April 01, 2010 — Jimmy Williams is a fine art and assignment photographer based in Raleigh, NC. He studied visual design at North Carolina State University, and shortly thereafter, opened an independent studio where he established himself as a successful advertising photographer. Now, more than 30 years later, Jimmy devotes much of his time to personal photography endeavors.
“Music Makers” is an ongoing series that pays tribute to the faithful disciples of Southern musical traditions. In early 2006, Williams was introduced to the Music Maker Relief Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern music. Struggling, and often penniless, these artists are given the opportunity and funding to preserve their musical legacy. Williams has been photographing these artists for two years, starting with those living in his native North Carolina. These portraits are honest; these artists have lived their lyrics—the chaos, the loneliness, the poverty and, most of all, the faith. This series is about preserving the faces of those who ceaselessly pass on the rich oral records of the Southern past.
In 2004, Williams was in North Carolina photographing a man named James for one of his commercial projects. During the shoot, this quiet elderly man broke into a favorite tune of his late wife’s—a simple blues rendition of the song, “Stardust.” “High up in the sky the little stars climb, always reminding me that we’re apart…” He was not a musician by trade, but his soulful interpretation of the melody overcame the shakiness of his pitch. James’ talent was innate. The experience stirred Williams’ desire to create a series recognizing the unique sounds and souls of the South.
As many of these artists push through their 80s, they continue to perform tirelessly at shows and on tour. When asked why, the universal answer seems to be, “Because I can.” For musician Macavine Hayes, who passed away earlier this year, it was to inspire and teach lessons of the past so the youth of today can have a better future.
After beginning the “Music Makers” project, Williams came across an organization called the Music Maker Relief Foundation. It was headed up by a man named Tim Duffy. This particular organization supports musicians who have gotten up in years but are true representatives of traditional Southern music, in all its different styles. The Foundation helps them get meaningful work as musicians, doing what they love.
Williams found that the connection was both an opportunity for him to connect with people who fit the style that he was interested in photographing and at the same time allowed him the opportunity to support those same people through his work.
“One benefit that I wasn’t anticipating was the connection that I’ve made with the people I photographed,” Jimmy Williams says. These musicians, he says, are among the most genuine groups of people he has ever met.
“To me, I’ve captured the person in a way that only someone very close to them sees. When I reflect back on the photos I feel I really know the person. So now after having worked on this project for a couple of years, I’ve generated a small body of work that I feel very good about. I feel like we’ve just started,” says Williams.
For his efforts on the “Music Maker” series, Jimmy Williams has garnered numerous important awards, including the 2009 Photo District News Faces competition, a second place in 2008’s Lucie Awards, a first place in the 2008 Spider Awards, a group win in the 2008 Billboard/PDN Summer series, and many more.
To see the “Music Makers” booklet and hear the entire contents of the CD, visit www.jimmywilliamsphotography.com/music
makers. Those interested in purchasing images from the series can visit www.jimmywilliamsfineart.com. A portion of all sales goes directly to the Music Maker Relief Foundation. To learn more about the organization, its mission, artists’ tour dates, bios, etc., visit www.musicmaker.org.