Published on : Friday, October 11, 2013
On Saturday, October 12, the Mississippi Blues Trail will erect its newest marker in honor of bluesman Napolian Strickland. The 172nd marker unveiling is scheduled for 2 p.m. at 203 North Main Street in Como, Miss.
A lifelong resident of the Como-Senatobia area, Strickland excelled on the homemade cane fife and was also proficient on harmonica, guitar, the one-string “diddley bow” and various
percussion instruments. Strickland’s music was the highlight of countless fife and drum picnics in the hill country area and he was featured in several documentaries and recording projects. The blues trail marker will be installed during the All Our Friends Hill Country Blues Celebration, which will feature performances by local musicians and a presentation by folklorist George Mitchell, who produced Strickland’s first recordings in 1967.
Strickland was subsequently recorded by several other prominent folklorists, including Alan Lomax, Bill Ferris and David Evans. His friend and elder, Otha Turner, was also a fife player but often played a drum on Napolian’s recordings. After Strickland’s health failed in the 1990s, Turner became the best known fife player, famed for his family picnics. Turner also has a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail in Como.
Panola and Tate Counties have long been the most important center of African American fife and drum activity, a tradition that predates the blues. Many historians believe that local musicians picked up discarded military drums after the Civil War and developed the unique fife and drum style, which has often been likened to African music. The leading fife players in the area have included Sid Hemphill (grandfather of blueswoman Jessie Mae Hemphill, another Mississippi Blues Trail honoree), Ed Young, Strickland, Turner and Turner’s granddaughter, Sharde Thomas.
Strickland, whose first name was spelled several different ways in official records, was born in the Gravel Springs community on October 6, 1924, and died at North Oak Regional Medical Center in Senatobia on July 21, 2001. The town of Como has held several events in his honor over the years.
With over 170 markers, the Mississippi Blues Trail, a program of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Tourism Division, is a museum without walls taking visitors on a musical history journey through Mississippi and beyond. The trail started with the first official marker in Holly Ridge, the resting place of the blues guitarist Charley Patton, and winds its way to sites honoring B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Son House and others. Out-of-state markers are located in Chicago; Memphis; Los Angeles; Muscle Shoals, Alabama; Ferriday, Louisiana; Helena, Arkansas; Rockland, Maine; Grafton, Wisconsin; and Tallahassee, Florida. The first international marker was erected in Notodden, Norway in 2012.