Hats off to Mrs. Mary Hicks

By Mynecia D. Steele

 

Hicks

The Black Belt Folk Roots Festival is held on every fourth Saturday and Sunday in August.
These days are engraved in the memories of all Greene County residents, one in particular being Mrs. Mary Hicks.
Of the 41 years that the festival has been held, Hicks has been working as a vendor for 30 of those years.  She loves working the event and socializing with her community. Hicks enjoys showing off her work and sharing it with people who appreciate it, as she does. In the past, Hicks has also made baskets for her church, Saint John in Clinton, lead by Rev. Michael Lavender.
Mary Hicks has tried her hand in a multitude of crafts over the years.  Some of her handcrafts include: chairs made from clothing pins and quilts. She has since put those things aside and now focuses on weaving hats and baskets. These crafts are mainly created from pine needles.
Thirty years ago, she learned to make hats and baskets from Mabel Means, now deceased.
Hicks worked as a vendor for the first time, alongside Means. Since Means’ passing, Hicks has begun selling on her own.
According to Mrs. Hicks, creating crafts for the festival requires much preparation. Some of the smaller things, like hats, only take about two days to make. Other projects, like scarves and quilts may require as long as a week to complete.
Over the years the festival has been a way for the community to come together, said Hicks.
She is thankful that the festival has remained the same event that she has always loved.  While she has not sold anything in a few years, she plans to return this year, for the 41st Black Belt Folk Roots Festival.

Sarah Duncan’s sweet touch: homemade ice cream at the festival

By: Mynecia Destinee Steele

 

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Ms. Sarah Duncan adds her sweet touch to the annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival every year.  On those warm August days, kids and adults alike look forward to something cool and sweet on Saturday and a sundae on Sunday. Duncan churns out cup after cup of her home made ice cream.
“I like to make people happy. It feels good to put a smile on their faces,” said Duncan. She says making ice cream is her way to spread happiness.  Her presence is expected and appreciated by many each year. People travel from out of town to see her and to have a taste of her ice cream.  Duncan smiled as she remembered a woman traveling from Louisiana for a cup of her homemade deliciousness. The woman told Duncan that she had not planned on coming to the festival. It wasn’t until someone raised the question: “Well, what are we going to do about Ms. Duncan’s ice cream?” that she decided she had to come.
Duncan says that she has always enjoyed attending the festival. She enjoys the blues and gospel music. She also uses the festival as an opportunity to fellowship with friends and a chance to meet new people. Duncan says she has made many friends while participating in the festival for over 30 years.
The festival is all about remembering your roots says Duncan. It is a way to see how to make things the old-fashion way. That is why it’s important for youth to attend the festival. It is a learning experience for them, she stated.
She says children and teens often gather around her table to see how she makes her ice cream. The children make her laugh, asking questions like, “Why are you putting all that salt in the ice cream?” She goes on to explain that she actually pours the salt around the ice cream, not in it.
Just as she was able to lend that small bit of knowledge, there are many other vendors and older people in attendance who have something to pass on to the next generation.
Duncan learned to make ice cream about 35 years ago, from Mrs. Margaret Charles Smith. Smith made ice cream at a restaurant that Duncan often visited. She gave Duncan her recipe, and instructions on how to make the ice cream. But, through practice, Duncan was able to teach herself the rest. Over the years, Duncan has tweaked that original recipe, but still credits Smith for helping her get started.
In the early years, Duncan would make about 5 gallons of ice cream total. Since then, demand has grown. She now sells about 20-25 gallons. Even after preparing that much ice cream, she struggles to make it last both days.  She also had to bring in some help. Her children have started helping out and selling the ice cream for her.
People frequently ask Duncan about selling her ice cream at other locations and for other events. She decided to keep it in Greene County. She only makes her homemade ice cream for the Black Belt Folk Roots Festival and occasional family gatherings.
Ms. Duncan stated, with some sadness, that she doesn’t know how long she will be able to continue preparing her ice cream for the festival.

