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Remembering Captain Luke, A Local Blues Legend

Captain Luke, legendary blues musician, died early Tuesday morning at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. He was 87. 


Captain Luke, otherwise known as Luther Mayer, helped start the Music Maker Relief Foundation with Tim Duffy in the 1990s. The organization works with struggling roots and blues musicians to help preserve their music.


Duffy and Captain Luke told their story in the StoryCorps Mobile Booth when they visited WUNC last year.

Captain Luke had been living at his home in Winston-Salem with the aid of hospice care. When his condition worsened, his daughter took him to the hospital where he passed away. In the last weeks of his life, Captain Luke had fans all the way from Maine come visit him and received phone calls around the clock from people across the world.

"He had no idea he had such an affect on people," Duffy said.

Luther Mayer was born in Greenville, South Carolina in 1927. He grew up on his grandparents' farm learning to play the harmonica and drive a mule. At the age of 14, he moved to Winston-Salem with his mother and sister and began to let his deep baritone voice grow by singing everything from church hymns to hillbilly ballads.

An image of Captain Luke playing a guitar
Credit Tim and Denise Duffy
Captain Luke of the Music Maker Relief Foundation

In 1991, Captain Luke started working with Duffy and his wife Denise. Three years later they started Music Maker Relief Foundation and began showcasing roots music across the South. Since then, Captain Luke has preformed at the Lincoln Center in New York City and in festivals throughout Europe and South America.

As they traveled together, Duffy said he came to know Captain Luke as a happy person who never feared death.

"He was a deeply Christian man and he always knew he was going home to the Lord. He lived in the moment and treasured his agile mind," Duffy said.

Even though in his final days he was only conscious a couple hours at a time, Duffy said you could always find Captain Luke joking with his friends. It was this happiness paired with Captain Luke's musical talents that floored Duffy the first time he met Captain Luke and heard him play the traditional blues song "Careless Love."

"It was like meeting a working-class Frank Sinatra," Duffy said. "After that Luke introduced me to places you're not supposed to go as a white boy from the North but nobody would bother me because I was under Captain Luke's wing."

'It was like meeting a working-class Frank Sinatra.'

Duffy said Captain Luke was a leader of the East Winston-Salem community. Even though he lived in a rougher part of town, he always kept his door open for the homeless and had food for the hungry.

Captain Luke's passing marks the final chapter of a local blues legend's life, but Duffy said the "blues never dies" and Captain Luke's legacy lives on in his music and his friends.

There will be a memorial service for Captain Luke on Wednesday, May 20 at 3 p.m. at the Gilmores Funeral Home in Winston-Salem.

Listen to Captain Luke tell his story, sing songs and talk about his life as a blues musician here.

Below are videos of Captain Luke playing with fellow Music Maker musician Cool John Ferguson. Duffy said Captain Luke brought Cool John Ferguson to the Music Maker family, and their relationship is an example of the ongoing blues tradition in North Carolina.

"Still Water Runs Deep"

"Rainy Night in Georgia"

Charlie Shelton-Ormond is a podcast producer for WUNC.
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