Logie Meachum, Greensboro’s blues poet, 1952-2018

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Photo by Bob Powell

Logie Meachum, an authentic Greensboro blues singer, storyteller and educator, transcended category.

Lorenzo “Logie” Meachum, a Greensboro blues singer, storyteller, writer, teacher and activist, passed away from complications of prostate cancer on Dec. 29 at the age of 66.

A Marine and former professional firefighter, Meachum synthesized creative inspiration from gospel and poetry — Mahalia Jackson and Paul Laurence Dunbar were two of his favorites — and the teachings of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Meachum’s devotion to music, learning and friendships allowed him to cultivate an authentic presence that was equally at home in a barroom blues jam or an interfaith religious service. As a Greensboro native who grew up during the time of segregation, Meachum infused his music and storytelling with a spirituality and a knowledge of local history in a way that commanded moral authority.

Meachum last performed at the Double Oaks bed-and-breakfast in Greensboro for a fundraiser to aid his battle against cancer on Dec. 18. Meachum, who was billed as a “special guest” for the concert with the group House of Dues, promised in a Facebook post promoting the event that he would share his treatment plan, “Cancer in the Key of G.” In his inimitable style, he described it as “a healthy diet of God, Grandma’Allies ‘Gauge,’ (what she called marijuana in her day), groceries, green gravy and grace.” Trudy Owens, his companion for the past five years, said Meachum died unexpectedly, likely as a result of a blood clot.

Among Meachum’s many talents, Owens said “he was a very good cook.” She added, “He loved to feed people.”

Meachum left behind a children’s book, Great Googley Moogley, published in 2016; a full-length CD, Bump & Logie After Hours, with musical partner Bubba Klinefelter, among other artifacts of a long and varied career. He performed with Klinefelter at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and won Greensboro’s O. Henry Lifetime Award. Among numerous other collaborations, Meachum performed on “Vote Against Amendment One,” an all-star affair organized by Greensboro singer-songwriter Laurelyn Dossett to oppose the 2012 marriage amendment in North Carolina.

Logie Meachum was to married Tomi S. Meachum from 1996 to 2014. The marriage ended in divorce, but the union produced two sons, Ishmael, 19, and Isa, 17. Logie expressed pride and satisfaction in a recent Facebook post about seeing Isa perform in a production of It’s a Wonderful Life in Fayetteville. He called his sons “blessings” and reposted a video of them performing a poem called “Black Boy Joy” from 2017. Meachum is also survived by his mother, Theresa Meachum; two brothers, Larry Meachum and Ralph Meachum; and a stepson, Ryan Cochran.

In “Sweet Magnolia,” an essay he wrote for the 2015 book 27 Views of Greensboro, Meachum wrote about growing up in Woodyside, a rural, all-black neighborhood near Guilford College on the west side of Greensboro. Since the schools were segregated, Lorenzo and Larry were not allowed to attend the white elementary school located within two miles. Meachum recounted that their father drove the two boys several miles to Muirs Chapel Road so they could catch the 10 Walker Avenue to the Morris and Neese Furniture Company on Greene Street in downtown Greensboro, where they would transfer to No. 5 Gorrell Street bus and ride to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal School, an all-black Catholic school on the east side.

The essay vividly captures black Greensboro in the Kennedy era. Meachum wrote about the swirl of activity at the Greene Street transfer, writing about “young black men with brick mason’s bags, kids going to school and lots of swollen-ankled, older black women” who gathered, “waiting to catch a bus to the white side of town to take care of families before returning home to their own latchkey kids on the five o’clock bus,” along with “the A&T students marching and sit-ins going on at Woolworth’s.” Further east, he recalled that “we could run amok on the A&T campus, smell hair frying, hear the sound of gospel music from WEAL, and feel the heartbeat of a community on the move.”

In the same essay, Meachum described being fascinated with the R&B stars that stayed at the Magnolia Hotel — acts like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, James Brown, Little Richard and Ike & Tina Turner, along with locals Charlie & Inez Foxx — and spending hours in the library at Bennett College so that he could memorize the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar. He took pride in being able to recite Dunbar’s poetry alongside his grandmother, aunts and uncles during family gatherings.

In a recent Facebook post, Meachum recalled watching the 1968 funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. with his father, and seeing his father cry.

“It moved me greatly,” Meachum wrote. “I promised that day, that my life’s journey would follow King’s sentiment and intent. If I can help somebody, ‘Then, my living shall not be in vain.’”

Bubba Klinefelter said that in addition working as professional firefighter, Meachum also worked as a street-painter and lighting-rigger, farmed and raised horses at various points in his life. When the two musicians met in the mid-1980s, they were both playing the nightclub circuit in Greensboro, and would occasionally get the opportunity to share stages or meet up at local blues jams.

In 1998, Meachum invited Klinefelter to play harmonica with him for the musical component in a theatrical production at NC A&T University about the four students who initiated the 1960 Woolworth’s sit-in. The play was nominated for top honors in national collegiate theater, and the two performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. The duo, who billed themselves as Bump & Logie, continued to perform for the next two decades, including an extended run to perform for school children in Homer, Alaska. Trudy Owens, Meachum’s companion, said he learned to smoke salmon during his stay.

