House Party in 1983.
I asked Peter McCracken, programming director for the Festival of American Fiddle
Tunes, about his time working with Algia Mae: “I think it was 1993 – we went on a little
tour, traveling with a big tent, seating, sound, lights, going to small towns that had no
venue. Usually set up in a ball field. She was so tickled, couldn’t stop laughing, and
every time she did she hid her mouth, covered her mouth with her hand…I just loved the
way that music and dance and rhythm were inseparable for her.” Algia Mae smilingly
confesses this herself in the film Talking Feet, “I can’t be still myself!”
When I asked about Algia Mae among my own folk community in Michigan, I learned
from Peggy Brisbane, the Wheatland Festival’s beloved photographer-in-residence, that
Algia Mae performed at the event in 1990 as a part of The North Carolina Blues Review
with fellow legends Lightnin’ Wells, John D. Holeman, and Big Boy Henry. Much has
been written about Algia Mae’s guitar- and banjo-playing, singing, and songwriting, but
it’s as a dancer that I most acutely feel her loss. She was one of the most widely-known
buck dancers, a style of percussive dance originating in the Piedmont performed
primarily in African-American communities to the soundscape of the blues. Thomas F.
DeFrantz, dance scholar and chair of American-American studies at Duke University,
describes buck dances as percussive dances originating in the 19th century
characterized by weighted downward-directed foot movement.
Next page: Algia Me Hinton buck dancing with Lightnin’ Wells, John D. Holeman, and Big Boy
Henry at the Wheatland Music Festival in Remus, Michigan, September 1990, photo by Barclay-
Brisbane
Last night I spent several hours playing and replaying clips of Algia Mae’s performances
from Talking Feet. I wanted to try to get a sense for what her steps felt like in my moving
body. In her signature piece, “Buck Dance,” she plays the guitar and dances
simultaneously with incredible ease. Her poise is captivating. She contacts the floor with
clean stamps and brushes, swiveling in her open toe dress shoes. In my (mostly futile)
attempt to imitate her steps, I’m struck by her masterful alternation between swung
footwork and more straight-ahead rhythmic feel. It’s only as I try to get inside some of
her movement that her facility in choosing the placement of each sound becomes
humblingly apparent. She begins with a crisp syncopated stomp on the right foot and
follows with a playful swing of the left foot, brushing and shuffling forward and back to
complete her 4-beat phrase. The step feels playful, yet perfectly coherent.
When I show this clip to tap dancers, they see a time step: a short clear footwork
sequence dancers use to cue musicians and bring in the band in performance. I don’t
think Algia Mae would have called it that. For her, music and dance were already one.
I’m puzzled by the fact that her dancing remains unknown in the contemporary urban tap
community. Could this have been because she was a woman? Could it be because of
her rural background? I have to confess that I am tickled that her work continues to
baffle the tap dancers with whom I share this video, especially this signature piece. At
one point she lifts her guitar up, playing it behind her head and continues to perfectly
punctuate percussively on the floor.
Dancer Ira Bernstein shared remembrances of Algia Mae and shed some light on the
importance of her contribution to American dance: “She was very demure…she let her
art speak for itself.” According to Ira, Algia Mae represents something very important, a
link many people don’t know about between southern dance and tap dance. “A lot of tap
dancers don’t even know about buck dancing, let alone this connection.” Ira pointed out
Algia Mae’s work also demonstrates that tradition is not a one-way street. He cites a
step Algia Mae learned from Appalachian cloggers that found its way into her dancing.
Though Algia Mae learned from Appalachian style clogging, in our discussion, Ira
remarked how few people within the southern dance community have taken it upon
themselves to learn her style. This past month I began to wonder why this is the case
with Algia Mae’s steps. Why weren’t they picked up by the (mostly white) college
students who delved into Appalachian clogging during the resurgence of interest in
southern dance forms in the 1970s and 80s? While Algia Mae’s presence was embraced
by this community, few enthusiasts actually learned the details her footwork the way
they did with other dancers. Was this due to her impossibly subtle but formidable
facility? Was it their lack of familiarity with blues music? Was it the color of her skin?
Next page: Algia Mae Hinton performing at the Wheatland Music Festival in Remus, Michigan,
September 1990, photo by Barclay-Brisbane
Tap dancers weren’t the only ones who responded excitedly when I showed video of
Algia Mae this past month. Every time I pulled up a video of her on my phone for one of
my queer friends at a party or sent Algia Mae’s YouTube links through Grindr, her
dancing elicited appropriated phrases learned from RuPaul: “Bad bitch! Yaaaas queen.”
In her dapper high-waisted trousers and pressed dress shirts, accessorized with scarves
and ties, Algia Mae dances with gender as deftly as she plays the floorboards of her
porch. She drags bluesman masculinity. In both Talking Feet and Blues House Party, it’s
clear Algia Mae could keep up with the best of the boys in her dance community but in
doing so she critiques them. Her dancing reveals a commitment to creative use of
simple elements and ease over (displayed) effort. She makes us lean in rather than
knocking us back on our heels. Given all this, it’s easy to see how, as my friend Clare
pointed out, Algia Mae invites queer spectatorship. Maybe her self-identification as a
buck dancer, outside the binary of percussive forms of tap and clogging, suggests a
sense of queerness. She was simultaneously at the center of a percussive dance Venn
diagram but also beaming at us from beyond its borders. A dancing link but also an
outlier.
I’m not speculating about Algia Mae’s orientation here. It feels somehow disingenuous to
tell her untold queer story if indeed there was one to tell. Rather, I am talking about
queer stylistics, a style of in-betweenness, of beyond-ness. Hers is a critique so subtle
that if you aren’t watching each smile or a twist of the ankle, you might miss it. Maybe
Algia Mae performs what E. Patrick Johnson talks about in his essay, “‘Quare’’’ Studies,
or (Almost) Everything I Know About Queer Studies I Learned from My Grandmother.” In
the piece, Johnson teases out the racial-regional stylistics of southern black queerness,
borrowing the term “quare”, turning it on its head as a former slur, and outlining the way
it nuances LGBTQIA+ identities. Johnson also writes about the blues, noting the art
form’s ability to perform “quarely” at the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality:
“Quare singers such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, for instance, used the blues to
challenge the notion of inferior black female subjectivity and covertly brought the image
of the black lesbian into the American imaginary,” (2001:13).
Bell Hooks, the gleefully uncapitalizing feminist writer, also alludes to the queerness of
the blues in her book Feminism is for Everybody, describing performances of southern
black queer stylistics in connection to the social scene around music where she grew up.
“The lesbians in our small, segregated black community were usually married. Yet they
knew who they really were. And they let their real selves be known behind closed doors,
at secret jook joints and parties,” (2000:94). Again, while I’m not terribly interested in
speculating Algia Mae’s orientation, her inimitable performance of self does ring with
these descriptions of innovative stylistics of race, gender, and sexuality. Bringing hooks
and Johnston into conversation with Algia Mae’s work feels important in, to quote
Thomas F. DeFrantz’s essay “Blacking Queer Dance,” “seeing things
differently…recasting history against dominant norms,” (2002:102). This seems crucial
to me in remembering Algia Mae.
In returning to footage of Algia Mae again and again this month I was struck by how
seamlessly she and her collaborators interweave dance and music, moving and
sounding along many axes of identity. As the artists pass guitars, clap hands for each
other, and keep time with their feet on Algia Mae’s front porch, one gets a sense for how
in this tradition, especially at Algia Mae’s house, dance, music, and song are inextricably
knotted together. During one clip, she twines her body and smiles in her sunglasses,
twisting her hips and deftly tapping a board laid in front of the porch in her pumps. Her
touch is enviably light and yet, her rhythms unmistakably direct our ears, invoking blues
music even while dancing acapella. No matter how many times I watch this video, each
time I find myself mesmerized by Algia Mae Hinton’s dancing…Dancing that was
inflected by her place, her region, but ultimately, ingeniously uniquely her own.
==

