Preserving the Black Fife and Drum Tradition at Gravel Springs

001 O. B. McClinton Road002 Otha Turner's Place003 O. B. McClinton Road004 Otha Turner's Place005 Otha Turner Picnic006 Otha Turner's Place007 Otha Turner Picnic008 Otha Turner Picnic009 Otha Turner Picnic010 Otha's Place with a Bass Drum011 Otha Turner Picnic012 Otha Turner Picnic014 Moses Crouch015 Otha Turner Picnic016 Moses Crouch017 Otha Turner Picnic018 Moses Crouch019 Otha's Place020 Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band022 Future Bass Drummer023 Blue Mother Tupelo024 Otha Turner Picnic025 Full Moon026 Blue Mother Tupelo030 Rising Star Fife & Drum Band031 Rising Star Fife and Drum Band033 Otha Turner Picnic034 Otha Turner Picnic035 Otha Turner Picnic036 Sherena and FriendJPG037 Otha Turner Picnic038 Otha Turner Picnic041 Lightning Malcolm042 Lightning Malcolm043 Lightning Malcolm044 Lightning Malcolm045 Lightning Malcolm046 Lightning Malcolm047 Lightning Malcolm048 Lightning Malcolm050 Lightning Malcolm051 Lightning Malcolm052 Lightning Malcolm053 Lightning Malcolm054 Greg Ayres Band055 Greg Ayres Band056 Greg Ayres Band057 Greg Ayres Band058 Greg Ayres Band059 Greg Ayres Band060 Greg Ayres Band061 Greg Ayres Band062 Greg Ayres Band063 Greg Ayres Band064 Greg Ayres Band065 Greg Ayres Band066 Greg Ayres Band067 Greg Ayres Band068 Greg Ayres Band1758 Hernando's Underground Cafe1760 Otha Turner Picnic1762 Moses Crouch1764 Otha Turner Picnic1767 Blue Mother Tupelo1763 Otha Turner Picnic1765 Sharde Thomas & the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band1766 Blue Mother Tupelo
For fans of the blues in Mississippi, the summer is somewhat framed by two major events, the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic in June, which celebrates the Hill Country blues tradition, and the Otha Turner Picnic at Gravel Springs near Senatobia, generally held in August on the weekend before Labor Day. But the latter event is all the more important because it celebrates a type of African-American music that is older than the blues, Black fife-and-drum music. Tate and Panola Counties have always been a center of the fife-and-drum style, and picnics were frequently held on the Fourth of July and Labor Day. Fife master Otha Turner became famous for his pre-Labor Day picnic featuring fife and drum music and barbecued goat. Upon his death, the picnic tradition and the music tradition were continued by his granddaughter Sharde Thomas, who has kept the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band together and who remains an advocate for this endangered form of Black music. Under her administration, the picnic, held at the Otha Turner homestead in Gravel Springs near Senatobia, has become a two-day festival of many different artists and styles of music, including bands like Blue Mother Tupelo and the North Mississippi All-Stars, to solo artists like Dr. David Evans or Lightning Malcolm. There’s plenty of good fun and good food, and several processions of the fife and drum band across the grounds each evening. As the night progresses, the dancers become more exuberant, getting low to the ground and shaking in time with the beat of the bass drum, and the scene is reminiscent of other similar processions in African cultures, including New Orleans second-lines, and Haitian raras in Miami. On this year’s first night, there was also a brilliant full moon which threw a strange light on the proceedings. As in previous years, the festival inside the gates lead to another festival outside the gates, in which young people from the rural community parked and gathered along O. B. McClinton Road, listening to music and hanging out.

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