A remarkable blind musician who could play fiddle, banjo, guitar, jaw harp, piano, organ, quills, and cane fife, Sid Hemphill was born in Como, Panola County, MS, in 1876. He recorded 22 tracks (plus an interview) for Alan Lomax in Sledge, MS, in 1942, followed by two more tracks recorded 17 years later in Senatobia, MS, when Lomax revisited Hemphill in 1959. Working with a loosely shifting group of local musicians, including banjo player Lucius Smith and guitarist Alex Askew, Hemphill recorded music featuring a merging of West African rhythms with European sensibilities, leading to a wild, loose, and archaic sound that is part Appalachian string band and part fife and drum marching band; there is really nothing quite like it in American music with the possible exception of Othar Turner, who comes from the same Mississippi tradition. One of the songs Hemphill put down for Lomax in 1942, the fiddle classic "The Eighth of January," became the melodic basis for Johnny Horton's hit "The Battle of New Orleans."
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