Join us this Memorial Day weekend to celebrate the National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellows. Each year, the NEA recognizes traditional artists for their excellence and contributions to our nation’s heritage. It’s the highest award in the traditional arts. This year’s honorees include: Filipino rondalla musician Tagumpay Mendoza De Leon; Osage ribbon worker and ceramicist Anita Fields; documentary filmmaker and preservationist Tom Davenport; Louisiana’s Winnsboro Easter Rock gospel ensemble; Hill Country blues drummer and guitarist Cedric Burnside; Puerto Rican mundillo lace weaver Nellie Vera; Irish flute and whistle maven Joanie Madden; Chicago tap dancer Reginald “Reggio the Hoofer” McLaughlin; and the Mexican American band from East Los Angeles, Los Lobos. Plus music from prior awardees including Del McCoury, Mavis Staples, Dr. Michael White and John Lee Hooker.
It’s Blueswomen, Jazzmen, African roots and branches. Chicago blues singer Shemekia Copeland‘s father, the late blues guitarist Johnny Copeland, brought her into his music as a child. As an adult, she found new ways to use blues to express her perspective. We’ll hear from some of Shemekia’s heroes including Etta James, Ruth Brown, Alberta Hunter and Big Mama Thornton. Then a conversation and performance by Boston-based Mandinka balafon player Balla Kouyaté and music inspired by and from the continent of Africa from Randy Weston, Miriam Makeba and the Modern Jazz Quartet.
Shemekia Copeland photo by Mike White
From Great Britain to the Big Easy, we explore the sounds of musical and social breakouts. First, we hear how British blues pioneer John Mayall broke out of England with his band the Bluesbreakers, bringing British blues to a larger audience. We’ll hear some of Mayall’s sources and contemporaries, like Big Maceo and Eric Clapton. Then, it’s butt shakes and backbeats with Big Freedia, the Queen Diva of New Orleans Bounce, a rhythmic dance music with sources in hip hop and rap, as well as much earlier jazz and R&B. We’ll explore some of those sources, and strut with Kermit Ruffins and Sam Morgan, head “Down Yonder” with Smiley Lewis, and “Take it to the Street” with Rebirth Brass Band.
The Houston-born singer/songwriter Rodney Crowell talks about growing up on the rough side of town with the ghost of Hank Williams as a “family member,” as well writing songs for his recent duet partner Emmylou Harris. He also wrote for many of the country heavy weights from Jerry Reed to Guy Clark and Bob Seeger, and was also the antagonist in Rosanne Cash‘s signature tune “Seven Year Ache.” Then we’ll revisit our trip to Nashville with the Crescent City’s Nite Tripper himself Dr. John, who reminisces about and demonstrates his early days at the piano, and on a music industry “spying mission” that could only happen in New Orleans