About 30 years ago, Tennessee folklorists began making a concerted effort to find overlooked artists and musicians. Those recordings have recently been digitized, and they include Emmanuel Dupree, an expert basket weaver and keeper of a rare musical style.
He was part of a traditional African-American fife-and-drum band in Fayette County, near Memphis. The group gained national attention and a 1980 field recording session that’s now kept in the state archives.
Folklorists say this style loosely follows Civil War-era militia bands.
And in a rendition of the song “Mean Old Frisco,” Dupree weaves together blues singing with his fife; it’s a standout track among what is typically either instrumental music or standalone vocal performances.
In accompanying interviews, Dupree and his crew also detail how the tradition survived largely through families passing on the form from one generation to the next.