The 45th Black Belt Folk Roots Festival goes virtual

By: Carol P. Zippert
Festival Coordinator

The 45th annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival did not go unclaimed, and undocumented. There was no magnificent tent shielding a stage of body and soul stirring musicians playing to hundreds not minding the August heat and drenching humidity. There was not the aroma of the famous Bear Burgers and Chicago Style Polish sausages sizzling on the grill, or the inviting scent of barbecue on the pit. One could not be drawn to the popping sounds of chicken wings and fish or pork skins in pots of hot oil. One could not taste the cooling refreshment of homemade ice cream or myriad flavors of snow cones and Italian Ice. Still, the annual festival did not go unclaimed and undocumented.
The Black Belt Folk Roots Festival went virtual on its 45th anniversary. A special website was designed to capture the usual ole timey blues and gospel sounds of the festival. The link highlights longtime bluesmen and bands such as Clarence Davis, Lil’Lee and the Midnight Blues Band, Jock Webb, Terry ‘Harmonica’ Bean, Jontavious Willis, Russell Gulley, Michael Carpenter and the Roadhouse Blues Band, Willie Halbert and the Fingerprint Band and more.
The ole timey gospel groups noted included Son of Zion, The American Travelers, The Mississippi Traveling Stars, The Golden Gates, The Melody Kings of Starkville, Eddie Mae Brown, Glory to Glory Gospel Singers and more.

One could not finger the fine stitching of the traditional hand crafted quilts and baskets or the intricate designs of hand crafted jewelry, but the authentic photos on the website portray the loving and painstaking care of the folk artists.
The young people did engage in a hands on arts festival experience. The special Zoom link allowed them to follow the guide of local artist Mynecia (Mya) Steele, of Eutaw, in designing their own arts. The young participants were provided with the materials needed to create their projects in Zoom arts program, noted as the Kids Tent. Reportedly, the greatest joy for many young participants was seeing themselves on screen.
The festival’s website also carries a video of the Kids Tent, claiming and documenting the young people’s activities.
The Black Belt Folk Roots Festival, produced by the Society of Folk Arts & Culture, did not go unclaimed and undocumented. The festival website will be continuous, featuring the folk artists of the West Alabama Region, celebrating history, culture and tradition through music, dance, crafts and foodways.
Festival website: Tune in and join a celebration of community.
The major supporters of the virtual festival and the Kids Tent include Alabama Department of Tourism, the Black Belt Community Foundation, the Alabama Power Foundation, Greenetrack, Inc. and the TSP Support League, Inc.
If you would like to support our continuing work of producing the festival
Carol Zippert at
205-372-0525 or email:

The 45th annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival goes Virtual

The 45th annual BlackBelt Folk Roots Festival, for the first time, will be a Virtual Celebration of folk artists who are the bearers of the culture and traditions of the West Alabama Region. According to Dr. Carol P. Zippert, festival coordinator, the coronavirus pandemic is the primary reason for presenting a virtual festival this year. “We could not jeopardize anyone with an on site community celebration,” she said.
“The annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival is home coming time in the region. Many families, class reunions and social clubs plan their annual activities to coincide with the festival’s schedule,” stated Dr. Zippert. “The usual on-site festival brings together folk artists who are considered bearers of the traditions and folkways of the West Alabama region. Having a Virtual Festival is a statement of recognition and celebration of the local artists who are the bearers of our culture, traditions and folkways,” she explained.
The Virtual Festival will feature down home blues music, old timey gospel, traditional foods, handmade crafts and special events for the young people. Ole Timey Blues artists will include Clarence Davis, Jock Webb, Willie T. Adams, Ernest Martin, Jontavious Willis, Lil Lee and the Midnight Blues Band, Nigel Speights, Russell Gulley, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Roadhouse Blues Band, Willie Halbert and the Fingerprint Band, and others.
Music of the Ole Timey Gospel artists will include, The Melody Kings, The Mississippi Traveling Stars, The Golden Gates, Greene County Mass Choir, The American Travelers, Angels of Faith, Ms. Eddie Brown and many others.
The Virtual Festival will celebrate the craft artists, creators of hand made quilts; baskets from white oak, pine needles and corn shuck; jewelry, sundry of home decorative items, and more. The virtual site will also include information where viewers may contact those craft artists who have arrangements for online purchases.
The Virtual Web Site will also celebrate the artists who bring us the assortments of down-home foods usually available at the annual festival including soul food dinners, barbecue, fried fish, chicken and skins, Polish sausage, homemade ice cream, cakes and pies; snow cones, Italian ice, and more.
The Virtual Festival web site will be made available beginning August 22, 2020.
Virtual Kids Art Tent – A Zoom Experience
The Virtual Kids Tent will be presented via Zoom. Local artists Mynecia (Mya) Steele has designed various art activities and will the guide the young people in the hands-on creative projects. The youth participants who register in advance will be provided the art materials needed to participate in the Zoom classes. They may contact Maya at 205-393-8644 or email:; or contact Carol Zippert at 205-372-0525, email:
“This is a festival where people truly celebrate themselves – their joys and struggles and especially ‘how we made it over,’” Zippert stated. We intend to claim, lift, and share our treasures of community celebration through this very special Virtual Festival – the 45th Celebration of the Black Belt Folk Roots Festival.
The Black Belt Folk Roots Festival is supported in part by the Alabama Department of Tourism, the Black Belt Community Foundation, Alabama Power Foundation; Greenetrack, Inc. and other local contributors.
The festival is produced by the Society of Folk Arts & Culture.
For more information contact Carol P. Zippert at 205-372-0525;