Davis claims 41 years of Black Belt Blues

By: Mynecia Destinee Steele
 

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Mr. Clarence Davis

 

Mr. Clarence Davis has been around since the first Black Belt Folk Roots Festival, and he remembers it well.
Clarence attended the first Black Belt Folk Roots Festival 41 years ago and he has not missed one yet.
Davis says that he remembers when Jane Sapp, music and cultural instructor for the event, and other staff of the Miles College-Eutaw Program, started the festival. “I remember them going around trying to get people and musicians together,” said Davis.
Davis has not only attended the festival regularly, but he also participates in musical performances. Davis was inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame in 2014. The City of Eutaw is privileged to have had Davis’ music grace its courtyard square every August.
He plays what he calls Delta Blues. This style of music came from the Mississippi area during the ‘20s and ‘30s.Growing up, Davis fell in love with this style of music, and eventually taught himself to play blues on the bass.
“I first started playing around with a guitar at seven”, said Davis. “But, I really started getting into it when I was 12.”
Learning to play took lots of practice, but Davis was dedicated. He would listen to songs and mimic the sounds of other musicians until he sounded exactly like them.
According to Davis most musicians during that time tried to imitate that delta sound. The music expressed the hardships that many people, especially farmers, were experiencing during that time.
Davis went on to reminisce about some of the other original festival performers and musicians.  He clearly remembers that raw down-home sound. He particularly loved the way the performers played the hambone.
There was something special about those homemade instruments said Davis. These instruments were reflective of our roots. And that is what the Black Belt Folk Roots Festival is all about.
He misses the old time sounds of the festival, but he also appreciates the way that younger generations have taken on the tradition of playing at the festival, with their new school blues and hip-hop.
Mr. Davis says that one thing he would love to see, before his last festival, is for it to continue to grow. He suggested that the event be moved to the local park.  This space would provide a larger venue, and therefore more vendors could participate and more people could attend.
Davis emphasized how important this event is to the Black Belt community. “For a lot of the older people, this is probably the only time they really get to come out of the house,” said Davis. He said that this event is one time out of the year that the entire community is able to get together and have a great time.

BBCF awards $60,000 in grants to Arts Programs throughout 12 Black Belt counties

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L to R: Rev. Christopher Spencer, Vassie Welbeck-Browne, Johnnie M. Knott, Mary Beck, Darlene Robinson, Felicia Lucky.
 Woman-To-Woman , Inc. recieved a $10,000 grant to support the project, “Pathway to Nurturing, Strengthening and Changing.”   Greene County youth will use drama, dance and poetry to increase academic achievement, improve self-esteem, and develop communication skills.  Through this project, students will use several art disciplines to improve academics and creativity by working with community partners and professional artists.

Greene Co. Art Grantees-Greene Co. Alumnae

L to R:  Felicia Lucky, Rev. Christopher Spencer Andrea  Perry, Darlene Robinson and Braxton Carlilse. Greene County Alumnae Chapter Delta Sigma Theta:  $2,000 to support the DST Café project which will expose the community to a combination of arts by presenting creative expressions in  performing, visual and literary arts.

Greene Co.-Society of Arts & Culture

L to R: Rev. Christopher Spencer, Felicia Lucky, Debra Eatman and Darlene Robinson. Society of Folk Arts and Culture:  $3,000 to support the 41st Black Belt Folk Roots Festival which celebrates the culture, traditions and folkways of the West Alabama Region.

 

 

•Greene County
receives $15,000
in grant awards

The Black Belt Community Foundation, located in Selma, Al, awarded $60,000 in grants to fund programs throughout 12 counties located in the Black Belt Region to bolster efforts in the art programs.  The awards were presented in a ceremony at the Hank Sanders Technology Center, Wallace Community College, Selma, AL, on Saturday, June 18, 2016, to recipients who gathered for a day of celebration and fellowship.  Greene County received $5,000 in arts grant support for art related programs and a $10,000 Arts Education Grant.  The total of grant awards for Greene County was $15,000.  “The Black Belt Community Foundation has awarded nearly $3.2 million in grants to our 12 counties since 2005,” said Felecia Lucky, President of the BBCF.  It is gratifying to see the organizations and community leaders who work hard every day to transform our region through the arts gather together and attend the ceremony, which is a vibrant celebration of our mission.”
This past April, community led organizations located in Bullock, Choctaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, and Wilcox counties were welcomed to apply for grants to support the arts.  The BBCF awarded $60,000 in grants  to arts initiative project.

