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Abner Jay

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I’ve specifically tried to avoid posting anything regarding music because there are so many good (and a few great) blogs focusing on pretty much every aspect of it. That said, I can’t help but dedicate some space to the criminally underrated Abner Jay.

Here’s a pastiche biography I edited/pieced together: The archaic Abner Jay from Fitzgerald, Georgia described himself as ‘the last great Southern black minstrel show.’ Jay learned most of his banjo and old-time songs from his grandfather, who had been a slave in Washington County, Georgia.

The trajectory of black gospel folk is complex. There’s the first level of European Americans recognizing the creativity in the slave quarters as an attractive component for assimilation; secondly, there would be the response from the African American community that would mimic the mimickers; and last, there would be a contingent of African American musicians who would seek to parlay that polarity — that is to say, to take the original and dynamic components of that experience, and attempt to do create something original out of it. Abner Jay falls into the last group. For over fifty years Abner was a one-man band. In addition to the six string banjo he played the old swamp style guitar, harmonica, bass drum, cymbals and sang — all at the same time. He went on to lead the WMAZ Minstrels on Macon radio from 1946-56 before going solo and touring the country in his portable log cabin, complete with its own PA system.

Jay claims the secret to his good health was “layin’ on [his] belly drinkin’ water from that ol’ Swaunee River”.

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