Friday, February 23, 2007

Lemuel Sheppard

Tonight Greg and I went to see Lemuel Sheppard at the Flag Theatre in Hutchinson, Kansas. He was here as part of the Gordon Parks events in conjunction with the state reading, "The Learning Tree."

Sheppard did a fantastic job of weaving together poems, information and song. It was a really interesting evening.

Sometimes when you go to events like this they're fabulous - like tonight. Other times they end up being a scholar reading the equivalent of a term paper to you, and not with much feeling.

Sheppard had the perfect blend. I could have listened to him for another hour or two, which is something for me. I tend to get pretty fidgety pretty quickly. To top it off he was very personable, which is not always to be expected either.

He had a Langston Hughes poem set to music that I just loved:

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow
of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went
down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn
all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

-- Langston Hughes

Being a person of rivers, myself, I love that poem. (

I must read more Langston Hughes - I have obviously missed some spectacular writing. I used to have a copy of Harlem Sweeties on my bulletin board where I saw it every day. The first time I heard it outloud was when I saw Maya Angelou speak, so whenever I read it I hear it in her voice, which is an incredible gift.

Excerpted from Sheppard's website (

Lemuel Sheppard is a folk musician who has gained a reputation as an authority on African-American folk music. He feels his cultural heritage is his greatest asset as a performer.

Lemuel began playing guitar at the age of nine in Kansas City's rich jazz and blues atmosphere. The self-taught guitarist developed many natural abilities to perform this music. Lemuel is not only an interpreter of African-American folk music, but composes much of his own repertoire. Lemuel states, "So much of the blues is about personal expression, an artist should be able to connect with the audience and share something about their life and time."

In 1999, Lemuel Sheppard was nominated by a congressional committee to represent the state of Kansas in a solo performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. That performance was presented live over the Internet and can still be viewed there on the Kennedy Center's Web Page.

Lemuel prefers to define some performances as "short-term diplomatic duties." Whether one is representing a discipline, one's background and training, or a presenter, the audience should leave with an understanding of the kind of artist one is, as well as be entertained.

The U.S. Embassy in Brazil referred to Lemuel as "the perfect touring artist...talented, flexible, interested in the local culture, and knowledgeable of his own." The Eisteddfod International Music Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa, referred to Lemuel (the first American to perform there) as an example of inter-cultural relations.

Another song he did tonight was "Sunny Kansas," a tune I've never heard, despite living here more than 20 years. You learn something new every day and if I had 11 Rules for Living instead of only 10, that would be one of them.