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Cephas & Wiggins are leading exponents of the Piedmont Blues – specifically the Piedmont-style guitar, featuring alternating thumb and finger, with the thumb creating a steady, loping bass as the melody is simultaneously picked out on the treble strings. The two met in 1977 at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., where Cephas was playing in the band of pianist Big Chief Ellis and Wiggins was accompanying gospel singer-guitarist Flora Melton. Along with pianist Wilber “Big Chief” Ellis and bassist James Bellamy, John and Phil formed the Barrelhouse Rockers. A year after Ellis’ death, the duo of Cephas & Wiggins was born.

Almost immediately after the two musicians joined forces, the blues community proclaimed them as the new champions of the East Coast Piedmont style of blues first popularized by artists like Blind Boy Fuller, Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Willie McTell and Blind Blake. Since teaming up, they have toured the world, including the former Soviet Union, where they were the first Americans to perform at the Russian National Folk Festival in Moscow. In 1987, they were awarded the “W.C. Handy Blues Entertainers of the Year” and “Best Traditional Album of the Year.”

After hundreds of concerts at major festivals, concert halls and colleges (not to mention the many workshops the two conduct), Cephas & Wiggins continue to bring energetic good times to each performance, winning new fans everywhere they go. They have performed in living rooms for only a handful of people and in front of thousands at blues festivals all over the world. They even entertained at President Clinton’s inaugural party in 1997.

To Cephas & Wiggins, the blues lyric is the poetry of the African-American experience. Says Cephas, “The blues is a creation of black people in communities all across this country when times were hard. It was a way of expression, an outlet, and it’s had so much impact. Blues music is truth. The lyrics are true-to-life experiences that people everywhere can relate to.”

“People automatically think of sadness and depression when they think of blues. But the blues is uplifting music, music to rejuvenate you, to nourish the spirit. When you get down, the blues will pick you up again. Blues is nourishment for the human spirit,” says Wiggins.

They choose their repertoire carefully, not only for musical impact, but also to highlight the cultural and historical content of their genre. Their concert performance evokes life in the post-Reconstruction South. Hard work, celebration, joy, and struggle are all there. A verse that may sound like a straightforward love song may also contain an allusion to African tribal culture or the indignities of racism or an optimistic assertion of a better future. Cephas & Wiggins provide their audiences with a very special treat – a powerful and intelligent performance of a wonderful, American treasure, the blues.