Lonnie Holley was born on February 10, 1950 in Birmingham, Alabama. From the age of five, Holley worked various jobs: picking up trash at a drive-in movie theatre, washing dishes, and cooking. He lived in a whiskey house, on the state fairgrounds, and in several foster homes. His early life was chaotic and Holley was never afforded the pleasure of a real childhood.
Since 1979, Holley has devoted his life to the practice of improvisational creativity. His art and music, born out of struggle, hardship, but perhaps more importantly, out of furious curiosity and biological necessity, has manifested itself in drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, performance, and sound. Holley’s sculptures are constructed from found materials in the oldest tradition of African American sculpture. Objects, already imbued with cultural and artistic metaphor, are combined into narrative sculptures that commemorate places, people, and events.
Holley did not start making and performing music in a studio nor does his creative process mirror that of the typical musician. His music and lyrics are improvised on the spot and morph and evolve with every event, concert, and recording. In Holley’s original art environment, he would construct and deconstruct his visual works, repurposing their elements for new pieces. This often led to the transfer of individual narratives into the new work creating a cumulative composite image that has depth and purpose beyond its original singular meaning. The layers of sound in Holley’s music, likewise, are the result of decades of evolving experimentation.
In the early 2000s, Holley’s music caught the attention of Matt Arnett, the son of art collector Bill Arnett, who has been collecting Holley’s art since the 1980s. In 2010, Matt set up an impromptu performance by Holley at his home for Dust-to-Digital founder, Lance Ledbetter. Deeply moved by Holley’s keyboard playing and singing, Ledbetter insisted on getting Holley into a recording studio as soon as possible. The result was the album Just Before Music, which features Holley’s first studio recordings made in 2010 and 2011. More recordings are continuing to be made to celebrate and to document one of America’s most compelling musicians.