North Carolina bluesman George Higgs dies

dmenconi@newsobserver.comJanuary 31, 2013 

George Higgs

COURTESY OF MUSIC MAKER RELIEF FOUNDATION

A chapter of North Carolina blues history ended this week with the death of George Higgs, a blues-harmonica player from Tarboro. He was 82.

In his day, Higgs was one of the most renowned harmonica masters in the state. He learned the music from his father, who taught him how to play harmonica, and blues mentors including Sonny Terry and Peg Leg Sam.

Higgs was never a full-time musician and had to work for most of his life, so music was something he did nights and weekends at house parties. Still, his reputation grew over the years, and he won an array of honors, including an N.C. Heritage Award in 1993.

“George represented the last active musician in his generation of Eastern North Carolina’s country blues tradition,” said Wayne Martin, executive director of the N.C. Arts Council. “He always said he liked the old music, which was really true – not only the old repertoire, but the older ways of presenting it. His music was never urbanized, and it always felt like Eastern North Carolina.”

Higgs never stopped playing those old songs, including the Peg Leg Sam standard “Greasy Greens.” That went over well on the folk and blues festival circuit in America and beyond, including Europe.

Higgs also released two albums through the Music Maker Relief Foundation, winning album of the year from Living Blues magazine for 2001’s “Tarboro Blues.”

“The last time I played with him was about a year ago, and he still had it,” Music Maker head Tim Duffy said. “His voice had gotten a little softer, but he could still blow.”

Higgs died Tuesday from respiratory and heart ailments, said Bettye Higgs, his wife of 63 years.

“He hadn’t been doing well the last two years,” she said. “He did one concert in New Bern last year, and after that he just wasn’t able.”

Funeral arrangements were incomplete Thursday.

Menconi: 919-829-4759 or blogs.newsobserver.com/beat

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