Annual festival draws the talents of young artists building on the gifts of elders

Local youth choirs have become a mainstay at the annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival.

The Black Belt Folk Roots Festival, originating in 1975 through the Miles College Eutaw Program, was designed to lift the history, culture, and traditions of the county and region. The focus was, and has been for a long time, on the elders – the bearers of the culture. They lived through times when quilts were made to protect against the cold winter nights and baskets were weaved for practical use such as picking cotton, gathering vegetables, holding laundry and more. The ole timey blues strummed on makeshift guitars, accompanied by jug blowing, hambone slapping and washboard rubbing, recounted the struggles, hardships, loss and pain a people long endured. They sang their stories on back porches through long summer evenings and in juke-joints on Saturday nights. And those same folk, in a different venue, shifted to lift their gospel singing voices in praise and thanksgiving as they recounted “How We Made It Over.” So that’s why the festival was and is, however, the elders don’t live forever. Each year some one or two pass on. But the stories must live on; and there are new stories birthing and growing all the time. The youth have their chapters to our stories and their own stories as well.

On this 43rd celebration of the annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival we can lift several young artists who are here to share their gifts. Nigel Speights of Boligee, AL, a rising 11th grade student, is on his way to becoming an accomplished blues musician. He strums his guitar in the spirit of the elder bluesmen who continue to teach and lead him. Jontavious Willis, a young man from Greenville, GA, sought out our festival, appealing to me with the words: “I have the spirit of the blues in my heart and soul. Just let me play at the festival – I don’t ask for money – just let me play.” Jontavious has been coming and playing ever since. The festival also showcases youth choirs who lift that ole timey gospel of the elders. We also feature the children of gospel crooners who have passed on. James and John Sykes, of the Mississippi Traveling Stars, are no longer with us on this Earth, but their sons have taken up the baton of Ole Timey Gospel praise and celebration. Fatima Robinson and Mynecia Steele, Greene County born and bred, are gifted artists creating with their hands what can only be inspired through the mutual workings of the mind, heart and soul. To know and appreciate their creations, come to the festival and start your collection. Even the foodways of the festival are leaning toward our youth. The soul food dinner tradition of Geraldine Sands, continues through her daughter, Rita Sands Mahoney. Like mother, like daughter and daughter gets better. It was truly a blessing when Delfreda Coleman came to the festival for the first time last year with her home made ice cream. Ms. Sarah Duncan had graced us with her heavenly delight of churned-on-the-spot homemade ice cream for many, many years, until, for health reasons, she couldn’t any longer. So we missed a year – no homemade ice-cream at the festival – until Delfreda came on the scene with her cream. The 43rd Black Belt Folk Roots Festival is scheduled for Saturday August 25 and Sunday August 26, on the old courthouse square in Eutaw, (Greene County) AL. There is no admission. There is no charge to celebrate. Come join us and enjoy. For more information contact: Carol P. Zippert at 205-372-0525.