The flat expanse of the Delta is relieved only by its low places – the oxbow lakes, froggy bottoms and cypress swamps where water gathers – or, closer to the river, by the height of its man-made levees. Over the past 15,000 years, the Mississippi has snaked its way all across the Delta, cutting and re-cutting its way through the silty topsoil on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. Swamps like this dot the Delta and are evidence of a former path the river abandoned when a spring flood shifted its course.
This is the last remaining slave and sharecropper cabin along Friars Point Road on Stovall Plantation, eight miles north of Clarksdale. These cabins were built of first cut cypress logs that were split, hewn and fitted by hand. It was in a one-room cabin, about 400 yards south of here, that music researcher Alan Lomax found and recorded Muddy Waters in 1941 (Waters’ given name was McKinley Morganfield). Shortly after making and hearing these recordings – and following a dispute with the overseer about his hourly wage – Waters made up his mind to go to Chicago.
A metaphor from the Old Testament, an ancient melody and an instrument derived from Africa: spirituals were often sung in the minor pentatonic scales of West Africa. This is a perfect example.
Backstage in Kent, Ohio performing “What Are Their Names?” with Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis, and Michael League Plays Music for our Green Room Series.
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