Begun by the late Othar Turner, the Rising Star Fife and Drum band is led these days by his granddaughter, Sharde “Fife- mastor” Thomas. Her cousin, Andre Turner Evans, is also a band member. The fife and drum tradition is very old and survives only in some extremely rural northern pockets of the Mississippi “hill country” where it is per- formed at country community picnics.


It draws on the sound of colonial militia fe and drum marching bands as well as African poly-rhythmic syncopation, relying heavily on repeated patterns within the tonal limitations of the fife. The hair-raising, insistently mournful sounds of the Rising Star band have been used in a few Hollywood movie soundtracks, most notably Black Snake Moan and The Gangs of New York (2002), directed by Martin Scorsese, who also included them in his 2003 PBS documentary series, The Blues.


Playing on a homemade cane fife like her grandfather, Sharde has been playing since a small child. At the age of 13 she had the heartbreaking task of leading the 2003 double funeral procession for her grandfather and her mother, who died by coincidence on the same day. Thomas has led the band since that day and has expanded on the tradition by adding to the repertoire.

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