Deaths Elsewhere

Deaths Elsewhere

March 03, 2003

Otha Turner, 94, a Mississippi farmer who kept alive a style of music older than the blues, died Thursday in Gravel Springs, Miss. Hours later, a daughter, Bernice Turner Pratcher, 48, who had helped him for many years, died of cancer at a hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

Mr. Turner played a cane fife that he made from reeds that grew on the bottomland of his farm. He led the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, last survivor of a tradition that had transformed the sound of a Civil War military band into music with clear African roots: a syncopated drumbeat behind sharp, riffing melodies in pentatonic modes.

The music announced barbecues, fish fries and dances. In Mr. Turner's later years, his music also was heard at blues festivals and, most recently, as part of the soundtrack of the movie Gangs of New York, which includes his song "Shimmy She Wobble."

Mr. Turner was discovered and rediscovered by folklorists through the 1960s. He made his first out-of-state appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in the 1970s, and went on to perform at blues festivals in Chicago and Memphis, on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, and in concerts presented by groups such as the World Music Institute in New York. In 1992, he was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship, the highest award for traditional American musicians, given by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Mr. Turner made his first full-length album, Everybody Hollerin' Goat in 1998, followed a year later by From Senegal to Senatobia, a collaboration with African musicians from which selections can be heard at www.billandotha.com.

Frankie Hewitt, 71, who led the revival of Ford's Theatre as a showplace following a century of disuse after Abraham Lincoln's assassination there, died of cancer Friday at her Kensington home.

Mrs. Hewitt, who received the National Humanities Medal from President Bush on Thursday, founded the Ford's Theatre Society in the 1960s. She raised money for the theater's plays and musicals and produced more than 150 of them.

The theater in downtown Washington went dark after Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, and for a century served mostly as a government warehouse before its revival. It reopened Feb. 12, 1968, with a production of Stephen Vincent Benet's John Brown's Body.

Larry Bryant, 53, one of the first black news anchors in Washington, died of a heart attack Feb. 20 on a business trip to New York.

Mr. Bryant, a Los Angeles resident, was working as a communications executive for Wellpoint Health Networks, the corporate parent of Blue Cross of California.

From 1970 to 1976, he worked for WTTG-TV as a reporter, news anchorman and was host of a show, Black News.

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