Following the Drums
African American Fife and Drum Music in Tennessee
A recovery and celebration of a once-mighty, now-vanished Tennessee musical legacy
Following the Drums: African American Fife and Drum Music in Tennessee is an epic history of a little-known African American instrumental music form. John M. Shaw follows the music from its roots in West Africa and early American militia drumming to its prominence in African American communities during the time of Reconstruction, both as a rallying tool for political militancy and a community music for funerals, picnics, parades, and dances.
Carefully documenting the music's early uses for commercial advertising and sports promotion, Shaw follows the strands of the music through the nadir of African American history during post-Reconstruction up to the form's rediscovery by musicologists and music researchers during the blues and folk revival of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although these researchers documented the music, and there were a handful of public performances of the music at festivals, the story has a sad conclusion. Fife and drum music ultimately died out in Tennessee during the early 1980s.
Newspaper articles from the period and interviews with music researchers and participants reawaken this lost expression, and specific band leaders receive the spotlight they so long deserved. Following the Drums is a journey through African American history and Tennessee history, with a fascinating form of music powering the story.
"I’ve been searching for a book such as this for years. Following the Drums: African American Fife and Drum Music in Tennessee is valuable reading for those interested in southern and Tennessee history, musicology, and folklore. John M. Shaw offers the most comprehensive treatment solely on the African American fife and drum tradition, outside of Mississippi. "- Jerrilyn McGregory, author of One Grand Noise: Boxing Day in the Anglicized Caribbean World and Downhome Gospel: African American Spiritual Activism in Wiregrass Country
"There is no other book even remotely like John M. Shaw’s. Bolstered by illustrations and musical transcriptions, this book presents significant primary research and exceptionally detailed historical accounts of Black fife and drum bands. "- Kip Lornell, author of Exploring American Folk Music: Ethnic, Grassroots, and Regional Traditions in the United States and coeditor of The Music of Multicultural America: Performance, Identity, and Community in the United States
"John M. Shaw digs deep into primary materials from centuries past to excavate a history never assembled. His work on the Tennessee fife and drum tradition takes us to the political and social occasions that beckoned the musicians, illuminating not only Tennessee but the entire tradition as well—Mississippi, Georgia and other American pockets, and also the international roots as the sounds traveled from Africa. He’ll get you hollerin’ goat!"- Robert Gordon, author of Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters and It Came From Memphis
"This is a remarkable book, and its impressive documentation of newspaper accounts through imagery and expansive citations will be of interest to students of vernacular music and Southern history more generally."- Scott Barretta, Living Blues