The Daily Southerner
John H. Walker
Legendary bluesman George Higgs, 82, died Tuesday. Funeral arrangements are pending with Hemby-Willoughby Mortuary.
Higgs, 82, was born in 1930 in Speed and lived their his entire life. Higgs’ health had been in declining health for some time and one of his last local performances, scheduled at St. Anne’s Chapel, was postponed indefinitely because of his health.
Higgs’ 2001 album, “Tarboro Blues,” was named Best Blues Album of the Year by Living Blues and he was one of the keynote performers at Tarboro’s 250th birthday celebration in 2010.
He 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 Higgs said he remembered 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],” Higgs recalled in an article on the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music’s web site. “That was [what] really . . . got me interested.”
A performance by medicine show performer Peg Leg Sam at Rocky Mount’s 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 Tarboro.
In the 1960s, he sang and played guitar with the Friendly Five Gospel Quartet, a group whose performances were broadcast live by radio station WCPS.
Higgs farmed, worked as a carpenter, and raised six children with wife Bettye — always staying in the tiny community where he was born and raised.
“[For] as long as I’m alive, I think I’ll always have this urge for this old music. I know I will,” he said. “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 throughout the United States as well as Switzerland and France; he was also featured in the 2004 book Music Makers: Portraits and Songs from the Roots of America (2004).
(Material from the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music web site contributed to this article.)
Obituary on page 2A