Tim Duffy’s career has been driven by the musical traditions of the American South. His championing of these traditions starts with the people who make the music. For decades now, he has provided for musicians’ basic needs, guided their careers, and documented their lives in stunning photographs.
After living for a time in the Old Town section of Mombasa, Kenya, Tim returned to the States and completed an M.A. in Folklore at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He formed relationships with several traditional musicians and began searching for a legendary bluesman they told him about named Guitar Gabriel. In Winston-Salem, North Carolina Tim not only found Gabe, but also a community of impoverished musicians who, despite their material lack, were rich in the traditions of the African American South. Tim set about doing what he could to, first, take care of their basic needs and, then, to get them gigs and document their music. The Music Maker Relief Foundation was born. In the 22 years since its founding, Tim—along with his wife and Managing Director, Denise, and their dedicated team—have assisted and partnered with over 300 artists, issued over 150 CDs, and reached over a million people with live performance in over 40 states and 17 countries around the globe. Tim has been recognized by the ABC Evening News as “Person of the Week,” and has been featured in stories by Time, NPR, CBS, PBS and several local media outlets.
Given the nature of Music Maker’s mission, Tim gained in-depth experience with booking, promotion, artist development, and other managerial aspects of the music industry. Drawing on this expertise, he established Music Maker’s Next Generation program, and brought the Carolina Chocolate Drops to the public’s attention. These young African American musicians reinvigorated a range of traditional music styles, wowed audiences in the States and abroad, and won a Grammy in 2011. Members of the group remain close Music Maker associates. Tim continues his management work with Next Generation artists like Lakota John and Spencer Branch.Photography has been at the heart of Tim Duffy’s Music Maker journey. Tim took pictures initially for documentary purposes, but soon realized that some of these images told rich, visually and emotionally intricate stories. The great depth of Tim’s photographic vision became clear when he turned to the photographic methods of the 19th century, including the platinum palladium process dating back to the 1870s. His wet plate portraits transport viewers into the space of the living past that he has worked so hard to preserve. These images have been on display at the Atrium Gallery of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the Morris Museum in Augusta, GA, and several galleries in North Carolina, New York, and Kentucky. Some of his plates have become part of the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Museum of African American Culture and the New Orleans Museum of Art.