Algia Mae Hinton. Who’s got the blues anymore? by


Sarah Gibson on June 2, 2016 for scalawagmagazine
dot org.

Photo by Scott Sharpe (2000)


It was the coldest night of 1985. Algia Mae Hinton had just returned home to North
Carolina after her Carnegie Hall debut, where she had been the sole woman on a
Southern Roots of Blues tour. Just hours after she fell asleep, Hinton woke up to her
room ablaze. She escaped barefoot, the ground jagged with frost, and watched all her
belongings burn into oblivion.
The story goes that Hinton soon wrote a song about the fire, “Going Down This Road”.
Within the year, Mike Lightnin' Wells, a young White musician from the area, released it
in Hinton's first commercial recording. The song is classic Piedmont Blues: deceptively
upbeat, with a finger-picked guitar melody evocative of ragtime. It is both vulnerable and
buoyant. It simultaneously inspires one to weep and to dance, to ask of the world: Why
such sorrow and such beauty?
It became one of Hinton's most popular songs and was the beginning of a life-long
musical collaboration and friendship between Hinton and Lightnin’. Hinton was still
singing it when I met her earlier this year, just two months shy of 86 years old. She is
probably the last recorded Piedmont Blueswoman with us today.
Hinton’s housefire was one of many chapters of hardship: She grew up working the
fields of a former slave plantation, persisted through a difficult marriage only to lose her
husband in a car crash, and single-handedly raised seven children and countless
adopted ones. But she was resilient, with a mischievous sense of humor and a
reputation for hosting music and dance parties. Folklorists learned about Hinton’s family
in the late 1970’s, decades after her style of acoustic Piedmont Blues had gone out of
fashion, and since then an occasional musician or documentarian – usually White –
makes a pilgrimage to visit her.
In July 1983, Alan Lomax, the famed collector and arbiter of “authentic” roots music,
showed up with a PBS crew to film one of Hinton's parties in Johnson County. Hinton
may have spent all that week harvesting tobacco in 100-degree fields. But in Lomax'
footage, she has a calm regal air, dressed in well-fitting jeans, a high-necked blue
blouse, tap shoes, and huge sunglasses. From her porch swing she delivers a rendition
of “Step it Up and Go”, known to many as a Bob Dylan rockabilly tune but originally
recorded by the Grandfather of the Piedmont Blues, Durham's Blind Boy Fuller.
Me and my baby, walking down the street
Dealing everybody, but the chief of police
Gotta step it up and go

