American Musicological Society, Inc.

Rising Stars Fife and Drum Band

The Rising Stars Fife and Drum Band was founded by Otha Turner, a master practitioner of the many musics of the Mississippi hill country, whose recordings occupy a significant space in the American music archive. Turner’s annual fife and drum, blues, and barbecued goat meat picnics in Gravel Springs, Mississippi became the stuff of legend after Alan Lomax documented them for his American Patchwork series. Consisting of bass and snare borrowed from marching and martial drum core settings and featuring handmade cane fife carrying tunes rooted in the American songbook and Southern folkways, the music has been theorized by some scholars as reflecting roots in West Africa. It is also closely associated with the blues music played in the North Mississippi hill country.

Today Turner’s granddaughter, Sharde Thomas, leads the group, carrying on her family tradition as she has since childhood, performing her own brand of fife and drum music in international and local venues. Sharde still holds the goat picnics every year, sometimes in the same backyard where Lomax and others documented her grandfather.