By Angie Barmer
The public will soon get the chance to learn about the blues and listen to the talents of the Mosley and Johnson Band, along with back-up singers from New Albany High School and instrumentals from the NAHS Jazz band. This is a collaboration between Sam Mosley, NAHS students, and NAHS Art Instructor Lee Ann Thompson.
The back-up singers for Sam Mosley are John Cox, Nick Smithey, Pierre Lenoir, Tabitha Foster, and Sam Hill.
“I wanted to do an after-school program for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant and I have always wanted to do a documentary, especially one on the blues in New Albany. While I was at the Biscuit and Jam Farmers’ Market this summer here in town, I met some people that were following the Mississippi Blues Trail and came to New Albany because of the trail and had hoped to see Sam Mosley. That made me realize how great it is that we do have Sam Mosley here in town and we have an amazing story to tell,” said Thompson. “I have always wanted to learn how to film a documentary because I watch documentaries all the time. I spent a month teaching my students interviewing skills and how to use the video camera and I taught a lesson on blues history as well. After all of that, I thought, ‘This can’t end here. We should have some kind of premiere for this documentary and maybe Sam would perform for us too.’”
“We never dreamed that it would turn into something this big. I think it’s very awesome because some of these students get to do behind-the-scenes work, some got really interested in filmmaking and interviewing, and choral students get to work with Sam and learn from him,” said Thompson.
Sam Mosley said, “Lee Ann Thompson approached me in January about the idea of doing a documentary about my experiences and about the blues and I thought that was a great idea. So the kids came to my studio and interviewed me and they were very professional and had some great questions. Then Lee Ann asked if I would perform with my band at the event and have some of the students from New Albany High School as my back-up singers and I was excited about that too.”
“As a band, we are always practicing and rehearsing in the studio. It is completely different singing the songs we sing with high school students, but it’s pretty exciting too. I am teaching them a different phrasing on melodies and I can hear it when they don’t hit the note quite right,” said Mosley. “For youngsters that want to learn something, I enjoy helping them and these kids have manners and are respectful and seem to be really interested in learning all they can about music.”
Two of the concepts that Mosley is teaching the students are stage presence and stage discipline. He is teaching them to concentrate solely on what they are doing or what they are about to do.
“It has been really nice to be with these students and teach them so much. One of the things that is constant for me is that these students are interested in doing this and they are confident too and that has impressed me so much. I am not a drinker, I’m not a smoker, and I don’t curse. And I expect respect and I expect for young adults to be on their best behavior and these students that came to my studio showed me that,” said Mosley.
John Cox said, “I have been singing ever since I was in the first grade. I was very excited about this opportunity because I knew that Sam Mosley had done a lot of great things in life and in his music career and we could learn a lot from him.”
Tabitha Foster said, “I love singing and I have been singing since I was 7 years old. I like different kinds of music and different music styles. I like that you can influence others through music. I am very excited about this opportunity to learn from and to perform with Sam Mosley. I think it’s great to be able to perform with Sam Mosley – I see what a big deal he is and I’m excited to be a part of this. He is such a great person and a great teacher. He treated us like we were professional musicians and I really appreciated that.”
Nick Smithey said, “I love music and when I get into a song, I can’t stop singing. I love Sam Mosley’s music and I think by learning from him it will help me sing a lot better. He is a great teacher and I have enjoyed working with him and learning from him. I think we have a lot more to learn before the performance, but I know we will do a great job on stage.”
Pierre Lenoir said, “I love singing; singing makes me feel better. I also love playing instruments – I play the keyboard, trombone, tuba, lead guitar, and bass guitar. I have always wanted to be a part of music in some way and I plan on majoring in music in college. It is such an honor for someone in my town to be a blues legend and it’s an honor to be able to have the chance to sing back-up for Sam Mosley. I think the people in New Albany take it for granted that we have a man like Sam Mosley here.”
Lenoir is a member of Golden Gate Church of God in Christ.
Sam Hill said, “I have been singing since I can remember, but I really love choreography too. I love how rhythms and melodies come together and you can just move your body to the rhythm and start dancing. I love how you can listen to any type of music and you can just move your body. I am most excited about the choreography for the show. Sam Mosley has been a great teacher and has taught us how to be better.”
Mosley said, “A lot of older people have their ideas of blue singers or rock and roll singers. The whole concept of this documentary was to find out the origins of the blues and I think that is so refreshing because so many people don’t know where they come from or where the music they listen to comes from. Blues was known as the devil’s music years ago, but now the blues is welcomes into churches all over. Blues started right here in America and I think a lot of people think that the blues is supposed to be sad music, but blues is real life set to music. You put the melodies and the words together to tell a story; I love to create songs that tell great stories. I come up with my songs by watching life every day.”
He said that some of his influences are Jimmy Reed, Jon Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and more. He said that southern acoustic blues from Mississippi and Alabama was taken to Chicago where the music became known as urban blues.
“I am always gratified when someone takes an interest in music – the people that take the time to be interested and take the time to learn more about music are the ones that keep music alive. I love to play music and I love to go on tour; I love the connection and feedback I have with the crowd. You can tell when you are playing if the crowd is getting into the music or not. If people are dancing and having a good time when listening to my music, that makes me happy and I have done what I was supposed to do,” said Mosley.
All of the students who are singing are in the chorus at New Albany High School and the other musicians in the band are members of the NAHS Jazz Band. The members of the Mosley and Johnson Band are Sam Mosley, James “Crow” Prince, Larry “Meto” Berry, Willie “Stinky” Johnson, James “Smooth Groove” Judon, James “Heavy” Foster, Miles “Mike” Johnson, Robert “Pistol” McGlown, and Sherwanna Shumpert.
“Beyond The Tracks” will be held at 7 p.m. on Feb. 27 at the New Albany High School auditorium. The program is free, but donations are accepted. Proceeds will go towards Operation Warm Heart at NAHS. CDs of the performance can be ordered for $10.