Listen to The Legacy of the Piedmont Blues

October 21, 2009Arts Across Maryland

Maryland Traditions and WYPR (88.1 FM, Baltimore) announce a new collaborative feature broadcast episode of “The Signal” Planting Seeds Around The World: The Legacy of Piedmont Bluesman “Bowling Green” John Cephas.

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From "The Signal" website at WYPR:

Music and conversations with living legends Phil Wiggins, Warner Williams, Jay Summerour, Eleanor Ellis, Rick Franklin, and Michael Baytop...

by Aaron Henkin (WYPR) & Cliff Murphy(MSAC)

From Maryland to Georgia, nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Atlantic tidewater lowlands, you'll find the sprawling foothills of a region known as The Piedmont. Its rich soil is perfect for farming, and its musical history is equally lush. Gospel, country, ragtime and jazz, musical traditions black and white, rural and urban – they've all swirled together to lay the foundation for a signature musical style: The Piedmont Blues. In this episode of The Signal, producer Aaron Henkin and Maryland Traditions folklorist Cliff Murphy hit the road together and head out to the unofficial headquarters of the Piedmont Blues – a storefront barbershop in Riverdale, Maryland. It's the local hangout for Piedmont Blues legends Phil Wiggins, Warner Williams, Jay Summerour, Eleanor Ellis, Rick Franklin, and Michael Baytop. You'll hear them share their stories, memories, and songs in this special edition of The Signal.

Pictures and more. Synopsis: Riverdale, Maryland (Prince George’s County) is home to the weekly Archie Edwards blues barbershop jam, and it is here that we gathered in mid-October with friends and colleagues of the late, great Piedmont bluesman “Bowling Green” John Cephas. Performances and stories from Maryland blues musicians Phil Wiggins, Warner Williams & Jay Summerour, Michael Baytop, Ric Franklin, and Eleanor Ellis illuminate the strong African-American country roots of this East Coast tradition called Piedmont Blues. This hour of “The Signal” celebrates these musicians and serves as a tribute to John Cephas, whose passing in the summer of 2009 has placed the region’s Piedmont Blues tradition at a crossroads.

A finger style guitar-based tradition, Piedmont Blues was the stuff performed by Washington area artists like John Cephas and Archie Edwards and by the legendary – almost mythical – bluesmen Blind Willie McTell, Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Boy Fuller, and Mississippi John Hurt. Though the flowering of Piedmont Blues took place around cities like Washington, Richmond, and Atlanta, its roots stretch to the rural Piedmont region east of the Appalachian mountains. The bluesmen and women we visit with today are transported back to these country spaces through their stories and songs, to the country homes of their grandparents. “John [Cephas] really identified with the country,” remembers his longtime collaborator and harmonica player, Phil Wiggins. “He had his garden, which was really one of the big things in his life…watching his vegetables grow, and getting them out of the garden when they’re right at their peak. In life in general he always wanted to experience everything at its peak. And he liked the fact that in music also he got to travel around and teach and basically plant seeds and watch them grow.”

The broadcast will help to promote “A Tribute to ‘Bowling Green’ John Cephas,” a special concert on November 6 at Creative Alliance, featuring Phil Wiggins, Eleanor Ellis, Warner Williams & Jay Summerour, made possible in part by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council.
Click here for tickets and more information.