On Site presents moments—sometimes in depth, sometimes just glimpses—from the documentation of the Tennessee Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program.
Mike Compton is recognized as one of the most influential mandolin players in acoustic music today. In 1985, Mike began teaching the mandolin style of bluegrass founder Bill Monroe in lessons and camps. “I learned initially on my own from mimicking what I heard,” Compton explains. “But in later years I had the opportunity to learn from Mr. Bill Monroe himself. I have been focused on first generation bluegrass mandolin for 45 years.” In 2019, as part of the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, Mike taught apprentice Jackson Carter the nuanced, impressionistic style. We caught this lively duet at a spring site visit.
Rhiannon Giddens is a multi-instrumentalist, a Grammy Award-winner, and a 2017 MacArthur Fellow. In 2019, as part of the Tennessee Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, Rhiannon taught gourd banjo playing to then 11-year-old Uma Peters of Nashville. They focused on rare tunes and techniques collected in the Briggs Banjo Instructor, an influential manual first published in 1855. “There are very few people who play this music because of its association with minstrelsy,” Rhiannon explained. “But I believe it is very important in understanding the development of clawhammer banjo, understanding the culture that American banjo playing developed in, and rescuing these obscure banjo techniques that can enhance modern banjo playing.”
Uma Peters started playing clawhammer banjo when she was seven years old and first saw Rhiannon perform with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. “I looked up to Rhiannon because I had never seen a woman playing banjo.” Uma, who is Indian-American, also explained: “I had never seen a musician of color playing this music.” Their project culminated in a performance at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee with Francesco Turrisi and Rowan Corbett in March 2019. We documented Rhiannon and Uma as they worked on the tune “Briggs’ Corn Shucking Jig” and when they eventually performed their arrangement at the festival.
A recipient of the NEA National Heritage Fellowship and a winner of over 60 first place awards in contests, Thomas Maupin is widely considered Tennessee’s most gifted practitioner of flatfoot buck dancing. Buck dancing is a percussive dance similar to, but older than, tap dance and clogging. It traces its roots to an early American melding of Scots-Irish step dance with African-American dance and rhythm. In 2017, Thomas taught Courtney Williams the dance style as part of the inaugural Tennessee Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. We captured this video on site in Murfreesboro with Thomas and Courtney, as well as musicians Austin Derryberry and Daniel Rothwell.
One of Tennessee’s rarest and most endangered traditions, fife and drum music was once a core part of the social life in communities throughout the South, with a strong footprint in West Tennessee. However, less than a handful of bands are known to exist today. In 2017, the Tennessee Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program was pleased to support the team of Grammy nominated bluesman and drummer RL Boyce and his apprentice Kesha Burton.