Performers for the 2018 National Folk Festival
Phil Wiggins Blues House Party
photo credit: Michael G. Stewart
The blues of the Piedmont, the hilly region stretching from Georgia to the Chesapeake, is one of the oldest forms of the blues. It draws heavily on earlier fiddle and banjo string band music that served as a staple at country parties, hoedowns, and square dances. While country blues began as dance music, it is today most often heard in concert settings. In Phil Wiggins Blues House Party, a delightful trio led by blues harmonica master Phil Wiggins joins up with dance virtuoso Junious Brickhouse to celebrate this tradition and “reconnect the dance with the dance music.”
Phil Wiggins is one of the nation’s foremost players of acoustic blues harmonica. A native of Washington, D.C., his playing is rooted in the melodic Piedmont blues of the Chesapeake region. Wiggins spent childhood summers at his grandmother’s house in Alabama, where in church he absorbed the sounds of traditional call-and-response hymn singing. Attracted to blues harmonica as a young man, he began his performing career with some of Washington, D.C.’s leading blues artists, including guitarists Archie Edwards and John Jackson, and slide guitarist and gospel singer Flora Molton. In 1976 Phil met and teamed up with the late guitarist and singer John Cephas. In their 32 years together, they achieved worldwide fame as the premier Piedmont blues duo, Cephas & Wiggins. Phil is a two-time winner of the prestigious W.C. Handy Award. He regularly ranks among the world’s top harmonica players in both Reader and Critics’ polls by Living Blues magazine. In 2017, Phil received an NEA National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.
The man who brings the dance back to the house party is the incomparable Junious Brickhouse. Growing up in Virginia Beach, he was introduced to country dance traditions at house parties he attended throughout Virginia’s Tidewater region. He is founder and executive director of Urban Artistry in D.C.’s Ward 7, an organization “dedicated to the performance and preservation of art forms inspired by the urban experience.” In 2009, the Maryland State Arts Council recognized him as a Master Artist teaching urban dance traditions. Resurrecting the dances of the country blues house party has involved personal memory, research, and intuition. Because such dances were not well documented, Brickhouse studied with older Piedmont dancers like Williette Hinton and John Dee Holeman, as well as relying on the traditional skill of listening and responding organically to the music.
Joining Phil and Junious are guitarist Rick Franklin and fiddler Marcus Moore. Since the passing of elder statesmen like Cephas, Jackson, and Edwards, Franklin has become a standard bearer for the Piedmont blues. A classical and jazz violinist by training, Alabama native Moore was inspired by his father to study the black string band tradition. Now a fine blues fiddler, he met Wiggins at a jam session at Archie Edwards’s famed barbershop.
Piedmont blues and dance
Takoma Park, Maryland