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Talking Music: The Making of 'Piedmont Blues'

A Conversation with Gerald Clayton
November 30th, 2016
12:00 PM


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Forum for Scholars and Publics (Old Chem 011)

12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Light lunch served for all attendees at 11:45 a.m.

Facebook RSVP (optional)


Celebrated jazz pianist and composer Gerald Clayton, award-winning theater director Christopher McElroen, and UNC Folklore professor Glenn Hinson discuss the making of Gerald Clayton’s Piedmont Blues, in a conversation moderated by North Carolina Arts Council Executive Director Wayne Martin. 

Piedmont Blues is a live concert presentation led by bandleader Gerald Clayton that explores the essence and impact of the Piedmont blues. The project features The Assembly — a nine-piece band led by Clayton and including vocalist René Marie and tap dancer Maurice Chestnut. The presentation has been conceived and developed by Clayton working in close collaboration with Christopher McElroen. Entwined throughout the live concert is an assemblage of projected film, new and archival photography, and folklore underscoring the verdant cultural landscape of the Piedmont region. Included amongst the footage are performances by some of the last of the living original Piedmont blues musicians: NEA National Heritage Fellow bluesman John Dee Holman, as well as Piedmont songsters Algia Mae Hinton and Boo Hanks (the latter passed in April 2016).

Taking its name from the Piedmont plateau region — the area that lies between the Atlantic Coastal Plain and the Appalachian Mountains from central Georgia to central Virginia centered in the Carolinas — the Piedmont blues is distinguished by its ragtime rhythms, fingerpicking guitar style, and understated vocals. The tobacco factories and warehouses of Durham, North Carolina — home to the American Tobacco Company (the world’s largest cigarette manufacturer) — were the epicenter for the Piedmont blues — the landscape from which the music was invented.

Clayton's Piedmont Blues premieres Friday, December 2 and Saturday, December 3 at Reynolds Industries Theater on Duke's West Campus. Info below and tickets available here.


A part of the Talking Music: Conversations with Scholars, Writers, Archivists, and Artists, co-sponsored by Duke Performances and the Forum for Scholars & Publics.

Duke Performances | Duke University is the lead commissioner of Piedmont Blues; co-commissioners include the Modlin Center for the Arts at University of Richmond, the Savannah Music Festival & Strathmore. Critical support for Piedmont Blues has been provided by the Music Maker Relief Foundation — a nonprofit based in Hillsborough, NC — founded to preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting musicians, ensuring that their voices will not be silenced by poverty & time. Made possible, in part, with an award from the National Endowment for the Arts; a grant from the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources; and a grant from New Music USA.

Gerald Clayton

Gerald Clayton “has proved himself one of the standout jazz pianists of his generation, possessed of silvery technique and an intent but relaxed way with a phrase” (The New York Times). This young jazz master grew up playing with his father John Clayton and uncle Jeff Clayton in their Clayton Brothers combo. The pianist/composer formally began his musical journey at the prestigious Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, where he received the 2002 Presidential Scholar of the Arts Award. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Piano Performance at USC’s Thornton School of Music under the instruction of piano icon Billy Childs, after a year of intensive study with NEA Jazz Master, Kenny Barron, at The Manhattan School of Music. Since then, he's forged his own path, leading his eponymous multi-GRAMMY-nominated trio and holding down the piano chair in Charles Lloyd’s quartet.

Christopher McElroen

the american vicarious

Christopher McElroen is a Brooklyn-based theatre artist and the Artistic Director of the american vicarious. Christopher received a 2013 Helen Hayes Award for his direction of the world premiere stage adaptation of Ralph Ellison’s iconic novel Invisible Man. Alongside visual artist Paul Chan and Creative Time, Christopher co-produced and directed Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, a community development through the arts initiative that staged Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot outdoors in the Lower Ninth Ward and Gentilly communities of post-Katrina New Orleans. The New York Times listed the project as one of the top ten national art events of 2007. The archives from the production have been acquired into the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and were on exhibit at MOMA May 2010 through September 2011. 

Christopher co-founded the acclaimed Classical Theatre of Harlem (CTH) where from 1999-2009 he produced 41 productions yielding 18 AUDELCO Awards, 6 OBIE Awards, 2 Lucille Lortel Awards, a Drama Desk Award, and CTH being named “1 of 8 Theatres in America to Watch” by the Drama League.

Glenn Hinson

UNC Chapel Hill

UNC Folklore professor Glenn Hinson has long been researching African American expressive culture, with focused investigation of musical, poetic and belief systems in African American communities. Much of his public sector work has been conducted in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution and the Folk Arts Section of the North Carolina Arts Council. For the last four years, he has served as co-director-along with Dwight Rogers in the School of Education-of the “Curriculum, Music, and Community” project, an educational initiative that is re-centering the curricula in 4th-grade public school classrooms around the study of local musical traditions. His present research involves working with African American gospel singers and the performed links between public expression and private experience, wherein the church has yielded a broad body of “dream songs” (or “gift songs”) that are said to come from the Holy Spirit. Additional projects address African American vernacular poetics, the play of ethnographic authority in the public presentation of tradition, and—currently—vernacular artistic responses in North Carolina to 9/11 and the wars that have followed in its aftermath. 

Wayne Martin

North Carolina Arts Council

Wayne Martin has worked at the North Carolina Arts Council since 1981 and became director in 2012. Over the years, his focus has been in the areas of community arts development, folklife and cultural and heritage tourism. He was a key staff member in the planning and implementation of the Arts Council’s SmART Initiative that spurs arts-driven economic development across the state, and worked the last three years in developing a new arts council in Wilmington.

Martin played a critical role in creating the Blue Ridge Music and Cherokee Heritage trails projects as part of the Blue Ridge Heritage Initiative. This interstate collaboration set the stage for the Congressional designation of western North Carolina as the Blue Ridge Heritage Area. In 2004, he received the first Preserve America Presidential Award on behalf of the Blue Ridge Heritage Initiative. Martin spearheaded the creation of the African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina and the History Happy Valley trail program and oversaw led a revision of the Blue Ridge Music Trails that cover 28 western counties. Martin holds a B.A. in history from UNC-Chapel Hill and has also studied at Duke University. He is the founder of the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music and is an accomplished musician, who has recorded and produced several alubms.