PineCone Remembers George Higgs
Renowned NC bluesman George Higgs passed away on Tuesday, Jan. 29. There will be a public viewing from 2 p.m.-8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 at the Willoughby Funeral Home, located at 266 N Carolina 33 in Tarboro.
Higgs' funeral is schedule for 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013 at C.B. Martin Middle School, located at 400 East Johnson St
In 1992, Higgs received the North Carolina Folklore Society's Brown-Hudson Award, and in 1993 he was presented with the North Carolina Heritage Award, in recognition of his important contributions to the musical culture of the state. Higgs performed extensively, both solo and as a member of the North Carolina Black Folk Heritage Tour, throughout the greater Piedmont region. Grammy Award winning musician David Holt counts Higgs among his mentors. Higgs collaborated with the Music Maker Relief Foundation to release his debut album, Tarboro Blues, in 2001, which was followed by Rainy Day in 2006.
Tarboro Blues was named Best Blues Album of the Year by Living Blues, and Higgs was one of the keynote performers at Tarboro’s 250th birthday celebration in 2010. Higgs had been scheduled to be part of the Music of the Carolinas series earlier this year, but due to illness, he was unable to participate. PineCone had presented Higgs in the past, and his music, stories, and smiles touched many, and he will be missed.
Born in the Edgecombe County farming community of Speed, North Carolina, in 1930, Higgs learned to play his first instrument, the harmonica, in spare moments away from his family's tobacco fields. Higgs' father, Jesse Higgs, also played the harp, and George remembers him playing spirituals like “Crying Holy Unto the Lord” after a day's work. "He'd sit around the fireplace nights, and blow that [harmonica]," said Higgs. "That was [what] really . . . got me interested."
A performance by medicine show performer Peg Leg Sam at Rocky Mount's bustling tobacco market left an indelible impression on the young musician, and he soon purchased his first guitar with proceeds earned from selling one of his favorite squirrel dogs. Inspired by performers like Grand Ole Opry mainstays Uncle Dave Macon and DeFord Bailey, Higgs continued to hone his skills playing at local house parties and competing in impromptu guitar contests in the neighboring town of Tarboro. In the 1960s, he sang and played guitar with the Friendly Five Gospel Quartet, a group whose performances were broadcast live by local radio station WCPS.
George Higgs farmed, worked as a carpenter, and raised six children with wife Bettye in the same rural Edgecombe County community in which he was born and raised. He said, “[For] as long as I'm alive, I think I'll always have this urge for this old music. I know I will. I'm going to try to carry it just as long as I'm able . . . because it's like history to me."
With help from Music Maker, Higgs performed in the United States, Switzerland, and France; he is also featured in the 2004 book Music Makers: Portraits and Songs from the Roots of America (2004).