September 2, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On stage, Dereck Higgins performs with the urgency and energy of someone a third his age. Off stage his work ethic rivals anyone in the music business. At the age of 59, the history of Omaha music rightfully places Higgins as an elder statesman. While Higgins resume spans the years, his myriad artistic and musical endeavors ensure his work remains as vital and contemporary as ever.

Born July 7, 1955, Higgins discovered the path his life would take on February 9, 1964. He was initially unaware that one of the four men seen in a fateful telecast that night shared his birthday as Ringo (born 15 years to the day before Higgins) and his mates stormed the Ed Sullivan Show stage. The iconic Beatles performance turned the music-obsessed 9-year-old into a rock and roll disciple. Higgins got a guitar and the obsession only grew.

As a member of seminal ‘80s Omaha groups RAF and Digital Sex, Higgins’ impassioned approach to the bass guitar cemented his place as a Midwestern music legend. A self-proclaimed outsider and punk rocker, Higgins was always aware his work spoke to the core of his identity: a black person from Omaha, Nebraska, playing in a genre where blacks were more that a little underrepresented.

“I never wanted fame in the typical sense,” says Higgins. “I wanted to feel recognized. Being a black person growing up here through civil rights and all the racism I have dealt with, music saved me. Music is the way people can build a bridge.”

Over the last decade alone, Higgins has released a dozen recordings. First gaining international exposure in Digital Sex, Higgins’ YouTube videos of his massive LP collection reached a worldwide base, one that soon began purchasing Higgins’ own recordings. Along with his individual work, Higgins lends his abilities to a new generation of artists as a collaborative and creative foil to the likes of musician/director Nik Fackler of InDreama.

From Nebraska to the Netherlands to New Zealand—with a Polish compilation appearance for good measure—Higgins is global.

The musician was an inaugural resident artist at the Bemis Center’s Carver Bank program in 2013. The experience allowed Higgins, a former Community Alliance mental health specialist, the artist’s dream of working on one’s craft fulltime. Complementing countless live performances, international tours, and hundreds of compositions, the Carver Bank gig highlighted Higgins’ allegiance to the North Omaha community in which he was raised and still resides. That sense of community and interpersonal connection is, Higgins says, his true legacy.

“I try to be real with everyone,” Higgins adds. “This music I make means something to me. I want it to mean something to you. I want to connect.”

Listen to the artist’s work at dereckhiggins.bandcamp.com.

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