Statement on the Death of NEA National Heritage Fellow Wendell Holmes

1 Holmes Bros photo- Michael G. Stewart NEA_edited for web .jpg

Man in a beige suit plays the electric guitar with a man on drums and another man on guitar in the background

Wendell Holmes performs at the 2014 NEA National Heritage Fellowships Concert at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium on Friday, September 19, 2014. Photo by Michael G. Stewart

It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing vocalist, guitarist, pianist, and songwriter Wendell Holmes, one third of the blues, gospel, and R&B band the Holmes Brothers, recipient of a 2014 National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.

Wendell and his brother Sherman Holmes were born and raised in Christchurch, Virginia, now known as Saluda. Both sang in church and studied piano, with Wendell also studying trumpet and organ. In addition, both taught themselves to play the guitar. A few years after Sherman moved to New York, Wendell joined him there and throughout the 1960s and '70s, the brothers performed together and in a variety of bands. In the early '70s, Wendell met and performed with drummer Willie "Popsy" Dixon, also a native Virginian. Dixon sat in with the brothers at a blues jam session in 1980, marking the beginning of the Holmes Brothers band with Sherman on baritone vocals and bass guitar, Wendell on tenor vocals, guitar, and piano, and Popsy on falsetto vocals and drums. (Dixon passed away in January 2015.)

In 1989, the Holmes Brothers released their first album for Rounder Records, followed by four more albums. In 1992, they were the first American group to sign with Peter Gabriel's Real World Records and in 1996 they recorded the soundtrack for the movie Lotto Land. Most recently, the group recorded with Alligator Records, where they released five albums, including their 2014 album Brotherhood. The Holmes Brothers toured internationally and in 2005, won Band of the Year from the Blues Foundation, followed by the Soul Blues Album of the Year in 2008 for State of Grace.

To watch the Holmes Brothers perform at the National Heritage Fellows concert on September 19, 2014 in Washington, DC, visit arts.gov/honors/heritage/fellows/holmes-brothers and click on the video tab.

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