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Othar Turner, Rising Star Fife, Drum Band

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Biography

Othar “Otha” Turner (b. June 2, 1907, Madison County, Mississippi - d. February 26, 2003), was one of the last well-known fife players in the vanishing American fife and drum musical tradition. He lived his entire life in northern Mississippi as a farmer, where in 1923, aged 16, he learned to play fifes fashioned out of rivercanes.

Turner’s Rising Star Fife and Drum Band (which consisted of friends and relatives) primarily played at farm parties. They began to receive wider recognition in the 1990s. They appeared on Mississippi Blues in Memphis Vol. 1 in 1993, followed by inclusion in many other blues collections. They released their own critically acclaimed album Everybody Hollerin’ Goat in 1998. This was followed by From Senegal to Senatobia in 1999, which combined bluesy fife and drum music with musicians credited as “the Afrossippi Allstars”.

The title, Everybody Hollerin’ Goat, refers to a tradition Turner began in the late 1950s of hosting Labor Day picnics where he would personally butcher and cook a goat in an iron kettle, and his band would provide musical entertainment. The picnics began as a neighborhood and family gathering; it grew over the years to attract musical fans, first from Memphis, Tennessee, and later from all over the world.

The song, “Shimmy She Wobble”, from Everybody Hollerin’ Goat was featured in the 2002 film Gangs of New York. Martin Scorsese, the film’s director, featured Othar Turner in his 2003 PBS mini-series “The Blues” as a link between African rhythms and American Blues.

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