Bluesman Mojo Collins awarded Order of the Long Leaf Pine

By on June 20, 2019

Mojo Collins receiving the Order of the Long Leaf Pine at Liberty Christian Church. From left, Mojo Collins, Bonnie Collins, Pastor Scott Hobbs. (Kip Tabb)

“I cried. I broke down,” musician Mojo Collins said, describing his reaction when he received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine at Liberty Church on June 2.

The honor, which is highest civilian award granted by the Office of the Governor, highlights a remarkable career and lifetime.

It was fitting that the award was presented to him at the church. His fans have come to know him through his public persona, the musician who rips into the blues with an intensity and prowess that is memorable and rare. Yet his faith is very much a part of who and what he is.

“Everybody in church is there for a reason,” he said. “They’ve gone through something and they feel like they have to be there.”

Collins has spent a lifetime performing before audiences. His career began in Raleigh, playing with his father Wild Bill Collins. Even during his time in the Air Force in the mid-1960s, he was on stage. He got out of the Air Force just in time to move to San Francisco during the summer of love.

Always performing, playing guitar and writing songs, for a number of years he opened for and sometimes played with some of the biggest names of the era.

He came close to rising to the top with Sawbuck, writing songs, playing rhythm guitar and handling lead vocals. The group included Ronnie Montrose, who was considered one of the finest guitarists of the era.

After Sawbuck broke up, Collins returned to North Carolina, married his wife, Bonnie, and moved to the Outer Banks.

For the next 40 years, Mojo Collins celebrated the music and traditions of North Carolina, and it is for those contributions that he was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

He and Bonnie moved back and forth between Wilmington and the Outer Banks. It was in the Wilmington area where John Hobbs, retired pastor of Liberty Church, remembers first hearing him perform.

“I grew up in Carolina Beach. Mojo was one of the people we listened to,” he said. “He had kind of a jazz beach music sound. I think he had an influence in a lot of areas.”

“Mojo is an incredibly gifted artist,” he added.

Part of the package that was sent to the Governor’s office nominating Collins was a letter that Hobbs sent.

“What I did … I wrote a letter of recommendation. He’s been a champion of the Outer Banks for years,” Hobbs said.

If there was one person in the Liberty Church congregation who took the initiative to ask that Collins be awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, it was Emery Midyette.

“I did the submission,” Midyette said. “I wrote a 20-page bio on him. It took four or four-and-a-half months to get approved. I was hoping to have it for his 75th birthday (in January), but it took too long.”

“I’ve known him for five or six years,” he said. ““We just kind of hit it off.”

Collins recalls where and when he first met Midyette.

“I played at a man’s breakfast at the church a few years ago. I played Love Divine (a song he wrote after his mother passed away). He introduced himself and said the song really witnessed to him.”

In the presentation to Collins at Liberty, Pastor Scott Hobbs, the son of John Hobbs, drew heavily on the work that Midyette had done.

“He has made strong contributions to the state in the arts, as well as highlighting and preserving some of our treasures here in our community,” Hobbs told the congregation. “He participated in the dedication of Jockey’s Ridge State Park and the relocation and rededication of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.”

For Midyette, the award was important for Collins because of his musical and cultural contributions. But it was also a way to call attention to those things that make us who we are.

“I think it’s important to honor those going before us,” he said.

For Collins, it was an award he never thought he would or could receive, an award that seemed to validate a life creating music.

“In my lifetime I didn’t think it would happen. I thought it would be stick a ribbon on my  grave after I’m gone,” Collins said. “It is a prestigious thing and I still kind of doubt if I deserve it or not. It is humbling and it kind of took the edge off my shoulders.”

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