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Monday, 29 June 2009

Silvia Got the Blues


 Silvia Serrotti is a beautiful, intelligent and talented young lady who has traveled all the way from Tuscany, Italy, to do field research in visual anthropology for her doctorate from the University of Tuscany. This is her second year for Ph. D. data obtained with video and other means and expects to gather information one more year to complete the requirements for her degree from the University of Tuscany. Her first visit to the United States was in 2005 in New York City’s Hunter College to glean information from printed material for work on her M. A. degree.

 While in the US she met Debbie bond at a festival in Helena, Arkansas, and was invited to a festival in Mobile, AL, and became close friends of Debbie and Willie King and his Liberators band. This association opened her understanding of the speech and language of blues performers and provided depth of knowledge. She considers Debbie and Willie as her major cultural mediators.

 She had set out originally to find the differences between the blues of men versus women. However, her research led to the conclusion that there are no differences. She found that blues was about a sharing of human experiences and passions that were common to both genders and grew out of the hardships and failures presented in life.

 In 2008 she was again in the states and this time acquiring field data for a doctorate. At Willie King’s Freedom Creek Festival way over in Pickens County, AL, she constantly had a video camera in hand recording events happening on stage and sometimes in the audience. My arm would have dropped form the shoulder had I tried to hold it as long as she did. When asked she said she had had practiced in France and that it was a matter of balance. Also, I saw her at the little concerts of the Crème Brulees (Debbie Bond, Rick Asherson and others) outside Mary’s Cakes in Northport doing the same thing. Of course she was accidentally and otherwise in the viewfinder of my camera, too. She was and is still a very interesting subject.

  Currently, Silvia is working with Debbie to organize a database and archive blues men and women from Alabama or who lived and worked in the state a considerable portion of their productive life. At last count there were 381 listings. Debbie has been accumulating information for thirty years so there is much to sort through and still much to find. The database will contain pictures, historical, biographical, and artistic material and will be accessible.

 At the time of my interviews Silvia related that her English improved due to the time spent in the US. Personally, I had no problem in our communication and there was never a time when I wasn’t paying attention. As I told Silvia, her English is much better (1000x) than my Italian that is limited to “pizza” and the names of a few places in Italy such as Athens.

 Until she came to the South Silvia’s understanding was from the movie “Steel Magnolias” that was about some real people with names changed in an old town in Louisiana that I have been to and actually saw about five seconds of it being made as while crossing a bridge. Her understanding is now much better because of the interaction with real people over a period of time conducive to development and continues to grow. I think she is becoming one of us.

 When asked about her desires after graduating and being Dr. Silvia she related that teaching was not what she wanted. It seems that very little or nothing has been written about Alabama blues and thus an opportunity has presented itself. She is such a wonderful person that this is fine with me if it will keep her coming back or maybe staying! I realize that she has a side of herself from her life in Italy that always will be part of her personality and history and rightly so. The greatest benefit of the whole interaction may be the sharing of culture, experiences and ideas.

 One of the discoveries Silvia has made through her research is that the idea of the origin of the blues being in the Delta is a myth. Blues, apparently, grew out of the whole Southeastern Region.

 A key element of Silvia’s research has been involvement. Even though the presence of an investigator itself may change a situation the real understanding comes from being a part and interacting. Being objective in a study of the blues is very limiting. This idea fits in well with my observation of Silvia last year at Willie King’s Freedom Creek Festival when Mudcat was performing. While into a song he jumped down from the low stage and lassoed Silvia with his arms and guitar and continued to play and sing. Of course she was not expecting this but smiled and happily went along with the play and later told me about the value of being involved.

 The interviews often turned into discussions and this pleased Silvia and myself. This is part of how one gets to really know another person. It is the exchange that is important in my opinion. My conclusion is that she is a wonderful person all around.

 In Italy her band in which she is a vocalist is the Vandemars and on YouTube where one can find Silvia singing with her band. When asked if she sings here at first the answer was ”No” because she is not with her band but then after a thoughtful moment she corrected to “Yes.”

 I downloaded a portion of her singing and received a little surprise. She sings in English! When asked about this the explanation was Italian does not lend itself to words with the same meanings as expressed in our English.

 Silvia is a very positive representative of her country and culture and has made and will continue to make contributions to our culture through her research and involvement. She is a treasure!

 Also, I know that Athens is not in Italy. It’s in Georgia and I think there is one in Alabama, too. Maybe I should explore that.


Jerome Adams

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