Virginia Folklife Area
2017 Folklife Theme: Feed Your Soul
When we describe a musical performance as “soulful,” we are speaking about that almost indescribable moment when a singer becomes the song, when a teller becomes the tale—when artifice and inhibitions recede and we know we are witnessing something profoundly real. When we speak of “Soul Food,” we mean something that provides a deeper level of nourishment than can be measured in nutrients or calories alone. Soul food gives us strength but it also offers us comfort, lifts our spirits, gives us pause and gratitude. In these troubling times, we believe we all could use a little feeding of our souls, and the Virginia Folklife Program intends to feed yours generously from our diverse Commonwealth’s bountiful cultural landscape. Read more about this year's theme.
2017 Virginia Folklife Stage Performers
Malian n’goni meets American banjo
Featuring Cheick Hamala Diabate, Sammy Shelor, and Riley Baugus
The history of the five-string banjo, among the very first truly American-born instruments, provides a revelatory lens through which to view the immense contributions of African cultural traditions to the development of American popular music and culture. The instrument we now know as the banjo was derived from lutes enslaved Africans brought to the New World, most notably the West African n’goni and kora. The European violin (fiddle) and the African-derived banjo likely comprised the “first duet” in the New World, providing the cornerstone of American musical forms for centuries to come.
The deep soul of Otis Redding and Percy Sledge didn't really disappear after its heyday in the 1960s. It just went back to its grassroots origins. Today's generation of Southern soul artists still writes and records music that tells stories about life, love, and having a good time with other grown folks. Richmond singer, songwriter, and guitarist Big G has become one of Southern soul's most prolific artists with 20 albums to his credit, nearly all of them on the Stone River label operated by his manager Cynthia Vaughan.
Old-time and bluegrass Southwest Virginia and northwest North Carolina
Many casual listeners outside the Appalachian region refer to all mountain music as bluegrass, but mountain music encompasses two distinct forms: bluegrass and its predecessor, old-time. Old-time string band music developed in the nineteenth century, when European and African musical styles converged in America’s first frontier, the Blue Ridge. Predominantly fiddle- and banjo-driven, old-time music is intended for dancing and entertainment at house parties, community gatherings, and jam sessions.
Faith is at the center of Cora Harvey Armstrong’s 50-year career in gospel music. She was born and raised in the tiny Newtown community of King and Queen County, Virginia. Her family members were dedicated church attendees, and deeply spiritual. Armstrong remembers being enthralled by church music at an early age; she surprised her family and congregation with her ability to play piano by ear at the age of five. Her parents decided to enroll her in piano lessons, where she learned to read music. She soon joined her sisters Clara and Virginia with their mother for the family’s singing group, The Harvey Family.
Shenandoah Valley and southwestern Virginia
Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley has long been fertile ground for the development of old-time and bluegrass music, and the Knicelys are one of its most prominent musical families. Multi-instrumentalist A. O. Knicely was a staple at area barn dances in the 1930s; his son Glen soaked up this music as a child and, along with his wife, Darlena, passed on the tradition to his son, Danny. Danny has become one of the most respected and versatile multi-instrumentalists of his generation, collaborating with prominent musicians in the United States and abroad.
If you have attended the Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention sometime in the last forty years, then you will quickly recognize the familiar voice of Galax native Harold Mitchell. Always dressed impeccably and donning a white cowboy hat, Harold has served as the instrument contest emcee at Galax since 1972. Harold’s voice was likely familiar to locals already, as he was a regular deejay at WHHV radio in neighboring Hillsville, spinning the records of Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, and other founding fathers of bluegrass.
Southwest Virginia and northwest North Carolina have long been fertile ground for family bluegrass bands. In the mid-2000s, one of the finest family bands to emerge from the region was the Cana Ramblers, of tiny Cana, Virginia, in Carroll County, showcasing the Jones family. Led by guitarist and singer Phil Jones, the band featured his teenage daughters, Ashley and Laura Leigh, and pre-teen son, Will. The Cana Ramblers were a favorite at music festivals and fiddlers conventions, with the Jones kids displaying talents well beyond their years.
For more than five decades, Evangelist Maggie Ingram & the Ingramettes brought their music and ministry to congregations in the Tidewater and Piedmont. For evangelist “Mama” Maggie Ingram, who sadly passed away on June 23, 2015, music was always a family affair, and three generations were represented in the group. Their commanding, spirit-filled performances demonstrated the extraordinary depth of talent in American gospel music. The group is one of Virginia’s premier gospel ensembles.
Old Regular Baptist a cappella gospel
An elder in the Old Regular Baptist Church, Frank Newsome is a master practitioner of lined-out hymn singing, one of the oldest musical traditions in Virginia. Newsome was born in 1942 in Pike County, Kentucky, where his father worked as a coal miner. One of twenty-two children, Newsome attended Old Regular Baptist Church services as a child with his mother. He settled in Virginia at about the age of twenty and worked in the coal mines. After more than seventeen years, Newsome contracted black lung disease and left the mines. He took up new responsibilities at his church, using his vocal prowess to lead his congregation in hymn singing and as a preacher.
The year 2015 marked the end of an amazing journey for the Holmes Brothers, a group with humble beginnings on Virginia’s Middle Peninsula who performed a joyous and moving blend of blues, gospel, soul, rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and country for more than 50 years. Sherman and Wendell Holmes were raised by schoolteacher parents who fostered the boys’ early interest in music by playing recordings of traditional Baptist hymns, anthems, and spirituals, as well as blues music by Jimmy Reed, Junior Parker, and B. B. King.
