Alabama Black Belt Blues Documentary Premier
Time & Location
About the Event
Alabama Black Belt Blues, a one-hour documentary produced by One State Films in partnership with Alabama Public Television (APT) will air on APT Friday, October 23 at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday October 25, 2020 at 3 p.m. The film, directed by Alabama filmmaker Robert Clem, is about the state’s African American blues tradition from the days of slavery; through the 1930s and 40s, when John and Alan Lomax were able to record hundreds of songs for the Library of Congress with the aid of Sumter County folklorist Ruby Pickens Tartt; to the present day. Funding for the film has come from the Daniel Foundation of Alabama, Chapman Foundation, Paul & Alma Fischer Education Endowment, Alabama State Council on the Arts and Alabama Humanities Foundation.
The film features a comprehensive mix of Alabama blues musicians including Vera Hall, Dock Reed, Willie King, “Birmingham” George Conner (born and raised in the Black Belt), Candy Martin Shines, Jock Webb, B.J. Reed, Michael Carpenter, Little Lee and the Midnight Band, B.J. Miller, teenage blues phenomenon Nigel Speights, and Alabama Blues Hall of Famers Clarence “Bluesman” Davis, Sam Frazier and Earl “Guitar” Williams. The film includes archival recordings as well as live performances at Black Belt juke joints in Boligee, Panola and Union, Alabama and at the famed Red Wolf Lounge in Birmingham. The film also flashes back to Gip’s Place, the juke joint founded in Bessemer by the late Black Belt native Henry “Gip” Gipson.
Appearing in the film and discussing the state’s blues culture are Tina Naremore Jones, Ph.D, founding director of the Center for the Study of the Black Belt at the University of West Alabama, folklorist Kern Jackson, Ph.D, head of African American studies at the University of South Alabama, Brenda “B.J.” Reed, singer and Director of School Programs of the Alabama Blues Project, Jock Webb, Clarence Davis. Little Lee, B.J. Miller, Roger Stephenson of the Magic City Blues Society and the late Willie King. The film includes archival film of Black Belt Alabama from the 1920s into the early 2000s and stills that include a collection of photos taken in Alabama’s Black Belt in the 1950s by folklorist Fred Ramsey, some of which were included in his book Been Here and Gonebut none have appeared in a documentary film until now.
Producer and director Robert Clem is a native Birmingham, a graduate of Birmingham-Southern College and New York University film school and has been a fellow at the Sundance Institute. Clem has produced eight feature documentaries on Alabama, its history and its culture, including Big Jim Folsom: The Two Faces of Populism (1997), John Patterson: In the Wake of the Assassins (2007), Eugene Walter: Last of the Bohemians (2008), Malbis Plantation (2010)The Jefferson County Sound (2012), The Passion of Miss Augusta (2014) and The Two Worlds of William March (2017). Clem’s most recent film, How They Got Over, documents the history of African-American gospel quartet music, starting with Alabama Blind Boys and other native Alabamians who achieved quartet fame. The film has travelled to 26 countries has been called the “the definitive work” on gospel quartet music and its impact on rock and roll.