Archive for the ‘Ed Young’ Category

Ed Young

February 8, 2013

Ed Young (fife)

Untitled fife tune played by Ed Young, cane fife; Bessie Jones and Georgia Sea Islanders, clapping:

from notes to “Old Mother Hippletoe: Rural and Urban Children’s Songs” (New World NW 291):

The late Ed Young was born in 1910 into a musical family. The whole family sang religious music together, and two maternal uncles were also banjo players. Though widespread and popular, the banjo was by no means the only musical instrument played in Ed Young’s home country, the Yazoo Delta of northwestern Mississippi. Fife and drum, originally instruments of martial music, were played in the Youngs’ community for dancing at picnics.

Of his first encounter with fife and drum at age eight or ten, Young recalled, “When that drum started playing, I didn’t know what to think of it…. I remember my mother holding me….I was just fixing to run.”

He and his brother Lonnie rapidly mastered the instruments and became favored performers at picnics. Other musicians “… didn’t want to see us around… drummers just fall out with us on that account…. …I was a pretty testible little fellow anyhow, and I liked to blow sort of fast pieces that people could get out there and clown some on…. I never tried to run no races or beat no one doing anything, but whatever I was going to do, I just loved to get out there and do whatever I can.”

Ed Young made his cane fife with six holes but played only five; the sixth improved the tone quality. He developed a unique style, playing some of the notes by either sliding his fingers on and off the holes or using his tongue to bend the notes and create a tremolo. “I always had a way of making [the sound] go this way this time, and the other way the next….I don’t care who’s playing fife, if I pick it up, everybody will tell you who got it.”

On this recording Bessie Jones backs up Ed Young with clapping. Clapping, stamping, and pounding a stick on a resonant floor constituted the basics of a polyrhythmic percussive accompaniment for songs on plantations, where slaves were not allowed to make and play drums . The slave owners feared the potential use of “talking drums” to send messages from plantation to plantation, so the percussion music of Africa was adapted to the mediums at hand – proof that you can deny a people their musical instruments, but you cannot take away their music making.

Georgia Buck (2)

January 24, 2013

by Bess Lomax Hawes:

The work [making this film] went slowly. The heat was incredible and, one after another, both performers and film crew had to retreat briefly out of the blazing sun. There was no water closer than ten miles and that only a luke-warm trickle out of a gas station tap. We were buzzed continually by small planes.

The Islanders, their ears less affected by the noise-pollution which had desensitized the California crew, invariably heard the planes long before the rest of us and would stop dead in the middle of an otherwise perfect “take”, while the technicians cursed. “Plane coming,” John Davis would announce laconically, and we would all fall silent; minutes later, it seemed, we would hear the faint buzz approaching.

So it was late in the day before the film crew got around to the shots that Dr. Carpenter and I wanted, and we had to work fast, for the daylight was fading. The three “takes” that make up the film Buck Dancer are, in fact, all that we were able to shoot. Fortunately, it proved possible to string them together later into a reasonably coherent statement, but this was due more to the vitality and consistency of Ed Young’s tradition than to any special foresight on our parts.

In this film Ed Young should have been accompanied by his brothers’ drums, rather than by the Sea Islander clapping (though it should be noted that the unfamiliar combination gave none of the participants any trouble at all, indicating that they shared a common cultural underpinning). The picnic context too, in which the fife music would more normally be heard, was impossible to create, and we didn’t even try.

In the corner of Mississippi that Ed Young grew up in the fife and drum band  was the main attraction at local rural picnics. Since Alan Lomax first recorded Ed Young’s band in 1959, other similar groups have been discovered in the general area by David Evans and others; and it is becoming clearer that the Mississippi country picnic was — and still is, to a degree — an institution of real stability and cultural importance.

Picnics are generally held on a Saturday and attract black families from all around; even white politicians, sensing the convenience of having so large a group of voters in one place, have begun attending in recent years. There is food and visiting, but the main attraction is the band which plays, primarily for dancing, until midnight. Ed told me, “We start out in the middle of a field and the grass is sometimes up to your waist, and when we’re through, it’s all gone. They just dance it right on down to the ground!”