Tag Archives: African American
I was preparing a print today to send off to the YPA for their upcoming auction and fundraiser. It was a portrait of blues drummer Sam Carr and it had recently been on exhibit in the Senate building Rotunda. The photograph was part of a personal project that I had embarked on over ten years ago: The Delta Bluesmen. The project consisted of environmental still portraits of the musicians as well as interviews of them that I had captured on video. This resulted in a short documentary and multimedia exhibition.
I thought that it would be nice to include the DVD of the documentary as part of what I was offering for auction. While making sure that the DVD played OK, I got sucked into watching the full 20-minute piece. It had been a long time since I had watched this film and it struck me that all but one of the seven musicians in the film had died.
At the time, I came up with the idea for that project, I really didn’t know why I wanted to shoot a project on these blues musicians – I just knew that I had to. It’s not like I was a super avid blues fan. I did love the music but I wasn’t one of those fans who could recite the “who’s who” in the blues world. I was interested more in the cultural background of these men and their music. What gave birth to that music in that part of our country at that time in history?
I listened to the interviews of these men telling their stories about growing up as poor black men in the South during the 20’s and 30’s in America. Sam Carr talked about a time when a lot of the poor folks, up and left to get the good jobs in the North. I couldn’t help but feel the irony as I listened to Sam’s story and reflect back on our trip to Detroit this past winter. We were there to shoot our last and our only North American story for Opening Our Eyes. Those jobs that those poor folks headed North for – are gone. So are the neighborhoods they once called home – now just derelict ruins and vacant lots. I wondered what the future would hold for the city of Detroit and for the growing numbers of unemployed in our country.
One thing did hit me though as I watched this film that I created so many years ago, and that that I had archived these stories for generations to come. That made me feel good and proud and that in my own small way I had helped to preserve that legacy. That’s more meaningful to me than just about anything else I can think of doing in my life. I believe that this is my purpose – to tell the stories of our time. That’s why I had to make The Delta Bluesmen – even though I had never done anything like that before. It’s the same reason that I had to do Opening Our Eyes. It took me a lifetime to realize my purpose and I am very grateful that I am able to fulfill it.
This is out of the norm for this site, but I post this news to remind everyone to live their life each day as if it were their last. It’s a reminder to us all, to not put off those things you want to do or leave your words unsaid.
I write when I have something on my mind or feel that I have something to say and pass along. Today, I write because I’m heartbroken. I need to share some thoughts and then close out.
Willie “ Big Eyes” Smith – legendary blues musician, passed away – suddenly from a stroke. He was one of the seven Delta blues musicians that I interviewed for one of my first short documentaries back in 2002, The Delta Blues Musicians. They are all gone now – but one.
I’ll always remember the day I sat down to talk to Willie. It was relaxed and we had the most wonderful conversation, sitting on the porch of an old sharecropper shack at Hopson’s Plantation in Clarksdale, MS. I feel good that I captured his thoughts and words that day and preserved them for future generations. I feel that my purpose in life is to do just that – to document, record and capture the peoples and cultures of our times. I feel that is what I am here to do. When I stay on that course, I have peace inside. When I drift from that – I don’t feel right. I think I’ve always known that – but nowadays I try to stay focused on that path.
Willie’s passing reminds me yet again, how precious life is and to appreciate the now. For the most part, I do live in the now. I try to live my life as if this may be my last day on earth. It frees me from a lot of needless fears that stops lots of people from “doing”. It reminds me to tell my people that I love them because I may not get that chance again.
We all put things off or leave things left unsaid. Seven years ago, mom died suddenly, without warning. It seems like yesterday because the pain is still real and there is a hole left in my heart. I remember quite clearly the week before she died. It was a busy week and I had planned to give my mom a call because it had been awhile. I never did get that chance – and those words will go unsaid – forever.
We lost another blues legend earlier this year, Pinetop Perkins. Pinetop and Willie had just won a Grammy for the album “Joined at the Hip” that they worked on together. I had been meaning to head down to the Delta next month to the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival – I had missed the festival last year and I wanted to hear Pinetop and Willie play. Sadly, I won’t get that chance to see and hear them in concert again. But I do have their records and I’ll always have their words, both on tape and tucked away in the recesses of my mind.
We’ll miss you Willie.