Get it Mae, get it, the partygoers urge Hinton as she trades off role of guitarist, rhythm
keeper, and dance partner. In other clips, men showcase their rhythmic acrobatics on a
wooden plank and make raunchy moonshine-laden toasts in rhyme. Hinton and fellow
musician John Dee Holeman buckdance – a syncopated dance style from which tap and
Appalachian clogging descend – and at one point Hinton drops to all fours, chest
skyward, and does what can only be described as a breakdancing move.
Algia At 87. Photo by Juli Leonard

The first time I watched these videos I was astonished by her palpable coolness, steady
and graceful as a thumb on the bass string of a Piedmont Blues guitar tune.
Does wanting to preserve the Piedmont Blues suggest a sentimental nostalgia, or is
there something still worth celebrating and revitalizing? If the Piedmont Blues evoke an
era of hard labor, racial violence, and generational poverty, why would we even mourn
its passage? What of the Blues should we gladly lay to rest, and what of it should we
insist on remembering?
As I leave Hinton's house, she exhorts me to find Lightnin’ and ask him for stories and
songs. “Lightnin’ know how to tear it up,” she laughs fondly.
When I arrive at his house, Lightnin’ is learning a tune on his nylon-stringed banjo from a
1920's recording. That’s how he makes his living: by reinvigorating and performing old
songs at festivals and in schools. Lightnin' is in his 60's, with curly grey hair, a soul
patch, and a habit of wearing colorful button-up t-shirts. He lives alone and is in what he
calls an “awkward” transition between being a talented revivalist and an official elder. It’s
a liminal stage that describes many roots musicians who came of age and learned from
the masters in the 1960’s and 70’s. When Hinton passes, Lightnin' will be one of the
closest sources to the mythical roots of the Piedmont Blues, an interpreter who we call
upon to remember what good times and violent histories formed the blues.
“How would you describe Algie Mae's music?” I ask, hoping Lightnin' will explain the
genre's technical particularities. But just as with Hinton, a discussion about the music
quickly becomes a discussion about the people who made it.
He begins to reminisce: “[The Hintons] made me part of their family. “I've hung around
Algia so much that the kids now have grown to think of me as an uncle or something,”
he said. “That's probably more important to me than the music. I'm not like, 'Hey, I
learned this from Algia'; I don't take their music out and exploit it that way. It's just—it's a
part of my heart.”
The more I talk to Lightnin' and read from archival interviews with Hinton, the more I
wonder whether Hinton's evasion of my questions, her insistence on talking about
Lightnin' rather than her own accomplishments, is not simply a reflection of an aging
brain's failure to remember, but rather, the way that the Blues is embedded in and
subordinate to human connection. For Hinton and Lightnin', a Blues devoid of friends
with whom to play and dance isn't worth talking about. It might not even be worth
preserving.
“What's happening to the Blues?” I ask Lightnin'. “Is it going to leave us?” Lightnin'
gazes at his shelves of old LP's and the tobacco fields beyond his living room.
“I think it is; I mean it'll be there, but in different forms. And in a lot of ways that's a good
thing. You look at the old hardcore blues guys—There's one that lived 20 miles from me
but what a sad sight to see! He lived as a tenant farmer in a shack, drank cheap wine
and died in his 40's. That made 'real blues' but do we need the conditions that made real
blues anymore?”
Lightnin' exhales as if in resigned prayer. “No, we don't.” Lightnin' welcomes the notion
of Blues as an art form in constant evolution. And despite our desire to view Hinton as a
symbol of the old ways, her Blues was also in a regular cycle of reinvention. After our
interviews, I learned that contrary to the popular story, Hinton didn't actually compose
“Goin’ Down this Road” in response to the fire after all. It turns out that she had already
been singing a version of it for years, drawing inspiration from the melodies of white
country music and domestic woman's blues alike. She added new verses as life
delivered new hardships.
I'm goin' down this road, feelin' bad; If I don’t get you baby, I don’t want nobody else.

I'm goin' down this road, I'm feelin' bad; Ain't got my house, it's burnin' down on me.

It seems appropriate that like the Piedmont Blues itself, Hinton's best-known song defies
our attempts to chronologize the genre. It is full of contradictions: jubilant and
heartbreaking, traditional and original. It is born of relationships that flow from and wind
back into themselves like some traceless tributary. When I listen to it now, when I
wonder what of this region's incredible music will survive, I think of the bonds of intimacy
that undergirded Hinton’s music and have kept Lightnin' a part of her family for almost
forty years. Blues as a relational art, as an evocation not just of hardship but of the love
that helps people to endure it: that, to me, seems worth preserving.
==