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Festival honours Bahamian musical genius
  
Thursday, 05 August 2010 15:35
Geno D was among the artists paying tribute to Joseph Spence.NASSAU, Bahamas -- A rousing tribute to the life and music of Joseph Spence brought Junkanoo Summer Festival 2010 to a close in Nassau on Saturday, July 31st.

Spence, the most established and respected folk singer of The Bahamas, left a legacy of music when he died in 1984 at the age of 73. August 3 marks the 100th anniversary of his birth, making this year most appropriate to dedicate the festival to him, festival organizers pointed out.  The festival tribute included a guitar solo of “Jump In the Line” by guitarist and music producer Fred Ferguson and live radio interviews by announcer Charles Carter from the festival stage.

“He is the iconic guitarist of The Bahamas, isn’t he?” Mr. Carter said to Fred Ferguson immediately after his guitar solo, which also featured a dance by the Bahamas National Dance School.

“It is wonderful thing now that we are finally recognizing that,” Mr. Ferguson replied. “The world knew that before.  Now, finally we in The Bahamas through this event, through your station, through the things we have been doing with Cable Bahamas, the Bahamians are finally recognizing that Joseph Spence is a Bahamian.  He is popular throughout the world.  Everyone else knows him but us. So, hopefully from today on, we will be able to light a spark.”

Legendary Bahamian singer and composer Ronnie Butler identified Mr. Ferguson as the guitarist who comes closest to the guitar style of Mr. Spence, who was known for complex guitar phasing and innovative improvisations.  In music societies, it is said that what Mr. Spence played as a soloist would be difficult for four to 10 guitar players to duplicate.

Mr. Butler also told the Junkanoo Summer audience and radio listeners how Mr. Spence influenced his own life.  He said he lived near to Mr. Spence’s home in the Valley when he was a boy.  He would see the guitarist ride his bike and hail his mother as he rode by.  When he learned to play the guitar, Mr. Butler said, he would try to play like Mr. Spence, but without great success.

The Bahamas National Dance School joined Fred Ferguson in a music and dance performance dedicated to the work and memory of Joseph SpenceHowever, Mr. Spence’s influence is ingrained in much of Mr. Butler’s work. Mr. Butler said he included the famous guitar solo of “Crow Calypso,” also known as “Going Back to the Island,” due to Mr. Spence’s influence on him.

“Really and truly, he had a lot to do with what I am as a musician today because he was the first,” Mr. Butler said.  “I mean George Symonette, Blind Blake and all of them, they came way later.  He was the first one I tried to emulate as a child because I loved him.”

Mr. Spence’s music was recorded in 1958 for the first Smithsonian Folkways LP.  His music remains at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC as a permanent record of his genius.

Meanwhile, elite music scholars around the world have studied and embraced his work. Guitar music publishing giant, MelBay, has released an instructional DVD on how to play the Joseph Spence style.  Taught by Grammy Award winner Elijah Wald, the DVD retails for $29.95.

Photo 1: Geno D was among the artists paying tribute to Joseph Spence.

Photo 2: The Bahamas National Dance School joined Fred Ferguson in a music and dance performance dedicated to the work and memory of Joseph Spence.


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