Born: June 7, 1907, Madison County, Mississippi
Died: February 26, 2003
Photo credit: Bill Steber – www.steberphoto.com
As the leader of the Rising Star Fife and Drum Corps, Othar Turner carried forward a musical tradition that stretched back to the Revolutionary War in America. The Colonial and English armies employed fife and drum bands to motivate their troops to march and fight. Turner combined that tradition with African rhythms to create a rhythmically hypnotic American music hybrid. He grew up working in the fields with his sharecropper family in the North Mississippi Hill Country. As a teenager he fashioned a drum out of a tin bucket and learned from an older neighbor how to make fifes out of cane that grew near his house. After mastering the fife and drum, Turner formed a group with Napoleon Strickland. The band played picnics and other social events in the surrounding area. Turner invested the money he made playing music in a farm. Turner spent much of his life in relative obscurity working on his farm and playing music on the weekend. During the 1960s, Turner was recorded by George Mitchell and Chris Strachwitz. These recordings introduced him to a broader audience of folk and blues fans. In 1978, Alan Lomax featured Turner in the documentary The Land Where the Blues Began. During the 1980s, Turner frequently appeared at blues festivals and concerts. In 1992, he was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1998, he made his first recording Everybody’s Hollerin’ Goat then in 199, From Senegal to Senatobia, in collaboration with musicians from Africa. Later in life, Turner became best known for his annual goat roast, a tradition still carried on by his family. Turner continued farming and playing his music until he passed away.