Bessie Underwood brings skilled handcrafts to Black Belt Folk Roots Festival

By Mynecia Steele

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Ms. Bessie Underwood of Mantua often participates in the annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival. Although, she does not visit yearly, the community recognizes her for the skilled handcrafts she brings to the festival.
Underwood says that she visits the festival as often as possible.  She works on her projects and crafts year round. This allows her to have a variety of items available when the festival comes around. Her handcrafts include, but are not limited to, crocheted scarves, afghans, throws and wreaths. Underwood also makes specialty crafts, at request, such as Alabama and Auburn football themed blankets.
Underwood says that she often sells her pieces for much less than they are worth.  Considering the money, time and hard work that Underwood invests in her projects, not to mention that quality of the products, she practically gives away her crafts just to see the joy they bring to others.
She says that she comes up with designs for her projects in her mind. She only learned to read crochet patterns about five years ago, but she learned to crochet long before then. Her first grade teacher, Mrs. Billups, taught her to crochet. Over the years crocheting has become second nature to her. “Sometimes I wake up at night because the Lord has put a design on my heart, and I just have to get up and make it,” said Underwood.
Underwood gained an interest in selling her crafts at the festival after visiting with her neighbor, Mrs. Odessa Rice, who also participates in the festival.  While visiting, Underwood noticed the many baskets and quilts that Rice had been making.  After learning that Rice was preparing these projects for sale at the festival, Underwood thought that would be a great way for her to share her work, as well.
Aside from selling her crafts, Underwood attends the festival to fellowship with the community, enjoy the different foods and she loves listening to the blues performances.
Come out and support Ms. Bessie Underwood, and the many other vendors, at this year’s Black Belt Folk Roots Festival.
This event is free and open to the public, as always. It will be held Saturday, August 27, 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., and the following Sunday, August 28, 2:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. For more information contact: Carol Zippert at 205-372-0525; email: carolxzippert@aol.com.

Black Belt Folk Roots Festival – August 27-28 in Eutaw Annual festival strengthens community bonds

By: Carol Prejean Zippert

 

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Months before the tent goes up on the old courthouse square in the center of town, inquiries have steadily poured in seeking confirmation that the annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival will fill those grounds again on the fourth Saturday and Sunday of August.
The calls about the festival are a reminder of how the community has taken ownership of this special event. The festival dates are an automatic imprint on the minds and hearts of so many. Local groups plan class reunions, family reunions, vacation time and other summer events on the week end of the festival. The Black Belt Folk Roots Festival itself has become a grand reunion.
In is 41st year one may ask what is still so attractive about this festival; what is so compelling about this festival?IMG_7373.JPG Is it the array of handmade crafts such as theme designed quilts, baskets of pine needles, bullrush grass and corn shucks, hand-bottomed chairs, wood carvings, leather works and uniquely deigned jewelry? Is it the aroma of the foodways expressed on the grounds calling attention to the soul food dinners, fried fish, chicken, and pork skins, a range of barbeque meats, Polish sausage and bear burgers? The attraction may also be the homemade sweet treats including cakes, pies, funnel cakes, preserved fruits, sno’ cones and homemade ice cream churned on the spot.
Perhaps the festival crowd returns to be once more enthralled by the ole timey blues music that dominates the sounds of the festival on Saturday. The musicians sing and strum stories of struggle, hardship, loss, pain and perseverance. The ole timey gospel stage that follows at Sunday’s festival brings reassurance that a people’s strong faith, commitment and sacrifice defines how we made it over. The spirit of the gospel music brings out the church in the crowd.
Most significant, the festival brings together people to see people, to hear people, to touch people and strengthen a community bond they already share.
The folk artists featured at the festival include craftspersons such as Odessa Rice, Mary Hicks, Martha Kimbrough, Eloise Jeter and Meloneal Hobson.
Blues artists who return each year include Clarence Davis, The Liberators, Little Jimmie Reed (Leon Atkins), Russell Gulley, Davey Williams and Lemon Harper and others. Sunday’s gospel music is shared by The Echo Singers, the Echo Juniors, The Webb Gospel Singers, The Golden Gates, The Mississippi Traveling Stars, Son of Zion Gospel Duo, New Generation Male Chorus, Mrs. Eddie Mae Brown and more.The two day festival, held on the old courthouse square in the center of town in Eutaw, AL, is open to the public free of charge, The 2016 schedule is Saturday, August 27 from 11:00 a.m to 6:00 p.m.; Sunday August 28 from 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
The festival is produced by the Society of Folk Arts & Culture. It was started in 1975 by Jane and Hubert Sapp who were part of the Miles College Eutaw Extension Program in an effort to document, preserve and celebrate the history, culture and traditions of the region. For more information contact Carol P. Zippert at 205-372-0525; carolxzippert@aol.com