Fife and drum blues

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Fife and drum blues is a rural derivation of traditional country blues. It is performed typically with one lead fife player, often also the band leader and vocalist, and a troop of drummers. Unlike a drum corps, the drum troop is loosely structured. As such, a fife and drum band may have any number of snare, tom, and bass drum players. Fife and drum performances were family affairs often held at reunions and big picnics.

Fifes were carved from cane that grew locally. Drums were often handmade, and equally often just percussive objects. The vocals seem to derive from two main styles:

  1. Traditional call and response of Black Spirituals
  2. Short, repetitive lyrics

The genre originates in very rural areas of the farming South and today persists in a stretch of Southern states stretching from northwest Georgia to an area south of Memphis, namely North Mississippi. Notable performers are Napoleon Strickland, Othar Turner, Turner's granddaughter Shardé Thomas and Jessie Mae Hemphill. Performers play blues songs as well as religious songs such as "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "When I Lay My Burden Down", "Sitting on Top of the World."

See also[edit]

Further viewing[edit]

  • American Patchwork: Songs and Stories of America, part 3: "The Land Where the Blues Began" (1990). Written, directed, and produced by Alan Lomax; developed by the Association for Cultural Equity at Columbia University and Hunter College. North Carolina Public TV; A Dibb Direction production for Channel Four. (Watch film: The Land Where the Blues Began)
  • Deep Blues (1991). Directed by Robert Mugge.
  • Gravel Springs Fife and Drum (1971). Filmed by Bill Ferris, recorded by David Evans, and edited by Judy Peiser. (Watch film: Gravel Springs Fife and Drum

Further reading[edit]

  1. David Evans, "Black Fife and Drum Music in Mississippi"
  2. Howard W. Odum, "Religious Folk-Songs of the Southern Negro"
  3. Eileen Southern "The Music of Black Americans: A History"
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