Blues Trail Marker

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 28, 2009

Otha Turner

Marker will honor bluesman Turner

By Jason C. Mattox

The Town of Como and blues fans throughout the region are gearing up for an eventful weekend in northern Panola County and Tate County.

The weekend will kick off Saturday in Como at 11 a.m. when a Mississippi Blues Trail Marker commemorating Othar “Otha” Turner is dedicated, making it the second such marker in the town after Mississippi Fred McDowell was honored in May.

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The ceremony is scheduled to include performances by Jimbo Mathus, Mark Massey, and the Rising Star Fife and Drum band, featuring Turner’s granddaughter Sharde Thomas on fife and vocals.

This will be the 82nd Mississippi Blues Trail marker to be dedicated since the first was unveiled in late 2006.

The marker, which was partially paid for with funds raised at the annual North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic in Potts Camp, is being dedicated in tandem with the annual fife and drum picnic and goat roast held at Otha’s Place, Turner’s property in nearby Gravel Springs. Those in attendance for the dedication are encouraged to attend the picnic later in the day.

Turner worked as a farmer for most of his life, and for many years hosted annual fife and drum picnics and goat roasts on his property in Gravel Springs.

For many years he played drums together with fife player Napolian Strickland, and later formed his own group, which featured members of his family including his daughter Bernice Turner Pratcher and granddaughter Sharde Thomas.

Turner was first recorded in the late ‘60s, and in the 1990s recorded two CDs under his own name, Everybody Hollerin’ Goat and Otha Turner and the Afrossippi All-stars, both of which were produced by Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All-stars.

In the early 1970s Turner was profiled in the short documentary Gravel Springs Fife and Drum, and he later became a regular performer at events including the Delta Blues Festival and the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival. In 2003 Turner was featured in the Martin Scorsese blues film Feel Like Going Home, and his music was also used in Scorsese’s film “Gangs of New York.”

Upon Turner’s death in 2003 his then thirteen-year-old granddaughter and protégé Sharde Thomas took over leadership of his Rising Star Fife and Drum Band.

“Turner was the most famous exponent of the north Mississippi fife and drum tradition,” according to Scott Barretta, a writer and researcher for the Mississippi Blues Trail. “The tradition was first documented by folklorist Alan Lomax in 1942,” Barretta said.