John Dee Holeman

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John Dee Holeman
Holeman in 1988
Holeman in 1988
Background information
Born (1929-04-04) April 4, 1929 (age 92)
Hillsborough, North Carolina, U.S.
GenresPiedmont blues[1]
Occupation(s)Musician, singer, songwriter
InstrumentsGuitar, vocals
Years active1950s–present
LabelsMusic Maker, Inedit Music

John Dee Holeman (born April 4, 1929)[2] is an American Piedmont blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter.[1] His music includes elements of Texas blues, R&B and African-American string-band music.[1] In his younger days he was also known for his proficiency as a buckdancer.[3]


Holeman was born in Hillsborough, North Carolina.[2] Since 1954 he has been based in Durham, North Carolina.[1] Inspired by Blind Boy Fuller, Holeman was singing and playing guitar at local parties and other events by the time he was in his mid-teens. By his mid-twenties he had bought his first electric guitar and relocated to Durham, where he played with the pianist Fris Holloway.[1][4] The duo became adept at the Juba dance, also known as the hambone or buckdance.

"As a young man, Holeman also listened to traveling bluesmen from other areas of the South, to recordings from Chicago and the Delta, and to black and white musicians on the radio. While still a teenager, he started playing music at house parties, Saturday night suppers, and community gatherings throughout his area of rural North Carolina. At country dances, Holeman also learned the tradition of 'patting juba.' Juba, the use of complex hand rhythms to provide timing for dancers, is a centuries-old tradition among Africans and African Americans. Where Holeman grew up, it was customary when party musicians took a break for males to engage in competitive solo dancing accompanied only by hand or 'patting' rhythms. 'Juba' refers to both the complex hand rhythms and the dance traditionally done to them. The dance done to the juba rhythm is also called 'buckdance,' 'bust down,' and 'jigging.' 'Patting' is distinguished from clapping by virtue of the varied pitches the patting hand elicits from the arms, chest, thighs, and flanks." [3]

During his working lifetime, Holeman had full-time employment as a construction worker, and music was a part-time pursuit.[3] However, he toured in the United States and overseas in the 1980s, including performances at Carnegie Hall, and abroad on behalf of the United States Information Agency's Arts America program.[1] In 1980, Holeman played at the 42nd National Folk Festival at Wolf Trap, Virginia.[5] He has performed yearly at the Black Banjo Festival, in Boone, North Carolina. His first album, Bull City After Dark, was nominated for a W. C. Handy award (a predecessor of the Blues Music Awards). He recorded the album Bull Durham Blues in 1988, which featured Taj Mahal. It was re-released on the Music Maker label in 1999. Also in 1988, the National Endowment for the Arts presented Holeman with a National Heritage Fellowship.[1]

Holeman (left), with George Higgs (right), 2010

In 1994, Holeman was presented with the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award.[2] A song Holeman wrote, "Chapel Hill Boogie", was featured on the 2007 Grammy Award–nominated album 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads, recorded by Kenny Wayne Shepherd.[6]

In 2007, Music Maker issued the album John Dee Holeman & the Waifs Band, on which Holeman was backed by the Waifs, an Australian folk-rock group.[1] In 2018, he played several shows with Cajun/Zydeco musician Mel Melton in Durham.[7]


Year Title Record label
1991 Bull City After Dark Silver Spring
1992 Piedmont Blues of Carolina Inedit Music
1999 Bull Durham Blues Music Maker
2004 John Dee Holeman with Taj Mahal Music Maker
2007 John Dee Holeman & the Waifs Band Music Maker
2009 You Got to Lose You Can't Win All the Time Music Maker


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Skelly, Richard. "John Dee Holeman". Retrieved October 22, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c "John Dee Holeman". Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c "1988 NEA National Heritage Fellow; John Dee Holeman". Archived from the original on October 16, 2011. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  4. ^ "John Dee Holeman". Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  5. ^ Bastin, Bruce (1995). Red River Blues: The Blues Tradition in the Southeast. Champaign: University of Illinois Press. p. 289. ISBN 0-252-01213-5.
  6. ^ "50th Annual Grammy Awards Nominations (Part II)". December 6, 2007. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  7. ^ "John Dee Holeman with Mel Melton and the Wicked Mojos Live at the Bullpen". Cary Magazine. Retrieved 2018-07-23.
  8. ^ "John Dee Holeman: Discography".

External links[edit]