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December 4, 2023

Film by SFC Professor Premieres

Booker T. Washington White and Jimmy Crosthwait
Booker T. Washington White and Jimmy Crosthwait perform at a Memphis Country Blues Festival.

The Blues Society — a film directed by Augusta Palmer, associate professor and chair of the Media and Communication Department at St. Francis College (SFC) — premiered on October 29 at the Indie Memphis Film Festival, where it was an official selection, screened to a packed house and won the audience award in its category.

Dr. Palmer’s feature-length documentary tells the story of the Memphis Country Blues Festival, following its start in 1966 as an impromptu happening up to the 1969 festival, which evolved into a three-day event that garnered national print and television coverage.

The film features blues masters such as Furry Lewis and Robert T. Wilkins, who had attained fame in the 1920s but were living in relative obscurity by the 1960s. Their work inspired the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and generations of other rock musicians. Festival organizers, including Palmer’s father, Robert Palmer, wanted to celebrate and learn from Lewis, Wilkins and other blues legends.

The Blues Society is also the story of a group of white artists, from both the North and South, who created a celebration of African American music in a highly segregated city. The documentary weaves together performances with animation, archival images and diverse musical and spoken voices.

“We filmed over 40 hours of interviews with performers, participants and scholars and spent months in the edit room to bring this film to fruition,” said Palmer. “The film encourages viewers to ask questions about race, music and American culture.” Watch the trailer here.

The Blues Society’s Indie Memphis debut was covered in Rolling Stone, and the film was named one of the festival’s highlights by MovieMaker magazine. Early next year, on January 26, the film will be the opening-night selection of the Spring 2024 New Jersey Film Festival at Rutgers University.

Indie Memphis Film Festival
Dr. Augusta Palmer (far left) at the Indie Memphis Film Festival

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