Tag Archives: Black History Month

Bill Moore – Tidewater Musician

Both Warsaw and Tappahannock can claim a little piece of Bill Moore’s fame.

Born in Georgia, William “Bill” Moore was a barber and farmer in Tappahannock, although he also worked across the Rappahannock River in Warsaw in Richmond County.

The following biography by Eugene Chadbourne gives a good look into the life and career of Bill Moore.

Bill Moore
Bill Moore

Half of the recordings done by this artist may have gone the way of Jimmy Hoffa’s corpse, but the eight tracks that were released in the late ’20s and subsequently reissued time and time again easily maintain the reputation of William “Bill” Moore as an elite country blues multi-instrumentalist in the elaborate syncopated East Coast blues or Piedmont blues style. There is also a blues conspiracy theory in which two different people named William Moore actually created the body of work more often attributed to one, yet even in this case the instrumental dexterity of half of them is never questioned.

Historic marker in Tappahannock, VA
Historic marker in Tappahannock, VA

In the ’20s and ’30s, many commercial record labels looked for country blues and classic blues artists to make recordings with. Representation was light on the southeastern seaboard in comparison with other areas of the nation such as Appalachia or the Mississippi Delta. Moore hailed from the so-called tidewater area of Tappahannock, VA, and was enlisted by Paramount in 1928, the project involving his traveling to Chicago in a frozen and frosted January for a single recording session. This event stood in contrast to Moore‘s normal life; he ran several barbershops, the inspiration for his brilliant “Barbershop Rag,” and also made some income as a farmer.

Moore made the most out of his face-off with a microphone: even the most dogmatic of Delta blues devotees will admit that his music is an instance where it is actually worthwhile moving the phonograph out of the cotton fields. Like his contemporaries in the Deep South, Moore‘s performing circuit consisted of events such as house parties, fish fries, and community dances, his repertoire a mixture of traditional songs and ragtime material. Some of the music he performed came out of the minstrel scene, including a pair of ditties written by Irving Jones, a late-19th century black composer and entertainer. Moore‘s abilities on piano, guitar, and fiddle were impressive.

Moore relocated to Warrenton, VA, following the Second World War, remaining there until he died of a heart attack in the early ’50s.

Sherwood Cemetery is the local spot for blues fans to pay their respect to the artist whose initial series of 78s was released first under the name of William Moore, then Bill Moore. This detail along with concerns about vocal styles and what might be simple bookkeeping errors — one of the recorded titles was copyrighted under the names Moore and Williams rather than just plain William Moore — all gave rise to the theory that these were two, two, bluesmen in one.

Ragtime CrazyOnly a collection released by Document entitled Ragtime Blues Guitar (1927-1930) contains all the existing material attributed to Moore. On this and all other sets featuring his material, tracks by similar stylists are also featured, including Blind Blake, one of Moore‘s major influences. Minneapolis traditional blues performer Dave “Snaker” Ray recorded a piece entitled “Rappahannock” for which Moore receives songwriting credit; it is actually a reworking of motifs from Moore‘s recordings, but is not actually one of the titles originally released under his name.

To purchase and download the songs of Bill Moore, visit this link:  http://www.folkways.si.edu/virginia-traditions-tidewater-blues/african-american-folk/music/album/smithsonian

Uncovering History – Tracing the Gordon Family Roots

by Alice French, Menokin Education Coordinator

It’s funny when you work at an historical site how people always assume that because it’s old, all of its past is known and there is nothing new to discover.  Of course, we are famous at Menokin for disproving that year after year and this past year we again learned something new about the people who lived here.

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A few years back, I visited a local senior living facility in Richmond County to give a presentation on Menokin and spoke about how we tell stories. I was interested in developing an oral history program related to our county’s past, and I was looking for a place to begin.  After chatting with the group for a bit, one of the women told us she thought her grandfather, Daniel Gordon, was born a slave at Menokin and then freed under the Emancipation Act.  She is his granddaughter, Evelyn Gordon Parker, still a Richmond County resident, who also writes for the Northern Neck News.  Wow, I thought.  How amazing is that?   She told me she had visited Menokin once before, and a few weeks later, returned with some photographs of her family, including one of her grandfather and grandmother.

Back row: Gordon girls: Elsie, ?, Cornelia, and cousin Margaret Saunders; Front row: Daniel Gordon and wife Maria Wright Gordon

This past winter, I visited with Evelyn and her sister, Juanita Gordon Wells to record and document some of their memories.  Her grandfather has an amazing story, which I shall wait to share in a later post.  But for now, I think the other really cool thing is how we learn about our past.  This man raised his family with very strong values of faith, family and education.  Over the years, the pride and strength of these values were instilled in one generation after another.  And sometimes there are parts of history that are known better within families through oral traditions than are found in courthouse records.  In 2011, The Gordons published a cookbook, recounting their early roots as well as family recipes.

Interviewing Gordon family sisters.
Interviewing Gordon family sisters.

Evelyn’s brother, Thomas Daniel Gordon, was interested in recording the family history and established the first family reunion in 1979.  These reunions continue to grow.  They have traced their relatives all over North America with family members all the way up to Halifax, Nova Scotia!  Each time the family meets, they travel to a different location and this summer of 2016, the Gordon Family will be coming back to Virginia!  We have invited them to visit Menokin for a special family tour.

Evelyn Parker and Juanita Wells telling their story.
Evelyn Parker and Juanita Wells telling their story.

As a result of our chance meeting, Menokin has since begun to further document the history of the Gordons.  I hope to tell their story in ways that can help others discover and understand their past through video and classroom experiences, and continue to explore the lives of other Northern Neck residents. We are also seeking research assistance from a graduate student to help complete the missing links in their phenomenal story and see this as a great opportunity to develop an ongoing digital history for the future.

Thank you, Evelyn and Juanita, for helping us begin this exciting work.