In 2007, Bump & Logie won the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society’s competition, securing a spot in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Klinefelter said Meachum’s death cut short plans to book future dates for Bump & Logie in the new year.

While performing in traditional blues venues, Meachum also became a fixture in interfaith services and other community events in Greensboro where faith, music and social justice activism intersected.

The Rev. Julie Peeples, the pastor at Congregational United Church of Christ, said she first met Meachum in 2003, when he performed in an interfaith service to oppose the US invasion of Iraq. As recently as 2017, Meachum also participated in a benefit concert for two undocumented women taking sanctuary at Peeples’ church and another Greensboro church.

“There was no pretense; you knew you were hearing something very authentic,” Peeples said. “And while he may not have explicitly talked about faith or religious issues, what always came through was his faith in humanity, his belief that in spite of the worst we can do to each other we still have the opportunity to rise above. He wove in history, and when he would sing and tell stores, there was a humility so that it caused other people to drop their guard and be real in response.”

In addition to performing for youngsters in the “Blues in the Schools” program, Meachum taught an African-American studies class at UNCG, according to Casey Hazelman, a past president of the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society. And he taught English literature at Winston-Salem State University, Klinefelter said. Meachum’s presence immediately transfixed a room, whatever the gig, his friends said.

“In ‘Blues in the Schools,’ it was remarkable to watch him,” Hazelman said. “If you can sing old music and keep a bunch of 8-year-olds spellbound, you’re impressive. I keep hearing the same term over and over, whether it’s kids or adults. You’d hear the term ‘eating out of his hand.’ He not only entertained you, he grabbed you and pulled you in. He was the consummate entertainer.”

As an ambassador of the arts in Greensboro, Meachum played a key role in recruiting the National Folk Festival for its three-year run in the city from 2015 to 2017, said Tom Philion, the former CEO of ArtsGreensboro. Philion said Meachum serenaded selection committee members with a tear-inducing, a capella rendition of the spiritual “Deep River,” which tells the story of how slaves found their way to freedom through the Underground Railroad.

Among Meachum’s many friends was the poet Maya Angelou, who lived in Winston-Salem until her death in 2014. Hazelman said Meachum would jokingly complain that he could never win an argument with Angelou. Meachum claimed that the only time he won was when he brought Angelou a bottle of Courvoisier, her favorite cognac; he said he waited until they were halfway through the bottle to start making his case.

Lamar Gibson, a nonprofit fundraiser who now lives in Charlotte, recalled a time when Meachum visited him at his apartment on Cedar Street in Greensboro. The two played cards, and drank Hennessy and Grand Marnier. When Meachum mentioned that he and Angelou argued over their tastes in cognac, Gibson recalled that he fetched a couple beers he acquired from Angelou’s estate sale, and they toasted her memory.

Friends and fellow musicians said Meachum’s generosity took form in spirit and material fact.

Singer-songwriter Molly McGinn recalled that she wanted a gospel choir to perform on a song for her 2014 collection Postcards from the Swamp. Meachum responded to McGinn’s public solicitation on Facebook, writing, “God’s awful busy, Molly. Call me.”

McGinn said she fully intended to pay Meachum his standard rate for studio work, but he wouldn’t hear of it. In payment, he instead requested a Budweiser tallboy, a box of Saltines, a can of sardines and a bottle of hot sauce. McGinn recalled that the recording process, with noted guitar player Phil Cook sitting in on keyboards, was fairly seamless. After McGinn explained the concept of the song “Rocking Cane” to Meachum, she recalled that he said, “I know what we need to do. We need to sing the sinner up to the altar. We’ll recreate that.”

Meachum’s own struggles gave him credibility to provide spiritual and creative aid to others.

“What always impressed me is this authentic joy,” McGinn said. “He was always honest about what he was struggling with. There was this hopeful energy. You never thought you were getting anything candy-coated. I felt like I was getting the light side and the dark side. There was complexity.”

Reflecting on the Dec. 18 benefit concert to raise money for his fight against cancer, Meachum said he related to the character of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.

“I too had to respond to a tragedy caused by lies and theft,” he wrote. “I too was ready to give up. I have, on many occasions, felt that the best thing for my family would be my eternal absence from life. And then, just when all seemed impossible, the people of my village came through, one by one, and gave me new life and renewed hope.

“Last night, at Double Oaks,” he continued, “I looked around the room at family and friends who came, and like George Bailey, in my moment of greatest need and challenge, so many of you have been an answer to prayers. God sent me ‘A City of Angels.’ I started singing the song ‘Members Only’ and I was so filled with emotion, I almost didn’t make it. In fact, now, in my morning solitude, the tears flow in appreciation and thanks to so many of you who reminded me that in my life, I tried to do as I promised Martin Luther King the day he was buried.”

Trudy Owens, his companion, said Meachum will be cremated. The family is still working on arrangements for a memorial service.

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