Sephardic musical traditions Burke and Charlottesville, Virginia
When the Sephardic Jews were forced into exile from Spain and Portugal in the late fifteenth century, many settled in other Mediterranean countries but preserved their native language, Ladino, and their oral culture. These cherished Sephardic traditions have been kept alive by Virginian Flory Jagoda, who was born into the Sephardic community of Sarajevo, Bosnia. Through her “nona,” her mother’s mother, Flory learned songs that had been passed down among the Sephardi for generations, as well as absorbed the Balkan region's cultural traditions.
Indian classical music has evolved over the centuries, and its many diverse forms reflect the great diversity of the sub-continent of India. Hindustani classical music is traditionally practice-oriented, and learned without formal notation through the traditional “guru-shishya” or teacher-student tradition. Khyal is a modern genre of Hindustani classical singing in North India. Khyal’s name comes from the Arabic word meaning “imagination,” as each singer adds his or her own style to each melodic line—known as a raga—to make it his or her own.
Wild Ponies is a Nashville-based band led by Virginia natives Doug and Telisha Williams. Doug and Telisha are from Martinsville, where boarded-up factories and shop windows serve as painful reminders of the grim economic plight of a small manufacturing town in an era of globalization. Doug first learned to play music from the elders of his family, hailing from musically-rich Galax, 77 miles west of Martinsville on Route 58. The Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention played a prominent role in Doug’s upbringing; he first appeared onstage in a banjo contest at age five.
The so-called “Republic of Floyd” remains a welcoming and inspiring place for some of Virginia’s most visionary artists, but few embody the creative passion of longtime resident Barb Gillespie. For more than a decade, Barb served as “Director of Ambiance” at FloydFest, employing her skills of creative landscaping, set design, and lighting. It’s a title we have been honored to bestow upon her at the Virginia Folklife Area at the Richmond Folk Festival. Barb is alternately a sculptor, a batik artist, a painter, a belly dancer, a massage therapist, a singer-songwriter, and a gifted baker. She first learned the art of baking from her parents who participated in the natural foods movement of the early 1970s. She has been baking bread in Floyd since 2001, supplying local restaurants and farmers markets throughout Southwest Virginia.
Chris Brooks was born and raised in Richmond, learning traditional cooking through the women in his family: mother, aunts, and grandmas, who have a shared knack for combining the right ingredients. His earliest cooking memories are of these women preparing meals. “In the South, dinners would be done big, on Sundays, usually at your grandmother's house,” Chris recalls. “My interest came from the smells, the noise... and then I had to be active and learn to crack eggs, run a mixer, and be able to feed myself.”
Trushita Sheth was born and raised in a small town in the state of Gujarat in western India, a place with a distinct cooking style. Known for its variety of fresh vegetables, Gujarat cuisine is largely vegetarian and in some cases vegan. She grew up surrounded by the aromas of exotic spices and traditional foods, cooked by her mother and other women in the community.
Christine “Tina” Ingram-Murphy is the youngest daughter of the late Richmond gospel legend evangelist Maggie Ingram, who moved her family to Richmond in 1961, where she formed the group Sister Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes with Tina and her other four children. Maggie Ingram was also an incredible cook, preparing delicious meals for her children by stretching the most sparse and inexpensive of ingredients, often feeding many more than just her own family.
Harrisonburg, with a population of just over 50,000, is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in Virginia. Today, the Harrisonburg–Rockingham County community includes refugees and immigrants from all parts of the globe. In the 2016 school year, students in Harrisonburg City Schools spoke forty-eight different languages at home and English became a minority language for the first time, spoken by less than 50 percent of public school families. Arabic is the second most spoken language in the public schools, as Harrisonburg has welcomed large populations of refugees from Iraq and Syria in recent years.
What began, according to area legend, as a communal meal prepared for a hunting expedition on the banks of the Nottoway River in 1828, the cooking of Brunswick Stew has evolved into a time-honored tradition—a staple at community gatherings, a source of regional pride, the focus of spirited competition, and a true Virginia culinary art.
Luz Maria Lopez was born in the small town of Morocoy, in the state of Quintana Roo on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula after her parents moved there from Michoacán. Her mother was a prodigious cook, and Luz grew up learning the many traditional dishes of the region, including cochinita pibil, tamales de hoja de platano, and panuchos, as well as dishes from her mother’s home state of Michoacán in the west of Mexico.
For communities on Virginia’s Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, the oyster fishery was perhaps the largest and most influential industry from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. Men and women employed by the industry worked a variety of jobs, from boat cook, captain, and crew, to shore-based scow gangs and shuckers. Shucking in particular provided many employment opportunities for African Americans throughout the Chesapeake region. Sisters Deborah Pratt and Clementine Macon Boyd, whose parents met while working in one of the many small oyster houses that dotted the Northern Neck coastline, are two of the top shuckers in the world, each capable of deftly opening two dozen oysters in less than three minutes.
Before the last half of the twentieth century, a wide variety of apples were grown regionally, with apple types grown according to the varying soil, weather, and habitat conditions across the United States. The advent of a national market, driven by the development and consolidation of supermarket chains, has reduced the number of available apple varieties to a dozen or so that keep well, respond well to extensive spray programs, and have an attractive and uniform outer skin. Much of the flavor that our ancestors cherished in apples has been sacrificed. The old regional varieties have become difficult, if not impossible, to find—and some have disappeared entirely.