What are we talking about when we talk about soul? When the late great Ray Charles sang “I believe to my soul,” we intuitively sense that he is talking about something even beyond a kind of rational certainty. We know he is speaking of the deepest, most core part of himself located somewhere beyond the mind and the heart. When we describe a musical performance as “soulful,” we are speaking about that almost indescribable moment when a singer becomes the song, when a teller becomes the tale—when artifice and inhibitions recede and we know we are witnessing something profoundly real. When we speak of “Soul Food,” we mean something that provides a deeper level of nourishment than can be measured in nutrients or calories alone. Soul food gives us strength but it also offers us comfort, lifts our spirits, gives us pause and gratitude. In these troubling times, we believe we all could use a little feeding of our souls, and the Virginia Folklife Program intends to feed yours generously from our diverse Commonwealth’s bountiful cultural landscape.
When it comes to Soul Music, the Virginia Folklife Stage will be serving it up in ample supplies, starting with perhaps Richmond’s greatest secret, Southern Soul legend Big G (pictured at right). Also appearing: Sherman Holmes, the incomparable surviving member of Virginia’s beloved National Heritage Fellowship-winning trio, the Holmes Brothers, with his new bluegrass, gospel, and soul group called the Sherman Holmes Project. We dish out heavy helpings of soul in the stirring gospel voices of Richmond’s own Legendary Ingramettes and Cora Harvey Armstrong. And while “soul” is often used to describe the myriad variety of African American expressive traditions, we know too that soul speaks in many ways. There is deep, undeniable soul in the renditions of generations-old Sephardic Jewish ballads lovingly carried across the Atlantic by Flory Jagoda’s apprentice Susan Gaeta and Susan’s apprentice Gina Sobel, or in the longing, resilient, feisty, and gritty songs of remarkable Virginia women songwriters like Telisha Williams and Laura Leigh Jones, or in the soaring Hindustani ragas of the young Ved Sheth, or in the hair-raising Old Regular Baptist hymns of the amazing Frank Newsome, sung as if delivered straight from the soul through fire and coal dust. And there is deep soul in the instruments as well, from the gut strings of Griot Chieck Hamala’s n’goni to Sammy Shelor’s 5-string banjo. All this and more will be offered on the Virginia Folklife Stage—from our souls to yours.
And in response to your insatiable appetites from last year’s “Tasty Licks,” we will once again be literally feeding your souls as well, showcasing the diverse foodways of Virginia, and presenting some of its greatest practitioners. Our focus will not be on professional chefs and restaurateurs, but rather those “home cooks” who are revered in their own communities. Throughout the weekend, we will be hosting cooking demonstrations that speak to the remarkable diversity of the Commonwealth, showcasing foodways both old and new to Virginia. From a backstage peek of Croaker’s Spot to a bird’s eye view of the Brunswick Stew pot, audiences will get to learn family-held recipes, share in closely-guarded kitchen secrets, and yes, taste the results.
We promise you won’t go home hungry.
About the Virginia Folklife Program
The Virginia Folklife Program, a public program of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, is the state center for the documentation, presentation, and support of Virginia’s rich cultural heritage. Whether sung or told, hand-crafted or performed, Virginia’s rich folklife refers to those “arts of everyday life” that reflect a sense of traditional knowledge and connection to community. Visit VirginiaFolklife.org for more information.
About the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
Virginia Foundation for the Humanities connects people and ideas to explore the human experience and inspire cultural engagement. VFH, established in 1974, encourages discovery and connection through the humanities by supporting and producing programs for a wide public audience. For more information about VFH, visit VirginiaHumanities.org.