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Augusta Palmer

Augusta Palmer is a filmmaker and scholar known for The Hand of Fatima (2009), a feature documentary about music, mysticism, and family history. Her fiction short “A is for Aye-Aye” (2015) played in festivals from New Zealand to New York. She is at work on a new documentary, The Blues Society, about the Memphis Country Blues Festivals (1966-1970). She is an Assistant Professor of Communication Arts at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, New York.

"The Umbrella Girl: Women on Stage and Behind the Scenes at the Memphis Country Blues Festivals"
This paper examines the role played by women in the Memphis Country Blues Festivals of the 1960s. Immortalized by Stanley Booth in articles in Rolling Stone and Robert Gordon’s It Came from Memphis, the Memphis Country Blues Festivals (1966-70) changed the way Memphis thought about its biggest natural resource, blues music. Starting out with a ball of hash from Bill Barth and a session check from Jim Dickinson, these improvisatory events celebrated Furry Lewis, Gus Cannon, Bukka White, Mississippi Fred McDowell and other blues men at the public band shell in Memphis’ Overton Park, which had never been an integrated space.  From small beginnings, the festival, whose organizers included Deep Blues author Robert Palmer, grew to attract a national press coverage and was recorded by Sire Records in 1968 and featured on The Sounds of the Summer, a national show on a nascent PBS hosted by Steve Allen, in 1969.

Though the historical record emphasizes the role played by young white men and their black male blues idols, women played a vital role in creating the festivals, filling roles ranging from trickster muse to managerial mastermind. Only one woman, Jo Ann Kelly, is known to have played at the festivals; and she, too, is given short shrift in written accounts, though her deeply held admiration for Memphis Minnie was a key factor in bringing her to the festival. The blues festivals themselves can be understood as a queer space where societal values about race and social mores were overturned, their history has often reified a patriarchal vision of blues history. Archival footage and interviews from the women involved – including music executive Nancy Jeffries, Memphis “It” Girl Marcia Hare, Mary Lindsay Dickinson, and others – this paper will re-envision that history from an intersectional perspective.