Feel the Presence: Traditional African American Music in South Carolina

The music on "Feel the Presence" is not exclusively African American. Instead, these forms illustrate the profound influence of African American musicians on the larger music community. This music provides a powerful connection to our past - a stew pot of shared traditions and intertwined styles and sensibilities.

Black folks played mouth harp with white folks, the Grand Ol’ Opry and regional radio filled the airwaves throughout the state, shape-note traditions crossed the racial divide. From Blind Boy Fuller to Chris Bouchillon, bluesmen sang what they lived. Many of these artists are pioneers in their genre and influenced not only a regional and national audience, but an international one as well. From emotional spirituals performed for a congregation of fellow believers to a blues tune picked on a Spartanburg street, the music is passionately intimate.

This is not music to be romanticized - some of the blues musicians on this recording died broken men - penniless. Much of the sacred music is born of heartache - from the indiginities of slavery to the struggles of both white and black sharecroppers on hardscrabble farms. That’s not to say the music can’t be fun. Freddie Vanderford slathers on double entendres like butter on cornbread and Pink Anderson’s music is full of medicine show antics. But above all, the music is powerful and emotional, whether singing in praise or pickin’ in hard luck. There are certainly traditions missing that should be included: banjo, fiddle, jazz, rock & roll, funk, and the list could go on. Several of these talented South Carolinians have passed on. Others continue to perform and provide valuable insight to musical traditions that have long fallen out of popular culture’s collective memory. Not intended to be a polished studio recording, most of this music was recorded where it is normally performed - family rooms, sanctuaries, backyards, and street corners across South Carolina.