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James, Skip  

Bill McCulloch and Barry Lee Pearson

blues artist, was born Nehemiah James in Yazoo County, outside Bentonia, Mississippi, the son of Eddie James and Phyllis Jones. His father, reputed to be a musician and a bootlegger, moved north to Sidon, near Greenwood, to evade the law, leaving Skip with his mother on the Woodbine plantation, where she worked as a cook. After an attempt to reunite the family in Sidon failed, Skip and his mother returned to Bentonia, where he attended St. Paul School and Yazoo High School. At the age of eight or nine, inspired by local musicians—particularly the guitarist Henry Stuckey—Skip persuaded his mother to buy him a guitar. At the age of twelve he took one piano lesson from a cousin. Unable to pay for more lessons, he continued learning on an organ owned by an aunt.

After dropping out of high school at about age fifteen James went to ...

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Reagon, Bernice Johnson  

Joan F. McCarty

musician, social activist, songtalker, and scholar, was born Bernice Johnson in Albany, Georgia, the daughter of a Baptist minister, the Reverend Jessie Johnson, and a homemaker, Beatrice Johnson. Johnson was steeped in the traditions and culture of the southwestern Georgia community surrounding Mt. Early Baptist Church. Her home church did not have a piano for many years, so she honed her a cappella vocal skills in the school and church choir.

After graduating from high school, she auditioned for the music program at Albany State College and was accepted, enrolling in 1959 as music major. While in college, she served as the secretary of the youth division of the NAACP and became more deeply drawn into the civil rights struggle. Reagon began to attend meetings of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the city and eventually formed a bond with Cordell Reagon ...

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Reagon, Bernice Johnson  

Sowande' Mustakeem

Undoubtedly one of the few professors of history to have a second career as a singer-songwriter, Bernice Johnson Reagon continues to focus her work on sharing the historical legacy of the African American experience amid the relentless quest for freedom and justice within America.

Reagon was born in Albany, Georgia, one of eight children of Jessie Johnson, a carpenter, and Beatrice Johnson, a housekeeper. On days off from her housekeeping job, Beatrice Johnson picked cotton. Jessie Johnson served onSundays as minister at four different rural Baptist churches. Reagon’s musical foundation was largely shaped by the influence of the southwestern Georgia choral tradition in her father’s church, which was part of a tradition dating back to the nineteenth century. Reagon entered Albany State College in 1959 where she studied Italian arias and German lieder as a contralto soloist During this time she became active in the civil ...