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Smithsonian Institution
Southern FusionAmericans Old and NewMidwestern CrossroadsSouthern FusionLouisiana, Where Music is King
Memphis Community Music

 
All the recorded music in the world, and all the professionally performed music, is only the tip of a huge iceberg. Real folk music, the music people make among themselves, is still alive in every schoolyard. In Memphis, little girls play clapping and jump-roping games, singing rhymes to keep time that have been passed down for generations and continue to evolve. A game that a hundred years ago might have been a contest to name different kinds of animals is now a game of naming TV stars, but the spirit of the songs is unchanged. At the Georgia Avenue Elementary School, a group of kids, both girls and boys, showed off their skills in double-dutch jump-roping and clapping games.
       The street and playground traditions have also been formalized into more involved displays. At the Katie Sexton Community Center, a drill team performed its intricate formation marching. The girls, in black and gold, brightly-sequined costumes, twisted, bent, kicked and turned, accompanied by a band of teenage guys beating out complex polyrhythms on a variety of drums.
       A few more years, and it is the men's turn to show off. During the spring rush at the University of Memphis, fraternities vie for new pledges, and one of the most potent advertisements is a hot team of "steppers." This year, the Kappa Alpha Psi steppers trump the competition by arriving on the campus in a helicopter. Jumping out, they go into their routine, rapping out rhymes while they dance in tight choreography, executing flashy maneuvers with their canes. Students crowd around, shouting encouragement, and admiring the slick stylings.

 
 

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