“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Como in Panola County, Mississippi — The American South (East South Central)

Napolian Strickland

Napolian Strickland Marker (Front) image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, April 8, 2017
1. Napolian Strickland Marker (Front)
Inscription. Click to hear the inscription.  
Napolian Strickland (1924-2001) was one of Mississippi's most gifted musicians in the fife and drum and country blues traditions. A lifelong resident of the Como-Senatobia area, Strickland excelled on the homemade cane fife and was also proficient on harmonica, guitar, the one-string "diddley bow," and various percussion instruments. Strickland's music was the highlight of countless fife and drum picnics in this area, and he was featured in several documentaries and recording projects.

Napolian Strickland was Mississippi's most in-demand fife player for several decades, regularly called upon to entertain at hill country picnics and sought out by folklorists eager to film and record his captivating performances. Strickland made his first recordings in 1967 for George Mitchell and later recorded for David Evans, Bill Ferris, Chris Strachwitz and Alan Lomax, all prominent folklorists or producers. In 1978 Lomax–who had earlier recorded local fife players Sid Hemphill (1942) and Ed Young (1959)–filmed Strickland for the documentary The Land Where the Blues Began and later
Napolian Strickland Marker (Rear) image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, April 8, 2017
2. Napolian Strickland Marker (Rear)
devoted several pages to him in the book of the same name. Strickland's recordings appeared on the Arhoolie, Testament, Blue Thumb, Southern Culture, and Library of Congress labels, among others. The first band Strickland joined was Otha Turner's. Turner appeared as a drummer on several of Strickland's records and later became the area's most celebrated fife player and picnic host.

Strickland, who was born a few miles east of Como, recalled learning fife on his own, blowing the instrument while walking up and down country roads. He was reportedly inspired by a fife player who played with drummer John Tyler's group in Sardis. Strickland also talked of learning to play music by following his grandfather's instructions to sit on a grave in a cemetery at midnight. Strickland enlivened picnics both with his fife, leading a procession of drummers through the crowds, and with his uninhibited moves. The picnics included reunions, family gatherings, church socials, and celebrations sponsored by local farmers and businesses. Strickland did farm work for most of his life, often living with and working alongside his mother, Dora Tuggle, and occasionally traveling to play at festivals. Sometimes described as a savant, he went to the fourth grade in school, according to census records. Although different birth dates have been cited, including 1919 in Social Security files, his birth
Closeup of photos on reverse side. image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, April 8, 2017
3. Closeup of photos on reverse side.
certificate was dated October 6, 1924. His first name was spelled several different ways in official records, as was that of his grandfather, Napoleon Wilford, but family sources rendered it as Napolian at his funeral. Strickland lived in a convalescent home in his final years and died at North Oak Regional Medical Center in Senatobia on July 21, 2001. Several events have been held in his honor in Como, including Napoleon Strickland Day, organized by Julius Harris and Beverly Findley.

Among the musicians who worked often with Strickland and Turner was R. L. Boyce (b. August 15, 1955). Boyce played drums on recording sessions with other artists, including Jessie Mae Hemphill, and recorded on his own singing and playing guitar. Other Como fife players have included John Bowden (1903-2000), who inspired Turner, and Willie Hurt. R&B singer Joe Henderson lived on the Hayes plantation, southwest of Sardis, as did guitarist Lester “Big Daddy” Kinsey and banjoist Lucius Smith. Henderson and Kinsey both moved to Gary, Indiana. Henderson (1937-1964), a Como native, recorded the Top Ten hit “Snap Your Fingers” in 1962.
Erected 2013 by the Mississippi Blues Commission. (Marker Number 172.)
Marker series. This marker is included in the Mississippi Blues Trail marker series.
View of marker in median of Main Street. image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, April 8, 2017
4. View of marker in median of Main Street.
The Historic Como City Hall building, on the right, is being renovated.
34° 30.734′ N, 89° 56.478′ W. Marker is in Como, Mississippi, in Panola County. Marker is on Main Street 0.1 miles north of East Oak Street (State Route 310), in the median. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 203 Main Street, Como MS 38619, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 8 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Mississippi Fred McDowell (within shouting distance of this marker); Otha Turner (within shouting distance of this marker); Como (about 700 feet away, measured in a direct line); Sardis (approx. 5.4 miles away); Jessie Mae Hemphill (approx. 5.8 miles away); Bethesda Cemetery (approx. 7.1 miles away); Tate County World War I Memorial (approx. 7.1 miles away); Senatobia (approx. 7 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Como.
Also see . . .  Wikipedia article on Napolian Strickland. (Submitted on April 17, 2017, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.)
Categories. African AmericansArts, Letters, MusicEntertainment
Credits. This page was last revised on April 21, 2017. This page originally submitted on April 17, 2017, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. This page has been viewed 156 times since then and 10 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on April 17, 2017, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.
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