FY18 Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program In Full Swing

By Bradley Hanson, Director of Folklife –

Over the past few weeks, we have completed site visits with some of the nine teams currently in the FY2018 Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. It’s been inspiring and rewarding to see these teams work together and watch the apprentices embark on their learning process. Here is a look at the first five teams we have visited:

African American fife and drum music was part of social life in many rural communities in the South for over a century. Though the tradition was documented in several parts of West Tennessee, there are thought to be no active players still living in the state. That was, until, this past fall when Kesha Burton of Brownsville, TN began an apprenticeship with RL Boyce, a longtime drummer and a Grammy-nominated blues musician from Como, Mississippi. As part of the Tennessee Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, RL has been traveling to Brownsville to teach Kesha the fundamentals of the style, and thus return the tradition to a Tennessee musician. RL and Kesha have been joined by Willie Hurt of Sardis, Mississippi, one of the very few living African American fife players. This new fife and drum collective—including RL’s daughter Sherena Boyce—has already performed publicly once, with plans for more in the coming months.


Louis Frazor has been calling square dances around middle Tennessee for nearly forty years. Now he is serving as a master artist in our Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, teaching apprentice Daniel Rothwell and guiding him toward his own distinctive style. Together, the pair is also helping to create new opportunities for people to learn and practice the dances.


Master Buck Dancer and NEA National Heritage Fellow Thomas Maupin is back at it this year training apprentice Jake Fennell as part of the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. With every heel and every toe, they’re keeping a close eye on each other.


Trenton Caruthers is hard at work as an apprentice this year to master Cumberland Plateau fiddler Michael DeFosche. You can find them many Saturday mornings at the Highway 111 Flea Market in Cookeville, taking apart and putting back together the tunes of Clyde Davenport and others, all before the rest of the jammers arrive.


Master artist Sue Williams and apprentice Michelle R Hennessee started at the very beginning of the process yesterday, preparing a carefully selected white oak tree for its transformation into white oak baskets. A fine outing for the first Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program site visit of the fall.