Celebration in Como Saturday marks unveiling of third blues trail marker 10/11/2013

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 11, 2013

Celebration in Como Saturday marks unveiling of third blues trail marker

Staff report
At a ceremony in Como Saturday the Mississippi Blues Trail will erect its newest marker in honor of bluesman Napolian Strickland. The 172nd marker unveiling is scheduled for 2 p.m. at 203 North Main Street.

A lifelong resident of the Como-Senatobia area, Strickland excelled on the homemade cane fife and was also proficient on harmonica, guitar, the one-string “diddley bow” and various percussion instruments.

Strickland’s music was the highlight of countless fife and drum picnics in the hill country area and he was featured in several documentaries and recording projects.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The blues trail marker will culminate the All Our Friends Hill Country Blues Celebration, which will feature performances by local musicians and a presentation this afternoon in Como by folklorist George Mitchell, who produced Strickland’s first recordings in 1967.

Strickland was subsequently recorded by several other prominent folklorists, including Alan Lomax, Bill Ferris and David Evans. His friend and elder, Otha Turner, was also a fife player but often played a drum on Napolian’s recordings.

After Strickland’s health failed in the 1990s, Turner became the best known fife player, famed for his family picnics. Turner also has a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail in Como.

Strickland, whose first name was spelled several different ways in official records, was born in the Gravel Springs community on October 6, 1924, and died at North Oak Regional Medical Center in Senatobia on July 21, 2001.

Panola and Tate Counties have long been the most important center of African American fife and drum activity, a tradition that predates the blues.

Many historians believe that local musicians picked up discarded military drums after the Civil War and developed the unique fife and drum style, which has often been likened to African music.

The leading fife players in the area have included Sid Hemphill (grandfather of blueswoman Jessie Mae Hemphill, another Mississippi Blues Trail honoree), Ed Young, Strickland, Turner and Turner’s granddaughter, Sharde Thomas.

Saturday at 2 p.m. Thomas and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band will lead a procession from the public library courtyard to the newly installed marker in Downtown Como.

Immediately following the unveiling, a reception will be held at the Main Street Gallery, featuring local hill country musicians including R.L. Boyce, Steve Toney, Marshall Bartlett, Rev. John Wilkins, Terrence Bowden and Sharde Thomas.

The marker ceremony is the culmination of a week long celebration of Hill Country Blues, hosted by the public libraries in Senatobia and Como.

Cane fife demonstration
This afternoon at 4 at the Como Public Library Senatobia bluesman Martin Grant will demonstrate the traditional method of making a cane fife, the kind used in the African American fife and drum tradition, which predates the blues.

Numerous fife and drum bands once existed in the hill country, including bands led by Napoleon Strickland, Ed and Lonnie Young ahd Otha Turner.

At 5 p.m. at the Como library, folklorist George Mitchell will talk about his 1967-era work in Panola County, conducting field recordings of hill country artists. A collection of Mitchell’s photographs is on display at the library.
Call 526-5283 for more.