ruleville

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“The Life” by Cymande Coburn & Kardier

THE AVANT-GARDE MUSIC SUITE

…this song was inspired by those who have life but have yet to live…Kardier Hawkins provided some poignant verses that truly changed the dynamics and the vibe of the song…

I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.
— 

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Fannie Lou Hamer, (1917-1977) Mississippi civil rights leader

Fannie Lou Hamer is a shining example of the interconnections between the civil rights movement and the music traditions to which this blog is dedicated. Raised in Ruleville, Mississippi near Dockery Plantation, she witnessed the 1923 lynching of Joe Pullen in the nearby town of Drew. Pullen famously killed many as 13 of his attackers before perishing and being dragged behind a car as an “example” to fellow black residents (his ear was also severed and preserved in a local store as an “example” - of the medieval barbarity of his killers, apparently). Lying between Drew and Ruleville is Dockery Plantation, longtime stomping grounds of Charlie Patton, Willie Brown, Howlin’ Wolf, and other legendary blues artists. Hamer may have known these icons personally, but in any case she certainly would have known of them and may have seen them perform. Whether or not any of the above three or other blues performers were in the vicinity of Drew when Pullen’s lynching took place, they would certainly have heard about it through acquaintances. Patton is considered to have spent most of his life in Sunflower county, in which Drew, Dockery and Ruleville are located, and thus may have been nearby. Patton would not make his first recordings until 1929, six years after Pullen’s death.

All of this is to highlight the potential for hate-fueled extralegal violence and trauma in the environment within which early blues developed (especially after WWI), as obliquely yet effectively and vividly chronicled in the recordings of Patton, Brown, Son House, Robert Johnson and countless other blues artists of the 20th century. It was the younger generations, led by Martin Luther King, Jr, Fannie Lou Hamer and others, who through immense effort and personal sacrifice were able to transform these circumstances into the social and political achievements of the civil rights movement, which is ongoing not only in Mississippi, but across the country and around the world.