“Rhythm & Roots is a tribute to all of the musical forms that come together to create the Southern sound,” said Gerri Combs, Executive Director of Southern Arts Federation. “The Rhythm & Roots exhibit, part of our Southern Visions program, showcases key Southern musicians and the instruments they play.”
Musicians recognized as “early innovators” are Thomas A. Dorsey, known as Georgia Tom and often referred to as the Father of African-American Gospel; Charley Patton, called Father of Delta Blues for his bluesman artistry and lifestyle; Arnold Schultz, a Kentuckian whose thumb-picking brought him acclaim on the guitar; and Dewitt “Snuffy” Jenkins and Earl Scruggs, both of whom drew on the distinctive five-string banjo traditions of their native west North Carolina, where players plucked the string with the thumb, index and middle fingers in a fluid style influenced by local fiddle music.
Scruggs, half of the famed Flatt and Scruggs duo, perfected the syncopated 3-finger roll with breakneck tempos and virtuoso technique.
Two Southern musicians noted in the exhibit for bringing their sounds to Northern audiences are Dewey Balfa, among the first to perform Cajun music outside of his home in Louisiana, and North Carolinian Wade Mainer, who recorded bluegrass at Midwest recording studios and catered to industrial workers in Michigan and Ohio.
Many innovative instruments created and/or mastered by Southern artists are featured, including an original Chikantar, made by Clarksdale’s own James “Super Chikan” Johnson, and has been on loan to the traveling exhibit from the Delta Blues Museum.
Other artifacts featured in Rhythm & Roots, Southern Music Traditions include a fretless banjo, fiddle, dulcimer, lyra, shiffarobe fiddle, cigarbox fiddle, accordion, tit fer (triangle), frottoir, goombay drum, cowbells, shekere, rada drum and mandolin. The exhibition’s accompanying audio guide gives visitors an opportunity to hear samples of the music and instruments shown in the exhibit.
Rhythm & Roots explores the musical traditions of both indigenous cultures of Native Americans as well as those of more recent arrivals to the South. The exhibition highlights Cherokee musician Walker Calhoun and the music of the corn dance in the American Indian Voices section.
Acknowledging the multicultural south, Rhythm & Roots also explores the increasingly international flavor of music being heard in the New South.
Rhythm & Roots is the latest addition to Southern Visions: The Southern Arts & Culture Traveling Exhibits Program, operated by the Southern Arts Federation. Since 1995, Southern Visions has provided over 500,000 people with access to artistically excellent exhibits celebrating the South’s rich artistry and cultural heritage. The Southern Arts Federation’s Southern Visions: The Folk Arts & Southern Culture Traveling Exhibits Program is made possible through the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Rhythm & Roots, Southern Music Traditions exhibit and opening reception are sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, Southern Arts Federation, Mississippi Arts Commission, Levingston’s Furniture, Hawkins, Stracener & Gibson, Greenbough Nursing Center and Friends of the Delta Blues Museum.
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