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Meet Big Ron Hunter, AKA The Happiest Man In Blues

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Music Maker Relief Foundation

Ron Hunter was born and raised in a log cabin on a sharecropping farm in the countryside near Winston-Salem, North Carolina. As a kid he wanted to be a cowboy. He often donned a cowboy hat and practiced country-western songs while riding a make-believe horse. Later in life Hunter found a deep connection with the stories he can tell through the blues, and he gained recognition for his unique style.

He is known today as Big Ron Hunter. He is a member of the Music Maker Relief Foundation and a bluesman who has played on stages at Lincoln Center and the New Orleans Jazz Festival, among others. He shares stories with host Frank Stasio about growing up as the only black family within a seven-mile radius and finding courage through the church.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On working in the tobacco fields with his father as a young boy:
You start out in the morning, get to the field about 4:30-5 in the morning, and you got all that dew on you, and it’s cold. By 10 o’clock, the sun is out, and it’s baking you, and it turns all that sand and dirt into just – your clothes would just be hard on you, be dried like concrete on you.

It was hard on the back, hard on the legs, and you had to get a mind for it too. ‘I’m going to stick to this,’ you know. If you’re priming you’re going out to the row. You’ve got to get a mind to finish that row because sometimes those rows ...  I’ve seen some they’re a mile long.

On the return of his mother who had left when Ron was a baby:
I hadn’t lived with her in a while, so I didn’t know her that well. So when she came back to pick me up to get me to take me to New York, I didn’t want to go. We were living in this little house, little shack, and I remember when she came to get me. I ran down through the woods running from her, because I knew she came to take me away. And so she left me. She let me stay. She said, “Well, he doesn’t want to go, so I’m going to leave him here.” And she cried. I remember seeing her crying because her baby couldn’t go back with her.

On playing on stage with R&B singer Nappy Brown and being warned to play softly:
He got to singing, and he sounds so good. And I was playing behind him and … He sounds so good he’d just draw the playing out of me. And so I was kicking it back, and he stopped the show. He said, “Y’all wait a minute. Wait a minute.” And he looked at me, and I got nervous. My heart started thumping then. And I said, “What did I do? Did I do something wrong?” He says, “No. You. Turn it up.” ... I said, “OK!” Then he got back to singing. It started feeling good to him. He was all over the floor rolling and singing. And I was just throwing down with it. 

Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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