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TV Series

Radio Series

Radio Series Summaries

The Mississippi: River of Song radio programs will be released for broadcast in January, in time for cross promotion with the four television programs, scheduled by PBS for consecutive Wednesdays in January.

The seven one-hour radio programs are:

1. Land of Lakes and Cultures
(ethnic traditions, folk, alternative rock, gospel)

The mighty Mississippi starts as a trickle in Northern Minnesota then winds by 300 miles of Minnesota fields, forests and skyscrapers. Nowhere on its run to the Gulf is the terrain so varied. Same with the music. We'll hear the songs of Minnesota's first people, the Ojibwe Indians, then those of the immigrants to this wintry state: Scandinavian fiddlers, a Laotian flutist, and heat things up with the power house gospel of Sounds of Blackness, and alternative rockers Soul Asylum.
  • Chippewa Nation: Minnesota Ojibwe drummers perform at a pow-wow in Inger
  • Skål Club Spelmanslag: Scandinavian fiddlers in Brainerd gather for a livingroom session
  • Hmong Cultural Center: St. Paul children learn to play and dance with traditional instruments
  • Spider John Koerner: a Minneapolis folk legend is joined at a local bar by an all-star line-up
  • Babes in Toyland: the all-woman Minneapolis band performs their bone-jarring punk for fans
  • Soul Asylum: the hit-making Twin Cities rock band rehearses in their warehouse loft
  • Sounds of Blackness: a Minneapolis studio rehearsal ranges from spirituals to soul dance numbers
2. Midwestern Crossroads
Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin
(jazz, bluegrass, folk, polka)

John Hartford picks one of the meanest banjos in the business. He's also a licensed riverboat pilot who has picked his way through the Mississippi's tricky sand bars and shoals for 25 years--never so at home as in his boat's pilot house. This program celebrates musicians who could live anywhere but who call the river and their small towns home. Young and old alike gather at lively bluegrass and polka festivals where music is heard on stage and in campsites late into the night.
  • Manny Lopez: a Davenport, Iowa trumpet player and his son carry on local jazz traditions
  • The Bob Lewis Family: a family ensemble plays at a bluegrass festival in Hillsboro, Illinois
  • John Hartford: the folk musician pilots a riverboat and performs for passengers
  • Greg Brown: the Iowa City folk artist plays his homespun songs in his livingroom
  • Karl Hartwich: a concertina player leads his band at a polka festival in Fountain City, Wisconsin
3. Sounds Around St. Louis
Missouri, Kentucky
(blues, R & B, gospel, country, African drumming)

"This is fly-over land," says country rocker Brian Henneman of the Bottle Rockets from Festus, Missouri. He likes it that way. We'll hang out with the loud band from a little river town. Then on to East St. Louis where Eugene Redmond's poetry pulses to the rhythm of West African drums. Across the river is Oliver Sain and his smoking sax and Fontella Bass whose gospel voice will stop you dead in your tracks.
  • Oliver Sain: a St. Louis producer and performer is honored by local R&B musicians
  • Fontella and Martha Bass: the St. Louis soul artist joins her mother to sing traditional gospel
  • Boundless Love: a gospel quartet in La Center, Kentucky performs in a rural church
  • Bottle Rockets: a Festus, Missouri band performs their brand of rootsy country rock
  • Eugene Redmond: the East St. Louis poet is backed by an African drumming group
4. Memphis Rhythm and Delta Blues
Memphis, Mississippi
(soul, gospel)

Beale Street was where it all happened back in the '30s and '40s, blues, jazz, gambling, bootleg liquor. Rufus Thomas was there and has he got stories to tell! In the '60s Stax records kicked out hit after hit; the Memphis Horns were and still are studio giants. A visit to a recording session reveals their creative process and signature sound. We'll head south along the dusty roads and the cotton fields of the Delta and encounter the contemporary blues of Little Milton, fresh from a Vegas gig, and Big Jack Johnson who rocks the juke joint at the Bobo Corner Store.
  • Ann Peebles & the Memphis Horns: the Memphis soul queen records a session with the definitive studio duo
  • Rufus Thomas: the soul artist and "Dean of Beale Street" demonstrates the Memphis sound
  • Jack Johnson: the blues guitarist plays at a juke joint and in his yard in Clarksdale, Mississippi
  • Johnnie Billington: on his porch in Clarksdale, the musician teaches kids the classic blues
  • Little Milton: the Greenville, Mississippi native leads his soul-blues band at a local bar
5. Rockin' Round the Water
Arkansas, Mississippi
(blues, gospel)

This steamy stretch of Arkansas and Mississippi is Elvis country. Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Louis got their starts here too, and now Sonny Burgess keeps the rockabilly soul alive and well. Levon Helm from The Band packs them in on a river boat and the powerful 100 voice Mississippi Mass Choir make joyful noise to the Lord.
  • Robert Lockwood, Jr.: Robert Johnson's stepson plays the Delta blues in Helena, Arkansas
  • Levon Helm: the drummer of The Band plays a midnight ramble with James in Helena, Arkansas
  • Sonny Burgess: an Arkansas rockabilly artist performs at a roadhouse in Switfton
  • Mississippi Mass Choir: 100 voices make a heart-stopping sound at a church in Jackson
6. Musical Bayous and Traditional Melodies
(country, zydeco, Cajun)

Louisiana's swampy bayous fill the night with the sounds of bull frogs, the old time Cajun music of D.L. Menard and Christine Balfa and the zydeco accordion of Geno Delafose. Jimmie Davis, the 98-year-young former Louisiana governor, chimes in with Merle Haggard for the singing governor's greatest hit "You Are My Sunshine." Then its down to Delaxcroix Island at the Mississippi's mouth where Canary Islanders settled 200 years ago and where today their descendants trap, and fish and write ballads in the old tradition.
  • Kenny Bill Stinson: a guitarist from Monroe, Louisiana blends blues, country, folk and rock
  • Geno Delafose: an accordionist and singer from Eunice, Louisiana fronts his zydeco band
  • D.L. Menard: "The Cajun Hank Williams" hosts a backyard dance at home in Erath, Louisiana
  • Gov. Jimmie Davis: at his 98th birthday party in Baton Rouge, the country music legend sings with Merle Haggard
  • Irvan Perez: near Delacoix Island, a fisherman sings haunting ballads from the Canary Islands
7. The Beat of New Orleans
New Orleans
(R & B, folk, brass)

School kids carry their books under one arm and trumpets under the other parading through legendary Treme District where jazz greats pumped out the New Orleans' sound. In the Funky Butt bar, a drink will buy you the chance to sample the rhythm and harmony variations of jazz piano man Henry Butler. Out on the street, musicians David and Roselyn entertain with songs of voodoo culture and local color. And the burgeoning Soul Rebels dream of topping the charts as their brass band fuses classical and contemporary, Louis Armstrong and Puff Daddy.
  • Henry Butler: at an outdoor stage and a private club, the pianist plays a range of R&B and jazz
  • Eddie Bo: the legendary R&B singer performs with his band at a club in the French Quarter
  • David and Roselyn: the veteran street musicians play multiple instruments for passing crowds
  • Treme Brass Band: older musicians join with a younger generation in a classic marching band
  • Soul Rebels: on the streets and in a club, a fiery modern brass band draws on reggae and rap
  • Irma Thomas: the city's best-known female vocalist leads her band through a hot R&B set

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